Zimbabwe Democracy Institute (ZDI) director Pedzisai Ruhanya speaks to Senior Assistant Editor Guthrie Munyuki about current Zanu PF squabbles and wobbly opposition politics.
Below are excerpts of the interview.
Q: Zimbabwe is facing myriad problems, both socio-economic and political, which are blamed on Zanu PF and President Robert Mugabe. Does the current opposition front provide hope for change?
A: The problems facing Zimbabwe are broader than simply accusing one particular actor, President Mugabe. My argument is that even if Mugabe retires, the decomposition of the political economy of Zimbabwe will not be rescued unless both political and partisan communities focus on a national transformative agenda that is bigger than individual actors.
The opposition movements, as they stand and just like Zanu PF and its leadership, are part of the problem. The ZDI believes that the articulation of the national question and practices in terms of the “will to power” is the fundamental problem facing Zimbabwe at this historical juncture.
“Will to power” refers to the corruption of politics leading to a cultural domination in the Zimbabwe society — a logic to grab, conquer and retain power by the ruling party, opposition parties and civil society actors in order to change society.
We argue that the “will to power” has superseded the most profound and needed “will to transform” which reflects the logic and quest to sustainably transform the embedded extractive and undemocratic political and economic institutions.
Therefore, I posit that the power struggles that are pervasive, omnipresent and ambiguous in opposition parties and civil society which generally reflect the power struggles in Zanu PF do not provide hope for these contra-movements.
There is need to relegate the will to power in opposition and civil spaces and concentrate on the transformation agenda if these groups are to make a difference, otherwise Zanu PF could remain dominant in the power game for some time because of its control of the repressive state apparatus.
Q: What is wrong with the current opposition politics and how far can the opposition go in attempting to change the direction of Zimbabwe politics?
A: As pointed above, the problem with the opposition is its mimicry of Zanu PF’s political culture; the power grab activities and the relegation of the broader national democratic transformative agenda to the periphery of their struggles.
Currently, the opposition groups, especially all formations of the Movement for Democratic Change, from A to Z, are involved in internal power struggles, capturing power in their small circles and some rent-seeking activities.
There is no discernible national programme with a clear thought leadership grounded in a clear transformative or reform agenda.
Those that lead the opposition at various levels have lost the moral campus to provide national leadership. The other problem with the opposition is that there is a clear lack of appreciation of the significance of empirical researches to guide their programming for instance.
They do not do scientific studies such as opinion polls and surveys to measure their strengths or vote patterns and possible electoral outcomes ahead of time.
Most tragically, when research groups publish unpalatable reports, the opposition attacks such outcomes. Simply put, the opposition does not realise that any group that wants to rise to dominance and possibly take over power at any historical epoch should have its own agents of class projects or organic intellectuals whose role is to be the deputies of the emerging political force — who produce, reproduce, articulate and re-articulate the ideas of the an emerging hegemonic group.
Q: Does a coalition involving former vice president Joice Mujuru and other forces including Morgan Tsvangirai offer formidable challenge to Zanu PF in 2018?
A: Before we talk of those possible coalitions, it is crucial that such possibilities be guided by empirical researches that provide data on the strengths and weaknesses of such individuals and how the likely voters perceive them. It is not adequate to simply imagine in the absence of empirical evidence that Tsvangirai and Mujuru could be a formidable force.
Coalitions should not be made on imaginations or political romanticism of hatred of a ruling hegemonic group, but clear studies that put facts on the table and guide decision-making.
In this case, opposition politicians should not make decisions using their hearts and emotions but proven, tested and rigorous scientific studies.
My postulation is that there is need to have gigantic national research studies in the form of scientific surveys to guide such coalitions and their democratic efficacy.
Q: How influential can Mujuru and her allies such as Didymus Mutasa and Rugare Gumbo be in changing the direction of Zimbabwe politics?
A: There is no doubt that these expelled Zanu PF politicians command some respect, but how they can tilt the political balance of power requires scientific verification through proper studies not hallucinatory projections. It would be misleading to project their influence in the absence of evidence.
We should also not forget that their influence and significance while they were in Zanu PF, apart from their credentials as liberation nationalists, was mostly because of their romance with state institutions and their access to state resources through the patronage system and neo-patrimonial activities of Zanu PF administered by the centre of power, President Robert Mugabe.
In the absence of access to the state and the clientele activities of Zanu PF, it would be misleading to overrate the influence and power of these expelled Zanu PF politicians. Simply put, the support must be subjected to empirical testing beyond their politically seductive statements of invincibility.
Q: Mutasa and the likes of Gumbo have maintained that they belong to the “original” Zanu PF. Does this association with Zanu PF aid their cause to defeat Mugabe?
A: Is the “original” belonging a reference to values, customs and ideologies or the founders of that party? At the level of ideology, there is nothing that they are articulating that reflects the socialist authoritarian values of Zanu PF and its liberation ideas.
Figuratively, former vice president Mujuru was eight years old when Zanu PF was formed in 1963. Therefore she is not original and the original Zanu PF is led by Mugabe who was there in 1963. More so, the original vice president of Zanu PF is no more, the late Leopold Takawira who passed on in 1970. So what are these people talking about?
My point is that they (Mujuru camp) have been defeated in the hegemonic power struggles in Zanu PF and were thus later expelled. That is the political reality they should accept. With regards to suggestions that they will split from Zanu PF, how do expelled members split from a party that they are no longer members?
They should get on with their political lives and convince Zimbabweans that they are no longer part of a competitive electoral authoritarian regime headed by Mugabe and that they want to bring a new democratic political culture different from their old friends.
Q: You have studied the electoral set up which is characterised by narcissistic tendencies. In light of this, how do Mugabe’s and Zanu PF’s wrongs affect Mujuru and/or her allies such as Mutasa in their quest to defeat Zanu PF?
A: If this group continues to tell Zimbabweans, especially those whose rights have been abused by the ruling party, that they value their political romance with the misguided policies of the ruling party, it will not help them. However, every person has a history, every person makes mistakes and they did make profound mistakes in the construction of the political economy of the state for the past 35 years.
But if they show contrition and project a solid transformative and redemptive national agenda that show a clear shift from the policies of the past, and provide national thought leadership to steer the political and economic questions, surely citizens will give them a chance.
Zimbabwe is in constant search for a solid and focused national leadership to address the decomposing body politic and if they provide such vision, they can possibly make a difference.
Q: Was the decision by Tsvangirai and the MDC not to participate in by-elections a good one?
A: I disagree with their decision. It is too parochial and there is no clear alternative to their decision that can rally their supporters and Zimbabweans. Boycotting elections without a clear national transformative agenda to demand reforms is hollow.
There appears to be no sense in recalling MPs and then refuse to participate in those elections. It’s illogical. If the MDC is sincere about participating in elections, they should also withdraw from Parliament and local government. You can see that the decision is not informed by any coherent policy position. It’s largely informed by faction fighting and the “will to power” as opposed to the “will to transform”.
Q: How big a mistake is this decision in the context of 2018 elections?
A: Zanu PF is going to occupy urban spaces that constitute the social base of the MDC and they are going to get resources such as cars to entrench themselves in the urban areas.
It also means that the tempering with the voters’ roll in the communities nationally during the by-elections will happen without MDC oversight and when we get to 2018 the voter registration dynamics in these constituencies may actually favour Zanu PF.
The MDC would not be able to deal with these changes because they are not participating.
The party and its ideologies should appreciate that human rights and other democratic rights are born out of struggles. They don’t come cheap and especially through electoral boycotts that do not provide alternative means of demanding reforms.
Q: Do you see a comeback by Welshman Ncube and Tendai Biti before 2018?
A: In the absence of evidence, I would desist from being a political sangoma and study their activities before I judge them. But they have equal chances of making a difference if they get focused. Remember these politicians contributed immensely to the democratisation struggles in Zimbabwe for the past two decades.
Q: What is the role of the Zimbabwe Democracy Institute (ZDI) in the local democratisation agenda?
A: The Zimbabwe Democracy Institute is a politically independent and not-for-profit public policy think-tank. Its mission is to promote cutting-edge research and robust public policy analysis for sustainable democracy. The institution serves to generate and disseminate innovative ideas on the political economy of Zimbabwe to advance democracy, good governance and human right.
It seeks to strengthen policy formulation and implementation through public policy debate, to inculcate a culture of critical debate on public affairs and stimulate citizen participation by strengthening the capacity of non-state actors in undertaking research and analysis on public policy.
We think that research-based programming can make a difference in a society that abhors scientific interventions based on empiricism. – This interview was first published by the Daily News