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Lack of strategy in Zimbabwe opposition politics

09 Feb 2024 at 10:02hrs | Views
ONE of the biggest issues that one must contend with in politics is that it is a contested space. Allegiances and goals are ever changing and there is, therefore, a need to be able to maneuver these changes and ensure survival.

Politics by its very nature does not follow morally acceptable ways of taking power. Every political player is plotting, planning, and seeking ways to amass the most power possible.

The very set up of politics is, therefore, to realise that it is a negotiated space and at every moment one should be seeking arrangements that would benefit all the participants.

The greatest undoing of the politics in Zimbabwe is the obsession with the strong man as a leader of the party. From Zanu PF's electoral congresses, the leader of the party has always been elected unopposed.

The democratic space has been limited and those that have had a chance of dethroning the incumbent like Simba Makoni and Joice Mujuru's political careers were thrown into the history dustbins.

The opposition seems to have followed the same modus operandi with any dissent to Morgan Tsvangirai causing splits to parties like the MDC, MDC-T and eventually as a ripple effect of those MDC-A.

Tsvangirai was viewed as the one that could bring the end of the Zanu PF rule. He had the backing of the masses, and one must concede that the party had great successes under his leadership.

The party was the first to shake Zanu PF's dominance in parliament in 2000 and a hotly contested 2002 presidential election. Tsvangirai was the first person ever to hand Zanu PF an electoral loss in 2008 as he won the first round of elections and ultimately led opposition to government in the following year. There was no doubt of his popularity and the effect he had on the people judging by the huge rallies.

However, it is this success and mass appeal that was also a hindering factor in building an institution that would outlast him. The first of these challenges were experienced barely a decade into the formation of the party where he was not willing to toe the line after the national executive of the party did not vote in line with his aspirations.

This culminated in the first major split of the party. Although the party survived these skirmishes, it set a precedent and a culture where constitutionalism was not set in stone and could be sacrificed at the expediency of populism.

The chaotic succession of Tsvangirai, which saw his protégé Nelson Chamisa, who had some of the attributes that he had learnt from his sponsor. The idea of constitutionalism was once again brought into question and that also led to splits and more splits in the opposition ranks. On the other hand, even the splinters continued a downward spiral and in the long run it was the voters who were disfranchised.

What is clear from the above is that there is a culture of defiance of rules and regulations in the opposition ranks. This has become an organisational culture that has been perpetuated over time.

Edgar Schein defined culture as "a pattern of shared basic assumptions learned by a group as it solved its problems of external adaptation and internal integration, which has worked well enough to be considered valid and, therefore, to be taught to new members as the correct way to perceive, think and feel in relation to those problems".

From the above definition, one can deduce that the culture of organisations is as important for the success of the organisation as the shared values and vision. Culture will shape all aspects of the organisation. The recent implosion of CCC saw some accusing the leader of running the organisation himself without collaboration with other members.

This can be seen to be more of a cultural thing where the leader is never questioned and the lack of democratic space, even though on paper the organisation insists that they are.

This kind of culture is therefore difficult to maintain cohesion within the organisation, which might work for the ruling party, because there are no incentives or rewards that can be reaped for toeing the party line.

There are no government contracts, diplomatic positions, board appointments to parastatals that can make people sacrifice ideology over principle.

Before the assumption of state power, cohesion can and will only work if the people feel that their voices and input is valued. It is, therefore, important to have an inclusive kind of leadership that takes on board the ideas of both the leadership and the masses.

Another critical issue that has become a culture is the idea that any disagreements have to lead to a split. Disagreements are over magnified, and the approach used is one that seeks to decimate the partners.

The idea that it might be better to reconcile rather than be right seems elusive in the opposition ranks. The splits that have happened since 2005 should have never happened. It seems that even after so many splits, which have left the opposition weaker, the politics of the strong man have left little room for reconciliation. The idea of conflict resolution is one that needs to be worked on.

Conflict and disagreements are part of humanity and learning to navigate these at organisational level is the only solution to building organisations that last for generations.

Also, one of the major issues that seems elusive is one of shared values.

What everyone is clear about is what damage Zanu PF has caused, from the economic woes that bedevil the people, unemployment, inadequate and unsatisfactory public goods.

Everyone is clear that there needs to be a change, however, how this change is going to look like seems to be the bone of contention. There seems to be self-deception among the opposition politicians. There seems to be low clarity on the future, and people with low clarity are particularly vulnerable to rationalising their actions based in narrowly defined self-interest, that is using to give them the illusion that they are doing the right thing. In other words, self-deception is the root of most leadership malfunction.

Finally, the opposition seems to suffer from lack of self-awareness and situational awareness. The idea that they know that Zanu PF, if given an opportunity, will infiltrate and destroy them, has not led to a different set of actions that reflect that reality.

The idea that the Zanu PF has a plethora of state resources, which they can employ to thwart opposition means that the opposition must be more proactive, innovative, and agile to gain power.

In conclusion, there needs to be some serious self-introspection on the way forward. It cannot be that two decades later, several elections later, the opposition is still failing to grab power from the same group of people. Different strategies would have to be employed but above all there needs to be a change in the culture and conflict resolution. It can never be over emphasised that there is power in unity and the opposition stands to gain much ground if they could utilise their diverse human resources.

Mapfumo is research associate at the African Leadership Centre, at the African Leadership Centre in Nairobi, Kenya. X@spearmunya.

Source - the independent
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