Zimbabwe: the political interregnum

…Why talk of coalition government is never far off the table

There have been increasing discourses about “talks” or “dialogue” in Zimbabwe’s body politic.

There is no doubt about the end game: many people and various actors welcome the idea of a kind of power-sharing arrangement between the ruling party, Zanu-PF and the opposition – now being represented by Nelson Chamisa’s CCC.

There is precedence in the erstwhile inclusive Government that the late Robert Mugabe, a man of great pride (conceit, at times) forged with his bete noir, Morgan Tsvangirai.

It was unfathomable for many people to see the day such as one that birthed the Global Political Agreement (GPA) one September afternoon, in 2009.

What then followed was the inclusive Government that worked surprisingly smoothly for the next four years.

There is a great metaphor in the revelation that the two men were so distrustful of each other that at first Tsvangirai didn’t have the guts to eat from Mugabe’s table, but later got on cosy as to make tea and biscuits for himself in Mugabe’s office.

Things change!

However, it is a function of compromise, and Mugabe and Tsvangirai’s power-sharing arrangement – which was not neat and perfect for that matter – has remained a point of reckoning.

It was a “unity” arrangement whose antecedent was the Unity Accord of 1987 between Mugabe and Joshua Nkomo. The two were not exactly the same, though, lest we offend history.

However, the template was good enough.

It is also notable that prior to the actual and publicised GPA talks, possibilities of forging a ruling coalition had been explored from as early as 2006.

Even prior to Independence in 1980 various mechanisms had been attempted between Rhodesian authorities, pacifists and nationalists.

A whole history lesson would suffice on the subject.

Imperfect, indecisive politics

There are a number of lessons a clear and present in looking at Zimbabwe’s contested history.

Over the past 50 years or so, the politics in the country have been closely fought, messy, imperfect and indecisive. Politics, race, tribe, region, personalities, among other factors have divided this people.

It could make Zimbabwe one of the most polarised societies in the world.

What makes it worse and enduring is the apparent failure to find lasting solutions to cure buffeting problems, challenges and questions of the day.

It was hoped that elections would cure this malaise, only to produce endless cycles of elections and electioneering that have made the environment toxic.

However, they have failed as they have consistently failed to produce overwhelming winners with unquestionable legitimacy and authority as well as ideas. Part of these problems are admittedly externally generated, especially post-2000.

However, whatever the cause, Zimbabwe has remained stalled in dysfunctional, ultra-competitive and self-destructing politics.

And everyone is tired of this situation.

Old is dying, new cannot be born

Gramsci’s postulation of an interregnum like the one Zimbabwe is facing today is evergreen.

He wrote of a crisis that “consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear”.

Let’s take it very literal.

In Zimbabwe there is a ruling party, Zanu-PF that is old and judging by age of the organisation and its leaders, facing a natural death.

On the other hand, we have an opposition that is young but unformed and without shape – after over two decades.

There is a recognition that the two sides need each other, for different reasons.

Zanu-PF may need to have a breathing space to regenerate and fill the lacuna in leadership that is quite evident when you peel the veneer of top leadership.

Further, having vast experience but limited dynamism, especially in the much-changed external world, the revolutionary party requires a point of reference and cushion.

On the other hand, an inexperienced and unformed opposition requires the warmth and hatchery of the status quo to learn, grown and become a real institution and alternative.

It has to learn to fly; learn statecraft; learn organisation and be the apprentice of the party it intends to overcome.

By the way, there’s great appetite to change things by the opposition and its leaders.

They are not really looking for a revolution.

A co-option and taking power and its structures as they exist is good enough.

Outcomes

Just like in Gramsci’s postulation, there is likely to be “a great variety of morbid symptoms” that will attend the interim period both in the short term – when we can eventually settle for a pact of some sort; and long term where a new governing structure and status quo will emerge.

It may likely work out like this.

In 2023, Zimbabwe goes to the elections, that will likely be closely contested and – as usual – without pacification of the losers. This will give rise to the need for a co-governing mechanism.

Already, the ingredients of this scenario are there.

An economy that is tunnelling that will be bad news for the ruling party but a huge gain for the opposition that benefits from protest politics yet without having the decisive edge to win elections outright or wherewithal to transfer power.

A political accommodation will break the impasse.

What is different from 2008/9 inclusive Government is that an arrangement that is likely to come from the post-2023 elections is going to be enduring and offer strong prospects for a decisive transition.

This transition could mean new alliances, new politics and new mores. There can be more inclusivity and breaking of old barriers.

My view is that for his part, President Mnangagwa – who has an uncompleted task of ushering a Second Republic and transition from the Mugabe era – will likely welcome and manage this for the sake of his legacy.

Does that sound so outlandish?

In the next instalments we shall demonstrate how this can be done.

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