By William Muchayi
IN HIS grand master masterpiece, Dancing with the Devil: Perils of Engaging Rogue Regimes, Michael Rubin challenges the wisdom of engaging in dialogue with the unwilling under the pretext of progress while being informed by the flawed illusion that it never hurts to talk. In contrast, as Rubin concludes, this gesture does hurt, for, it is as hollow as the folly of seeking sexual gratification by romancing a stone, or rather bizarrely, having intercourse with a sex doll, since, far from anything else, it is an effort in futility.
This analogy best suits Zimbabwe’s political drama as calls for the formation of a grand coalition of opposition forces gather momentum with the sole objective of unseating Robert Mugabe from power. Indeed, the rhetoric has gained traction with pro-coalition advocates more so with the entry of Joice Runaida Mujuru’s People First party into the country’s political minefield as the nation heads towards the historic 2018 elections.
Regrettably, few critics have made an effort to assess the feasibility of this strategy in the context of the country’s fluid political drama. More often than not, the Senegalese and Kenyan examples are given by pro-coalition advocates as evidence that this strategy can be effective in challenging sitting incumbents. In this regard, it is fascinating to assess the feasibility of a grand coalition formation prior 2018 and its effectiveness in fighting an entrenched dictatorship.
It has to be acknowledged that the concept of a grand coalition of opposition parties uniting to dislodge the ruling party from power is a new phenomenon in African politics. As history has proved, this strategy is more effective in a democracy as opposed to a dictatorship. On this premise, it has to be realised that its effectiveness has to be understood within the African context as opposed to other grand coalitions world-wide such as in Europe. On record, from 1945-1999, only three countries in Western Europe (Britain, Spain and Greece) had no significant experience of coalition governments. In Israel and Italy, coalition governments are the norm but it is highly misleading if not a distortion of historical facts to assume that this strategy can be effective in the African context and Zimbabwe’s in particular in dislodging dictatorship.
In Kenya, Mwai Kibaki, head of the National Rainbow Coalition was able to defeat Uhuru Kenyatta in the 2002 elections partly because it was a contest of novices after Daniel Arap Moi was barred by the constitution from seeking re-election. In that regard, it can be argued that a smooth transfer of power from Moi to Kibaki was made possible by the fact that the former had nothing to lose by conceding defeat unlike in Zimbabwe’s situation. In the same token, William Ruto and Uhuru Kenyatta’s alliance in 2013 was dictated mainly by external forces, that is, the common fear of the Hague more than anything else. It implies that theirs was a marriage of convenience. And, it is for the same reason that there is talk of the Jubilee Alliance today in Kenyan politics fronted by Uhuru Kenyatta solely to have Ruto ascend to the presidency in 2017.
All these factors that shape Kenyan politics are missing in Zimbabwe’s situation and to use the East African country as a yardstick to judge the feasibility of grand coalitions in Africa is misleading as none of Zimbabwe’s opposition figures is under such external pressures. Based on this premise, it is misleading to assume that the formation of a grand coalition of opposition parties in Zimbabwe is feasible before 2018 let alone succeed in dislodging Mugabe from power with the Kenyan model in mind.
In the same token, the Senegalese example can’t in any way be wholly justified as a yardstick to judge the feasibility let alone effectiveness of grand coalition of opposition parties in fighting dictatorship in Zimbabwe’s context. Like Mwai Kibaki in Kenya who defeated Uhuru Kenyatta in 2002, Abdolaye Wade was able to beat President Abdou Diouf in March 2000 who happened to be Leopold Senghor’s successor with the help of his coalition partners. Wade’s victory can partly be explained by the fact that unlike Leopold Senghor, Abdou Diouf had not been in power for too long. In all the above examples, it can be argued that the election outcome could possibly have been different had it been that Daniel Arap Moi and Leopold Senghor participated in the contests respectively.
In Zimbabwe’s scenario, Mugabe is still Zanu PF’s candidate in 2018, hence, the difference that may impact on the outcome of the contest unlike in Senegal and Kenya where coalitions were effective in unseating the ruling party from power. Not only that, Abdoulaye Wade’s unpopularity and subsequent defeat by MacKay Sall in 2012, just like Uhuru Kenyatta’s in 2002 by Mwai Kibaki was made possible partly because, unlike Robert Mugabe, the former was only in power for two terms. In spite of the eventual formation of a coalition by opposition parties to unseat Wade in 2012, it has to be realised that the effort was not without its challenges, for, in the first round of elections, the three parties, that is, the Alliance of Forces for Democracy, the Socialist Party as well as Macky Sall’s Alliance for the Republic Party plus Idrissa Seck’s Rewmi Party fielded different candidates and it was only in the second round of elections that all the erstwhile opposition parties then rallied around Sall in a new coalition, known as Benno Bok Yakaar( BBY). All this evidence help to expose the myth surrounding the magic behind coalition forces in fighting sitting incumbents.
Adding to this confusion in the Zimbabwe context are the results of the 2008 elections in which none of the candidates is alleged to have scored more than the required 50% of the votes, with Tsvangirai only managing 47%, Mugabe a paltry 43% and Makoni just 8 %. Statistically, proponents of a grand coalition argue, if Tsvangirai and Makoni had joined forces in this contest, the two could have easily defeated the sitting incumbent. Regrettably, this argument can’t withstand scrutiny, for, it is greatly flawed as acknowledged by Mugabe himself who is on record conceading that in fact Morgen Tsvangirai snatched 73% of the votes in that contest.
If Mugabe himself substantiates what many knew was a stolen election, how can advocates of a grand coalition justify themselves by citing this case study? In fact, not only that, if Mugabe immediately conceded defeat in the March 2008 elections but immediately refused to hand over power to the winner of that contest, in what way would the formation of a grand coalition of opposition parties have helped to wrestle power from the dictator? On this premise, it is laid bare that in any contest in a dictatorship, numbers alone at the ballot box are insufficient to dislodge the sitting incumbent from power. Given this scenario, it then implies that what Zimbabwe needs now are not just numbers of voters inflated by coalition arrangements but a different strategy that enables the winner to wrestle power from the dictator.
In addition, historical evidence proves that only terminally ill political parties contemplate the prospect of grand coalitions as a last shot of survival. In this regard in the Zimbabwean context, among a plethora of parties that can be deemed political entities, ZANU Ndonga and ZAPU can easily fit in this category and not to mention Egypt Dzinemunhenzva’s National African Party (NAP). The same can also be said of Weshman Ncube’s MDC party and to a lesser extent Simba Makoni’s Mavambo.
These parties fight for survival and their leaders can easily be persuaded into joining hands with others in coalition arrangements. On the other hand, newly formed parties such as Tendai Biti’s PDP, Lovemore Madhuku’s NCA, Elton Mangoma’s Renewal Democrats of Zimbabwe (RDZ) and Joice Mujuru’s People First are tempted to distance themselves from any coalition talks not because they are threatened with extinction as is the case with the former, but, because they are yet to test the depth of the waters in the country’s crocodile infested rivers. After all, The latter parties still need to establish themselves in Zimbabwe’s crowded political terrain and given an option, they would rather prefer to go solo until it is strategically convenient for them to enter into coalitions.
In this regard, it can hardly be disputed that in spite of the MDC-T’s weak position, it is not facing doom just yet to be in a desperate need to enter into any coalition arrangement with their counterparts as junior partners. In the same way, it is difficult to see how the likes of Rugare Gumbo who are on record arguing that in any coalition arrangement, Joice Mujuru should lead the entity, are to convince other cadres who have been in the trenches longer and dating back to the time the latter were still dining with Robert Mugabe. Also to complicate the drama is the fact that even at this hour, the MDC-T hasn’t changed its boycott mantra, thus, overshadowing any coalition discussion within opposition circles.
Given this scenario, what then can the opposition do to overcome these obstacles? Firstly, individual parties can field their parliamentary and presidential candidates and whoever wins carry the day. In the event of a presidential re-run, the one who has the largest share of votes is to be backed by others against the ruling party’s candidate. Secondly, a memorandum of understanding among opposition parties can be reached whereby tactical voting is advocated especially in parliamentary elections. Or, alternatively, the leader of the largest opposition party is chosen to lead the coalition. However, the main problem with the latter option is that even Egypt Dzinemunhenzva would claim that his is the largest opposition party in the country. And, lastly, an outsider who is acceptable to all opposition parties can be selected to lead this coalition and it has to be acknowledged that this is a toll order and the only person who can be acceptable to all is Strive Masiyiwa provided he is interested and actively involved in politics.
The views in this article are the the personal opinion of the writer and donot in anyway reflect the views or editorial policy of William Muchayi, who is a pro-democracy and political analyst who can be contacted on email@example.com