General election: Defining moment for Zimbabwe

HARARE - Zimbabwe enters into 2018 without its first executive president Robert Gabriel Mugabe and for the first time in 37 years, the voice of Mugabe will be missing outstandingly during the 2018 general election.

This is an extremely interesting development for a number of reasons but more prominently because of the fact that the entire opposition movement was united in and by its hatred of Mugabe. On the other hand, Mugabe disliked opposition with passion and when ever they opened their mouth; he heard the voice of imperialism and sellouts.

He mocked and derided them until they looked and sounded unreasonable and politically clueless. To some extent, opposition put themselves in a narrow political discourse by over concentrating on the person of Mugabe and his perceived undemocratic leadership style. This position had become the opposition’s word and song as if nothing else was wrong or mattered except Mugabe.

For nearly two decades, the opposition parties with their combined force and with the assistance of non governmental organisations and the support of western governments that hated Mugabe failed to deflate his political balloon and Mugabe soldiered on even in the face of sanctions that were imposed on Zimbabwe albeit illegally.

The collapse of the economy as a consequence of the sanctions and political isolation and blackmail of Zimbabwe failed to assist the opposition movement in their fight with Mugabe because their proposed policies did not look any better than what Zanu PF offered as a solution to the socio-economic challenges that faced the country.

With Mugabe gone, Tsvangirai not well and the emergence of President Emmerson Mnangagwa, what can the opposition do to make themselves electable and indeed what does the public expect in 2018?

Whatever happens in 2018 will never be an outcome of recounting history and past achievements because the departure of Mugabe and the way it happened is the last major political event that is still fresh on the minds of many voters.

It is equally true that the drama on the dismissal of Mnangagwa from government and the story of his shortlived exile in South Africa and the subsequent return home to assume both the leadership of Zanu PF and government is the most exciting political game of all time.

Since assuming office, Mnangagwa has said the right things, is doing and focusing on critical and important issues and certainly seems to understand what needs to be done to heal the economy.

Indeed, there are difficult things that still need to be done to return the economy on a path to positive territory and what is crucial are not instant results but the laying of a strong foundation on which our future prosperity is secured.

Mnangagwa has to keep his current base of supporters while doing everything to convince those seating on the fence and of course to attract swing voters to win the forthcoming election convincingly. The new political era gives the incumbent a huge strategic political advantage as it breaks down the culture that had been built over the 37 years around one person.

Zanu PF has an opportunity to reposition itself and can open new avenues of looking at national problems and the needs of society without being constrained by the rigidities of the past.

On the contrary, opposition can not carry on with their old message and remain relevant. The difficulty they face is that the new president is proactive and is defining and setting the political pace.

Mnangagwa must not fight an election on the basis of opposition grievances but on policy. It is clear that opposition has no coherent message right now and the clamoring for change for the sake of it is not a winning strategy.

It is important to note that the removal of Mugabe from office was achieved not by the opposition parties and their traditional supporters overseas. On the contrary, this major act was achieved by the ruling party through its own internal systems and Zimbabwe became free from Mugabe for good.

The new political dispensation is largely an outcome of fierce fights that had become endemic within the ruling party. Suffice to say that the pressure that came from the war veterans and finally the intervention of Zimbabwe’s heroic defence forces that could no longer tolerate the degeneration of leadership in the ruling party acted to eliminate a danger to the security and stability of the country

As we speak, Mnangagwa who was vilified and pilloried by one faction within Zanu PF has become the president of Zanu PF and President of the Republic. He is deputised by General Chiwenga who was equally hated by the same faction that targeted the now president and of course by another stalwart in the party vice president Kembo Mohadi.

These men became the darling of the public and this came with a lot of political goodwill that seems to be rising by the day driven by the newly-found freedom and the pragmatism of the new president. There is no doubt that there are still a lot of challenges that face the country but the new president has managed to give the citizens of Zimbabwe renewed hope in the future of the country.

Mnangagwa is skillfully ridding the party of all negative traces that built up during his predecessor and has committed to return Zanu PF to being people-centred and principally get every leader to deal with real problems that face the ordinary persons.

He has certainly won the battle of the mind over opposition by taking a position on corruption, introducing discipline in government and promoting a good work ethic in which he has been leading by example.

Mnangagwa has called upon the party members to forgive each other for the sake of unity in the party. He personally said let bygones be bygones and he seems to have a clear strategy about how he intends to solve economic problems and to manage the economy thereof.

Effectively, he has squeezed the opposition parties too hard because now, they do not seem to have a clear and coherent position or anything meaningful to say except suggesting that people should not trust Zanu PF because it is still dominated by the same personalities.

While this message sounds true on face value, in reality, it is about which leader appears to offer hope of economic recovery, political stability, has the capacity to unite the nation, restructuring government and getting it to do or carry out its traditional functions efficiently.

The battle boils down to issues of strategies that work and are clear on what exactly each party wants to do and how to achieve what it sets out to do. On this account alone, Mnangagwa seems to have already done enough to consolidate his position with his faithful support base and interestingly, there are many people who have never voted before but are decidedly going to vote because they believe that Mnangagwa offers the greatest promise that will take Zimbabwe forward.

The message of the opposition in its entirety rings hollow because their message to the public is “save us from Zanu PF and dwelling on what they see as Zanu PF failures.” What about what they want to do for the nation?

Presumably, the two major talking points and election deciders are the question of which party has the best leader and who has the greatest chance of mending the economy?

On the basis of the current arguments, Zanu PF clearly has the best leader. He understands that he is not a factional leader, not a leader of a tribe or totem as he declared directly himself but a leader of all people in Zimbabwe.

Mnangagwa has been creative, innovative and certainly visionary in a simple way that people can relate to. Although rebuilding a nation is a mammoth task, he seems to understand that harnessing the power of the people from the bottom is critical for addressing the most pertinent issues that matter most to the ordinary people.

In reality, the campaign for 2018 has started but in the end the outcome will be determined by the recent political events and the biggest beneficiaries will be the participants in that change creating process.

Following closely behind the political events is the question of the economy. This remains problematic but the public just need to believe that the policies being pursued have a realistic chance to change the economy for the better.

If the incumbent president were to use all the goodwill that he has, he stands a good chance to win the argument on who is best positioned to make a real difference on economic recovery. On the basis of the current events and taking into account reputational considerations, the opposition has an uphill task to win over the incumbent.

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