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My problem with Morgan Tsvangirai

Zimbabwe Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai on Tuesday embarked on a regional tour to seek support from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) in finding a lasting solution to the multi-faceted but mainly political crisis in his country. He is reported to have met with leaders in South Africa, Zambia and Mozambique.

Last week, Tsvangirai threatened, for the umpteenth time, to quit his unhappy marriage with president Robert Mugabe in a government of national “unity” (GNU) formed in February 2009. Former South African president, Thabo Mbeki engineered the marriage via what is called a Global Political Agreement (GPA), designed to bring sanity to a country that was in freefall.

For a moment, Mbeki’s much-criticised quiet diplomacy on Zimbabwe seemed to have turned into a stroke of genius as stability — or what looked like it — descended upon the erstwhile breadbasket of Africa. Few could see both the economic and politically stability for what they really were — an illusion. How could they when almost everyone was caught in the euphoria of a “new Zimbabwe” — the long-awaited restoration of a glorious nation?

While the seemingly overnight availability of commodities became the new gospel in town, accessibility to those commodities, however, bedevilled hordes of citizens who could not just cope in the new US dollar economy. On the political front, the wisdom of Tsvangirai and his party in entering into union with a Zanu-PF party that has no flattering record remained questionable.

GNUs create false senses of unity in deeply polarised societies made up of a profoundly wounded — physically, emotionally and psychologically — people. Their true nature is that they are fierce power contests whose aim is for parties involved to make repeated attempts at swallowing each other in a bid to obtain influential control and authority of government. There is absolutely no unity whatsoever embedded in them.

It is now clear — if it never was — as to who is ruling the government roost in Harare. Recent events, especially the arrests of prominent activists and opposition political actors will bring out that exasperated refrain amongs many a Zimbabwean; “the more things change, the more they remain the same”. Robert Mugabe, aided by his well-oiled repressive machinery in the form of police, the army, militia and intelligence, is still firmly in control.

But Zanu-PF will be hugely surprised at its own comeback, thanks to the GNU and later fortunes of the discovery of large deposits of alluvial diamonds in Eastern Zimbabwe. This is a party that was literally done and dusted in December 2008, a year in which Zimbabwe satisfied all the conditions for a revolution to take place — sky-high unemployment, food shortages, cancerous corruption and growing discontentment.

My own bet is that had Tsvangirai accurately read the masses’ mood and not pulled out of the June 2008 election run-off, things could have turned out differently for Zimbabwe. After all, he had already won the March poll albeit without a sufficient majority. All that was needed then was to mobilise sufficient votes to become the clear winner in the run-off. Admittedly, the chances of a democratic transfer of power occurring after that were slim, especially with the way the security sector led by service chiefs was behaving at that time. But at least he would have had some sort of legitimacy, like Alassane Quattara in Ivory Coast, something to work with.

Tsvangirai’s reasons for pulling out are also questionable — escalating political violence and breach of his own security. That is as fallacious a reason as you will ever hear in struggle politics. By the time he made those claims, dozens of people had been killed including prominent activists such as Tonderai Ndira. Hundreds more had been wounded, raped and forced out of their homes because of their allegiance to Tsvangirai himself. Couldn’t that count for anything?

Granted, the strategy of pulling out from the election was to make Zimbabwe ungovernable. But you simply can’t make a country ungovernable from plush hotel rooms, via press conferences or by issuing an endless stream of statements. People power — as we have seen in the Arab world — makes a country ungovernable.

So, he was supposed to be the first person on the streets of Harare in the event that Zanu-PF would have refused to transfer power after an electoral defeat. And assuming the majority would have voted for him, they could therefore be motivated to export their allegiance from the ballot paper on to the streets if accurately shown what was at stake. Instead, Tsvangirai sought refuge at the Dutch embassy rendering the cause faceless, if not leaderless.

Against this backdrop, talks of Zimbabwe begetting an Egypt or Tunisia are not only misleading but also dangerous, as we have seen. And, accompanying slogans such as “Mugabe must go” are now inappropriate because Tsvangirai, in giving legitimacy to Mugabe’s June 2008 poll victory by getting into the government bed with him, is also now complicit in whatever wrong that government is doing against its people, including those belonging to his own party.Perhaps Tsvangirai also needs to be reminded that the very same SADC he is turning to is the same body that snubbed him and send him back to Zimbabwe at last year’s SADC Summit in Namibia. And while he jet-sets the region, Zanu-PF is busy gearing up for elections. Don’t be fooled, that anti-sanctions campaign is simply an election campaign in disguise.


  • Levi Kabwato

    @LeviKabwato is a social and political commentator. His other areas of interest include media management, journalism, media freedom, freedom of expression in cyberspace, creative writing and radical philosophy.