Speak truth to power

HARARE - Power is a relational concept in that persons exercise it over others.  However, the problem is how it has been operationalised.

In Africa, the concept of power has been located within individuals in what have been described as personalistic dictatorships. According to the new African rulers, the emerging political orders had to be transfixed on development; oppositional forces would distract this agenda, hence one-party systems.

Under these regimes, Africa witnessed “developmental dictatorships”. This political economy was premised on the belief that political security was a prerequisite for economic growth.

Such dictatorships drew sustenance from critical clusters of power, such as the army and the police apart from patrimonial systems. Zimbabwe has pretty much followed the same political trajectory although a de jure one-party system failed to eventuate.

In the aftermath of independence, each year was ascribed a theme, for example “gore regutsa ruzhinji”.

But it soon became clear that new polities were hardly concerned about the greater good. Rather, these so-called nationalists were preoccupied with accumulation of personal wealth to make up for time spent in the “bush”.

Soon, these developmental dictatorships were exposed, resulting in the rise of civil society and opposition parties, forcing political liberalisation. Nonetheless, in Zimbabwe, both the concepts of personalistic and developmental dictatorship have persisted.

Mugabe has ruled for 32 years with pretensions of political liberalisation along the way. His rule has been buttressed by a partisan state security apparatus, instrumental in the suppression of dissent and free expression.

To eliminate any doubts, the security chiefs attended the just-ended Zanu PF conference in Gweru. The deification of Mugabe by a significant portion of the civilian population and coercive instruments of the state, demonstrates that his personalistic dictatorship still has rich nourishment.

Zanu PF’s own Chris Mutsvangwa stated: “Anyone who challenges Mugabe for the top job does so at his own peril. Any party official who wants to succeed him will only do so with his (Mugabe’s) blessings.”

This describes the “big man” mentality around a personalistic dictatorship. Recently Kofi Annan said: “The support for the Big Man system — Robert Mugabe an example –– created a political culture that simply encourages autocrats and dictatorships.”

As stated earlier, such autocrats presided over developmental dictatorships.

Both the land seizures of early 2000 and recent indigenisation programme have, conceptually, a historical antecedent in developmental dictatorship.

Recall that opposition politics is heretical to developmental dictatorship.

When a constitution providing for the land grabs was rejected in 2000, Zanu PF set upon farmers and the opposition.

Of late, developmental dictatorship has been expressed through the seizures of liquidity from foreign companies, a project the MDC appears to oppose.

The presence of the MDC in the current coalition has presented a pernicious obstacle to developmental dictatorship.  

Hence the desire by Mugabe to end the power-sharing arrangement which he has often said is hindering his party from implementing its own policies.

In other words, the MDC is a hindrance to developmental dictatorship. Opposition to indigenisation is, however, plausible: historically, development dictatorships failed. While indigenisation is policy, it still reincarnates the rhetoric of “gutsa ruzhinji”, for example, which yielded little.

The gulf between the have-nots and the have-lots has continued to widen ever since.

It is unlikely indigenisation will bridge the gap. In short, the interface between personalistic and developmental dictatorship reflects oppressive politics.

The phrase “speak truth to power” was coined by the Quakers in the 1950s, calling on the US to stand firm against fascism.

Mutsvangwa’s statement evinces the failure within Zanu PF to speak truth to power or challenge a personalistic dictatorship. Grace Mugabe again painted a picture of Mugabe as a holy man who carried a rosary every day. However, Mugabe will not be judged by what his wife says but what he does.

If Mugabe were to say to Augustine Chihuri “I want Mwale (suspected of Buhera murders) and the people who killed Tonderai Ndira in custody tomorrow” then his carrying of the rosary would have meaning.

People who attended the Zanu PF conference should have told him personalistic and development dictatorship must end; that Zimbabwe needed a new vision of basic freedoms and equality for all. That is speaking truth to power. - Conrad Nyamutata

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