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-2000-2008election 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 machinery and 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 Project Power. The power conflicts, instability, polarization, and understanding of 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 cases of abuse of state and government power define the politicians of Zimbabwe’s power project at the expense of the masses of our people.
Political populism 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 political purposes. History has shown that, in the liberation struggle, ZANU mobilized people against racial segregation and societal inequalities. At the same time, its political and military leaders lived lavish and flamboyant lifestyles in Lusaka and across the World. At the same time, 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 and 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 state architecture 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 taken advantage of the people and threatened democracy by eroding formal institutions and undermining the values and norms of democracy.
The digital and social media platforms had become battlegrounds and platforms for fueling threats of physical violence and tribalistic and homophobic exchanges between people who 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 ‘‘hacktivism,’’ blogging, uses of social media for politics, citizen journalism, and the likes are appreciated, political actors in their power project have abused it. Judging from past experiences from different countries in the global south, media popularities have never transformed into votes, nor had it been a measure of political support. This suggests that citizens must converge, arm up, and represent 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 who can change the status quo and transform the nation back into its glory days when it was the breadbasket of Africa? How to change the bagging basket into a giving basket remains one of the typical questions in the academia and intellectual discourse in Zimbabwe. The critical factor and an impediment to achieving this is the impact of partisan politics and the toxic polarization of the people of Zimbabwe. ZANU PFs project power continually monopolizes state power while denying political rights and opportunities to other political actors to compete for political influence and participate in policy dialogue. Just like Mugabe’s, the Mnangagwa regime 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 are not an exemption.
Similarly, the MDC Alliance leader Nelson Chamisa’s supporters are strong adherents of the “Chamisa chete chete,” an ideology that assents to the view that nobody besides him can lead the opposition and develop the country. In other words, however, is the mentality borrowed from the ruling ZANU PF party, which asserts that it has a monopoly on ruling Zimbabwe and its leader and non-other one can lead the country. The MDC-T led by Douglas Mwonzora is out of the 2023 election equation as its popularity and support base are 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. His supporters' response, together with the other leader, that if he gives and shares his plans, his enemies will steal his ideas is unacceptable and naïve.
The question that always remains 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 crisis is the lack of peace, healing, and reconciliation, which an effective transitional justice system can only usher in. What needs to be done is to have an expansive region 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 primary 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 violations is not the problem of the agents or people doing the crime; it is a problem of the system; the main culprit is the state; the state is the violent one, it is decisive, and the state is the one which thrives on dividing people on political, regional, ethnic and social grounds. So the main culprit must be the state; therefore, we cannot look to the main culprit and its beneficiaries in government and the opposition to formulate at a level mechanisms that implicate the state that lead to the reforming of the state. The state needs to be reformed for the democratic development of Zimbabwe.