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Project Power: Myth and Realities in Zimbabwean Politics




Zimbabwe has been politically unstable for decades, its history is a history of fierce clashes that spreads over many years that incorporate the liberation struggle from 1965-1979, the Gukurahundi massacres from 1980-1987, the post-2000-2008 election brutality and the 2018 shootings after the elections, these among others have dug in divisions in various groups around the country.

The state and its machineries together with different political actors are at the center of the violent nature of the Zimbabwean populace. The Hobbiean world order rule the contact of all political actors, all engulfed in the quest for power and fulfillment of their individual Project Power.

The power conflicts, instability, polarization and understanding the national question remain at the heart of the current crop of leaders across the political divide. Politics of populism and survival, elites’ pacts, poor leadership, injustices and various abuses of state and government power define the politicians of Zimbabwe’s power project at the expense of the masses of our people.

Political populism as a concept refers to a political philosophy in which the country’s political elites articulate people’s grievances in ways that appeal to the ordinary, unemployed, and disadvantaged man and woman in the street, but in a manner that only serves their political agenda and goals. The primary goal would be to attain political power, and all that comes with it.

Thus, populism is about the people but not by the people and for the people. ZANU PF has proved beyond reasonable doubt that it has perfected the art of populism and appealing to people’s grievances to save its own political purposes. History has shown that, in the liberation struggle, ZANU mobilised people against racial segregation and societal inequalities at the same time its political and military leaders live lavish and flamboyant lifestyles in Lusaka and across the World while the youth and general populace risked their lives in the jungle and at the frontline.

A typical norm and exercise being copied and purified today by the opposition in both the MDC Alliance and the MDC-T camps, preaching peace and unity while fueling internal divisions, ethnic tensions and denigrating the democratic development of the state.

Zimbabwe is suffering from the repercussions of authoritarian populism and populism without principles by political actors. Populist politicians in Zimbabwe tend to disdain formal democratic institutions, such as courts, legislatures, and regulatory agencies.

These among others  are the critical features of the rule of law that can hold populists accountable or remove them from power. In contrast, populists view this architecture of the state as unnecessary and obstructive creations of corrupt and self-serving elites. As a result, they openly disparage and try to undermine these institutions. Personified politics and politics of populism had for years took advantage of the people and threaten democracy by eroding formal institutions, and underming the values and norms of democracy. 

The digital and social media platforms had become battle grounds and platforms for fueling threats of physical violence, tribalistic and homophobic exchanges between people who simply disagree on political ideologies and affiliations.

 Although the role of the digital media as an alternative form of participation through such activities as online petitioning, ‘‘clicktivism’’ and ‘‘hactivism,’’ blogging, uses of social media for politics, citizen journalism, and the likes is appreciated, it has been abused by political actors in their power project. Judging from past experiences from different countries in the global south, media popularities have never transformed into votes and never had it been a measure of political support. Which then gives the idea that citizens need to converge, arms up and represents themselves against selfish and brutal political elites.

The 2023 elections in Zimbabwe are fast approaching, the citizens will have another chance to converge and change the government. But from who to who, who has capabilities and ability to change the status quo and transform the nation back into its glorious days when it was the breadbasket of Africa.

How to change the bagging basket into a giving basket remain one of the typical questions among the academia and intellectual discourse in Zimbabwe.

The critical factor and an impediment to achieve this is the impact of partisan politics and the toxic polarization of the people of Zimbabwe. ZANU PFs project power is to continually instigate in monopolising state power while denying political rights and opportunities to other political actors to compete for political power and to participate in policy dialogue. The Mnangagwa regime just like the Mugabe’s, continues with its intolerance of the opposition political parties specifically the current MDC Alliance. He consistently paid lip-service to democracy and democratic elections, which he has manipulated to his advantage and that of his party and the coming 2023 elections is not an exemption.

Similarly, the MDC Alliance leader Nelson Chamisa’s supporters are strong adherents of the “Chamisa chete chete” an ideology which assents to the view that nobody beside him can lead the opposition and developing the country.

This is the mentality borrowed from the ruling ZANU PF party– which asserts that the has the monopoly to rule Zimbabwe and its leader and non-other can lead the country.

The MDC-T led by Douglas Mwonzora is out of the 2023 election equation as its popularity and its support base is nonexistent, its survival is on disruptive politics against the MDC Alliance led by Nelson Chamisa. The MDC Alliance and its supporters also throw, around vacuous phrases such as the “ngaapinde hake mukomana slogans. For good reasons, it should be commendable for Mukomana to explain why he should be entrusted with the people of Zimbabwe and become the next President. The response given by his supporters together with other leader that if he gives and share his plans, his enemies will steal his ideas is unacceptable and naïve.

The question that always remain in the public space is who is for the people and with what efforts can the people understand the vision of the future. One of the critical contributors to the Zimbabwean crises is lack of peace, healing and reconciliation which can be only ushered by an effective transitional justice system.

What needs to be done is to have a region wide inventory of the atrocities so that we then have an idea of what needs to be redressed where and how and we cannot trust the state to do that because the state is the one that is the major benefactor of these atrocities whether it is the colonial state, the Robert Mugabe state, the Emmerson Mnangagwa state, the state is the state whether under the opposition, unity government, transitional authority or any other forms of government.  

The problem of atrocities and human rights violation in not the problem of the agents or people doing the crime, it is the problem of the system, the main culprit is the state, the state is the one which is violent, it is decisive, the state is the one which thrive on dividing people on political, regional, ethnic and social grounds.

So the main culprit must be the state and therefore we cannot look to the main culprit and its beneficiaries in government and the opposition to formulate at a any level mechanisms that implicate the state that lead to the reforming of the state. The state needs to be reformed for democratic development of Zimbabwe.

About the writer: Takudzwa Mudzingwa Gwaze is a Masters in Global Development and Planning Student at the University of Agder, Norway. He had studied a Master of International Affairs at Midlands State University and a Bachelor of Science in Politics and Public Administration at Great Zimbabwe University in Zimbabwe. His research interests are in human rights and transitional justice, climate change, Carbon Marketing, sustainable development, decoloniality and digitalization. Views expressed in this article are his own and do not represent any organisation or persons and can be contacted on [email protected]

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