Academic journal article Strategic Review for Southern Africa

Zimbabwe's Democracy in the Wake of the 2013 Election: Contemporary and Historical Perspectives

Academic journal article Strategic Review for Southern Africa

Zimbabwe's Democracy in the Wake of the 2013 Election: Contemporary and Historical Perspectives

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

It is tempting to say that Zimbabwean democracy--in both its thin (liberal and multi-party) and thick (expanding modes of participation in all spheres of social existence) modes--has breathed its last. (1)) ZANU-PF's (2)) tricks, coercion, populism, regional peers' collusion, and the opposition's lackadaisical campaign resulted in a 31 July 2013 'victory' so big that even the party that has ruled Zimbabwe since 1980 was flabbergasted. A 61 per cent presidential count for the 89 year old Robert Gabriel Mugabe registered against the 61 year old Morgan Tsvangirai's 34 per cent. ZANU-PF's 197 seats in the national assembly to 70 for the MDC-T (3)) sealed nearly five years of a stalemated 'transitional inclusive government' (TIG), in which the two main parties 'shared' government (along with a deputy prime minister in a party splintered from the main MDC but that managed to keep its name: no one is quite certain how Arthur Mutambara, once the 'MDC's' leader but now without a parliamentary place got that post!) but in fact ZANU-PF used to rebuild its power (Raftopoulos 2013).

Little of a democratic process has arrived in TIG's stead. ZANUPF may well hold on to the levers of state for the foreseeable future (Moore 2005; 2013b). The Open Democracy website positing 'farewell to Mugabe' just before the 2008 election has now been replaced by something like 'goodbye democracy' (Chan 2007; Bracking 2013--the latter being the most interesting and creative of analysis among scores of commentary on the election). As Henning Melber (2013) wrote "if we accept this as 'African democracy', we can kiss good-bye to the free will of the people and surrender our right to make choices to those who do not care for the people anyway". (4)) Melber then cited ZANU-PF's history of taking power even when losing popular votes, judicial malfeasance (most recently, the Constitutional Court upheld the ZANU-PF's request to hold the election far before meeting the stipulations of the Global Political Agreement (GPA)--the 'roadmap' to TIG--including, fundamentally, reform of the military-dominated registry and electoral commission), marshalling of the military and militia to its cause, torturing, killing, and raping (especially in the 2008 runoff), manipulating TIG, hiring a foreign gang of election mercenaries, and convincing its neighbours that such shenanigans (5)) deserved regional and international support. For the Solidarity Peace Trust (2013), the July election was 'the end of a road'.

Yet democracy in Zimbabwe may not be dead. It might just be taking time to be born.

2. The explanation: Ideology or politics?

Even the most dilatory reader of Antonio Gramsci or collector of his quotes knows that morbid symptoms are thrown up whilst new sociopolitical orders are on their way. And as Marx might well have said about the array of revolutionary possibilities these days--and it could well be argued that 'democracy' is or would be 'revolutionary' in many African countries--there is a shortage of good midwives. Indeed, one must enter the rocky terrain of whether the problems in (liberal) democratic consolidation lie in its unsuitability for 'African' social patterns, culture, ideology or if it is 'politics' wherein the stumbling blocks occur. The two spheres are intertwined of course, but an ideological 'base' does not determine a political 'superstructure' (of course, one will note that the 'economic' base is being ignored here--and it will remain to the side for the duration of this article). Indeed, to suggest that it does is to elude the space of agency that is politics--and the hard work it demands.

ZANU-PF ideologue George Charamba (2013) (6)) performs such an illusion. Soon after the election he picked up Gramsci gleefully, writing in his weekly opinion piece in the state-run Herald that sometimes ideologies--and by implication the politics accompanying them --just don't fit the societies on which they are imposed, or into which they are imported from the centres of empire, so they can act at best as a cautionary note to those working within and on them. …

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