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Zimbabwe's future is debated in the city but decided in the village

25 Jun 2023 at 18:23hrs | Views
THE electoral lines have been drawn as we face the impending reckoning of the August 23 general election. Intra-party squabbles have been settled regarding who will be the torch bearer in what ward or constituency.

Like all political contests, some have won the internal contest, by means fair or foul. Others have lost honourably, others bitterly. We await the outcome of the nomination court, which will see candidates traversing the campaign trail.

While it is interesting to muse about who or which party will likely win where and how, in this submission, I have decided to pull out a different, less discussed but very instructive strand in our politics. The rural-urban dichotomy of our electoral politics and outcomes.

The future is urban and young

All serious political thinkers must, while remaining grounded in contemporary realities, project what the future political contest will look like.

Urban scholars tell us that by 2050, 60% of Africans will be living in cities signalling a huge leap from the roughly 40% currently living in cities.

Since we are throwing around statistics, demographers also tell us that Africa is the youngest continent.

Young Africans are expected to account for 75% of the population by 2030.

The convergence of rapid urbanisation, especially in sub-Saharan Africa with a huge youth demographic dividend, is an exciting ground for political thinkers, strategists, and analysts.

What is clear is that the contours of political contestation will shift significantly, and political actors need to adjust their sails according to these winds of future electoral politics.

Narrowing it down to our own Zimbabwe, the mostly young, urban, and educated generation that is connected to modern communication technologies is disrupting political communication in a significant way.

Beyond the reputation of the new communication technologies as potent tools for political mobilisation, they have also become the modern agora for narratives and debates that shape the future.

Do not take lightly the declaration by the new owner of Twitter, Elon Musk, that the microblogging platform is the new town square!

So, it is safe to say that the socio-economic and political future of Zimbabwe is, and will continue to be debated in the city!

But it is decided in the village!

I am not a prophet — though it is easy to claim to be one in Zimbabwe — but I can safely predict that in the aftermath of the August 23 harmonised elections, as always, we will see urbanites hurling accusations and abuses on the rural population for selling out the future through their ballot choices.

What right they have arrogated themselves to think that their smart Alec political inclinations are the citadel of wisdom on electoral choices eludes me.

I can safely predict this, dear reader, because rural Zimbabwe has always had the highest number of voters and has consistently — serve for isolated incidents — voted for the ruling Zanu-PF.

At the moment, two-thirds of Zimbabweans live in the countryside.

I do not need to state the obvious that whichever way they vote will settle the electoral contest.

All the while, the smart Alecs in the city have always consistently hollered to anyone who cares to listen about their snakeoil high-sounding political propositions.

And have always voted consistently for the opposition.

The problem is, for now, cities have fewer voters than the rural countryside. The village is a stronghold, or is it a stranglehold for the ruling party.

So, this election, and the next, will be decided by the rural vote! CCC must go to the village

If the Citizens Coalition for Change is serious about securing the next few elections, it will have to understand the rural voter and learn to preach to her.

Just as Zanu-PF must understand that its long-term electoral fortunes lie in learning the tongues with which to minister to the urban voter.

In practical terms, for its short-term electoral objectives, CCC will have to gain more ground in rural areas.

Clearly, the party understands the urgency of this issue as it has over the past year, appointed an Interim Secretary for Rural Mobilization, and engaged in its ‘Mugwazo' programme for sustained rural mobilisation.

If this is to work, it must understand the rural voter. He is very different in character, language, and interests than the urban voter whom the party is used to.

The rural voter is mostly transactional and conservative and responds to the ‘neighbourhood effect' where they are more influenced by their peers over a jug of opaque beer than by some big-wig coming from the city for a once-off rally.

It must learn that fancy-sounding policy documents like RELOAD, PREPARE, or the New Great Zimbabwe find little resonance in the village. Political Machiavellism counsels that good politics and good policy are not the same thing.

Of course, this is easier said than done because Zanu-PF has mastered the art of winning rural votes.

Rural voters in most parts of the world, and certainly in Africa, are more inclined to vote for the incumbents. Koter (2013) establishes that a "persistent pro-incumbent bias in the countryside is one of the most widespread electoral trends on the [African] continent".

As a village boy emeritus myself, I can hazard that this is because of the tight social control structures well established in rural areas than in urban areas.

It can also be a result of the rural voter's character of a ‘noble savage'. The noble savage is presented by mid-eighteenthcentury literature as a character of virtue, uncorrupted by civilisation and with innate goodness and moral superiority.

As I borrow the concept, the rural folk is the noble savage so set in their political choice, loyal and dependable in terms of voting patterns.

The party will have to surmount this reality weighing so heavily against its odds.

While doubling down on the rural voter, CCC must be careful not to expose its flank in its urban stronghold.

In Ndebele they say, "Ungalahli olakho ngongelakho!" (Don't sacrifice what you have to gain what you do not have). It must ringfence its urban base because clearly, Zanu-PF has taken the fight to the city.

Zanu-PF goes to town

There is an interesting 1930s American political comedy titled, Mr Smith Goes to Washington in which the protagonist is a simple villager, a Boy Ranger who suddenly has to take up the role of Senator for his state.

Of course, his naivety exposes him to manipulation in that political swamp called Washington. If Zanu-PF is to electorally survive the future tide of urbanbased electoral politics, it must shake off its tag of being a rural party.

It must realise that the ‘noble savage' is dying, and in their place, the defiant, transitory, and less politically stable young urban dweller, will dominate the future electoral contests.

Of course, Zanu-PF has shown indications that it understands that the future is urban and young, but like our fabled Mr. Smith, I see it deploying the same voter mobilisation tactics which it uses in the village. While in the rural areas, I would say caveat emptor (buyer beware) in the face of political entrepreneurs trying to win the rural vote, for the woke urban electorate, I would say to Zanu-PF venditor emptor (seller beware). The naivete of Mr. Smith is exposing it to manipulation. I have heard much talk of the ‘mango' strategy by urban dwellers. Green outside, yellow inside.

Unlike the rural voter, the urban voter does not respond positively to populist authoritarianism.

Political strategists have cautioned many a politician that urban voters are hard to please.

Urbanites are young, defiant, idealistic, transitory, and less stable. They respond more to the manufacture of dissent, which is why they are less likely to vote for an incumbent party.

To appropriate an old German adage, stadt luft macht frei (city air makes men free).

It is this liberalism that makes the urban voter complex and difficult to please or to gain and sustain their loyalty.

Robert Park characterised urbanites as highly organised. He quips that "In the city, every vocation, even that of a beggar, tends to assume the character of a profession and the discipline, which success in any vocation imposes, together with the associations that it enforces".

The urban voters are not organised by clans, villages, or masabhuku (Kraalheads) but on interests! In the absence of tight social control structures, rural voter mobilisation strategies will never work in the city. Simple!

Political geography, demography

Political geography and demography is changing — fast.

Older people and rural voters are reliable vote banks for Zanu-PF. But the reality to which the party must sober up is that the noble savage is dying, albeit slowly.

The rural voter is moving to town, and the elderly population is shrinking in the rural areas. It may not be far-fetched to suggest that the 2033 election might be the last in which Zanu-PF can reap the rural electoral dividends profitably. As such, it must shape up or follow the fate of the dinosaur.

For the CCC, cities have always been a reliable electorate for the opposition anchored on the middle class. The reality is that the middle class has been decimated by vicious cycles of economic upheavals.

The party has also moved away from its traditional allies like civil society, trade unions, and the student movement. The seeming onslaught on its stalwarts may not be wise as the offensive being launched by Zanu-PF in the cities is not once-off electoral opportunism but a sustained effort that will only increase in the coming elections. As such, it must rethink its political positioning and brace up for the future of electoral contests, which is coming to the city, its doorstep.

The sober view

Urbanites must understand that while the future of Zimbabwe is debated in the city, it will once again be decided in the village.

Political sagacity has it that the road to the state house passes through the village!

This is my sober view; I take no prisoners!

Dumani is an independent political analyst. He writes in his personal capacity. Twitter @ NtandoDumani

Source - the independent
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