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lose faith in politics
October 29, 2012
and disillusionment with politics in Zimbabwe is indicative of a
power-sharing agreement that has failed to deliver anything of substance,
writes Oxford University academic Blessing-Miles Tendi in the BBC's
Focus on Africa magazine.
If all had gone according to plan, a referendum on Zimbabwe's new
constitution should already have been staged.
This was, after all, a stipulation of Zimbabwe's Global
Political Agreement (GPA), which gave birth to the country's
power-sharing government following a disputed
2008 presidential election between President Robert Mugabe's
Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front (Zanu-PF), Morgan
Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T), and the smaller
MDC party then led by Arthur Mutambara.
But like so many things that could, or should, have happened in
Zimbabwe, this was not to be. As with many other political reforms
in the GPA, a referendum is outstanding.
A national outreach programme
to gather views on the contents of the new constitution faced
logistical problems, and the constitution's drafting has been bogged
down by squabbling over various clauses.
presidential powers, devolution and effective civilian control of
the security arms of the state have been especially contentious.
Lastly, drafting of the document has become a parlour game for the
three contenders to political power, as each party has sought to
enhance its chances in the next elections and to ensure effective
control of power following electoral victory.
Should the three main parties involved overcome their differences,
a referendum will be possible late this year or in early 2013, with
presidential and parliamentary elections following soon after.
But the referendum is likely to be met with apathy, owing to the
problems that have blighted the constitution-making process.
Furthermore, the fact that the constitution is a compromise document
means none of the three political parties will campaign against
its adoption in the referendum.
Civil society groups such as the National
Constitutional Assembly (NCA), which used to champion constitutional
reform, lack funds and effective local structures spanning the entire
Consequently, the constitution is likely to pass with little activist
fervour - an uneventful appetiser to the main event: Concurrent
parliamentary and presidential elections a few months later.
But voter apathy is likely to be the chief victor in elections,
owing to growing national disillusionment with Zimbabwe's leading
The power-sharing period has eroded the once-powerful view among
the electorate that the MDC-T is the panacea to Zimbabwe's economic,
social and political problems.
Many of the party's members in government have been shown to be
no more competent, efficient, transparent and accountable than their
Zanu-PF counterparts, who are also hampered by internal divisions.
There are also questions about the suitability of Mr Mugabe's candidature,
given his advanced age. He is 88. Because of this, the MDC is likely
to improve on its performance in the 2008 parliamentary election
by drawing some voters disgruntled with Zanu-PF and the MDC-T and
because of its determined organisation.
However, it is unlikely to gain traction with voters nationally.
The MDC has been constructed as a Matabeleland province party by
its rivals and although ethnicity is not central to Zimbabwean politics
in the way that it is in a number of other African countries, this
perception is likely to work against the party.
When apathy rules, the party able to get its core constituencies
out on polling day will triumph.
It remains to be seen if Zanu-PF can overcome internal division
and present candidates representing renewal and armed with fresh
ideas, which would fire its electoral base.
Added to this is the question of whether Zanu-PF is still able to
deploy its coercive instruments effectively to marshal voters to
One of the goals of Zanu-PF's violence against the MDC-T between
the March 2008 presidential election and the run-off three months
later was to obliterate the opposition party's structures.
Much of the
MDC-T's capacity to mobilise its electoral bases in the next elections
will depend on how much the party has managed to recover the local
structures it lost in 2008.
It will also
depend on whether its supporters can overcome the recent memories
of intimidation and political violence against its members.
In addition, the MDC-T faces the challenge of rebranding. The party
has promised "change" since its inception in 1999 but,
as mentioned before, its performance in the power-sharing government
shows it only promises more of the same.
It is too close to call the likely victor at this stage. All parties
have significant deficiencies and the resultant apathy means there
is unlikely to be an overwhelming winner in elections.
Therefore, a form of coalition government is in the offing, after
the elections. The fact that the current draft constitution caters
for a large cabinet points to preparations for this eventuality.
Beyond the forthcoming referendum and elections, the state of Zimbabwe's
body politic does not bode well for the country in the long-term.
Zimbabweans no longer see salvation in political parties. They see
salvation in a Christian God. Church congregations continue to swell.
In contrast, civil society - once an alternative site for a more
democratic and tolerant politics - is home to the same polarised
views and materialism found in political parties.
Zimbabwe's intellectual class, the would-be standard bearer for
society, is also faring badly. Intellectuals in universities have
taken untenable political positions and stuck to them resolutely.
Younger generations lack space in a national politics where seniority
and hierarchy are the norm. Talented technocrats, willing to do
public service, are not attracted to a politics where empty sloganeering,
personal aggrandisement and political violence are now the norm.
Instead they seek careers in the private sector and abroad. They
are disillusioned and disgruntled, standing outside the political
sphere. The palpable danger is, of course, that Zimbabwean politics
is being left to mediocre actors.
Political values have percolated away. Attracting a skilled and
principled younger generation to politics and the civil service,
as it was in the early independence period, is a pressing challenge
no referendum on an ephemeral constitution and a new cycle of elections
Blessing-Miles Tendi teaches politics at Oxford University and
is the author of Making History in Mugabe's Zimbabwe: Politics,
Intellectuals and the Media (Peter Lang, 2010)
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