A divided opinion on national dialogue

Zimbabwe’s prolonged crisis has not only polarised society but it has simultaneously sown a pervasive sense of doubt, suspicion, mistrust and even indifference on anything political, especially when it has to do with Zanu PF government. 

The current national dialogue as initiated by President Emmerson Mnangagwa has unavoidably suffered the same fate. 

There are sharp divisions in public opinion on the purpose and possible outcome of this process. 

Unfortunately, these perceptions have a huge bearing not only in the process but outcome of the dialogue and hence a subject worth discussing. 

In my previous instalment on this subject, I observed that there was some disquiet and serious pessimism. 

Considering the context of the national dialogue coming hard on the heels of a national protest turned riotous and subsequent killings, abductions and rape cases allegedly by security personnel; the doomsayers were not entirely wrong. 

I also pointed out that some people saw the dialogue as Zanu PF’s ploy to hoodwink people and divert attention not only from economic problems but recent blatant human right violations.

In this article, I will interrogate further the implications of this assumption that the national dialogue is nothing but a farce calculated to rescue Mnangagwa’s tottering public image as a reformist leader.

It is important for a genuine debate on this pressing national concern. That things are not at their best for Mnangagwa needs no emphasis; the post-election soldiers shooting of protesters and bystanders, the spiralling inflation and decaying economy, shortages of basic commodities, fuel price hike(currently service stations have run dry), the riots and shooting of even more people. 

The strong condemnation of the Government of Zimbabwe was both internal and international, including by countries like Britain, that were warming to the so-called reformist Zanu PF.

It is very possible then that perhaps Zanu PF just wants to ease pressure from itself by using the national dialogue to buy time. If that were to be the case one further asks the question to what end and who would be the loser? 

My answer to my own question is that Zanu PF would be the loser and Mnangagwa’s credibility would have been shredded beyond repair. Not that Zanu PF is sincere but it is unlikely that the party would take such a risk where its president stands to lose face. Why am I saying so?

First of all, Zanu PF was not directly coerced to the national dialogue process. It chose the timing, venue (although some participants have reservations on the choice of the venue) and potential participants. 

In all honesty, the process is government-driven as the president’s initiative.

If the national dialogue pays dividends, which hopefully it does, definitely Mnangagwa gets the bigger credit and by extension Zanu PF as a party. 

Of course, the spirit of the talks should be a victory for Zimbabweans and not politicians but still credit would be given to Mnangagwa.

In the unfortunate event of the national dialogue failing to restore basic normalcy like security and public safety, the situation could easily get out of control. 

Only the Zanu PF government would have lost the grip of the country and the world would not watch by the country tearing into pieces by strife and lawlessness. That is, if the last public protests are anything to go by.

The last thing any ruling party would want and Zanu PF in particular would be to lose grip of levers of power and invite international interference. 

Of course, the Constitutional Court ruled on the electoral dispute and legally Mnangagwa assumed the country’s highest office. Legally he is secure but definitely not politically if the economic situation continues to deteriorate.

Logically, the president would not allow a situation, if he can control it, where the political and economic crisis brings into question his legitimacy which remains contested by the MDC Alliance in particular. The National Dialogue becomes one avenue to move the country forward without further jeopardising his standing.

Generally, the atmosphere in the country is potentially explosive. Anywhere with a combination of both political and economic decline one would expect civil and political unrest and instability. In Zimbabwe, the history of repression of dissenting views and the recent overt acts of shooting at unarmed civilians in the full glare of international media leaves a lot to be desired. The government has a lot of soul searching and has to go overdrive to lessen the tension in the country.

Failure to arrest the trends could easily slide the country into a failed state with rogue army elements being a law unto themselves. It is easy to be a “Somali” and have warlords and other criminals mushrooming all over as motorists were being reaped money at fake roadblocks by marauding youths (where I was also a victim of the reap off). Any ruling party would be wary of that.

But Zimbabwe’s biggest challenge remains the economy. The democracy deficits and lack of constitutionalism are matters that can be easily settled with political will from the ruling party. However, the economy is another matter. It is easier to destroy than build. Besides, there cannot be political stability in a collapsed economy. We can dream of investors and the country being open for business but that would take us nowhere unless we put certain fundamentals right.

Economic recovery is not an overnight matter and would still call for further sacrifice by citizens and business. Therein, lies the importance of a national consensus which can only be guaranteed by processes like the National Dialogue if properly executed. The onus is on Zanu PF to ensure there is a national buy-in.

In conclusion, I do not rule out that those who believe the National Dialogue could be a gimmick may be correct.

Though only time will tell. In my view, the ruling party has limited choices, if any, from the present crisis and thus cannot close its only possible way out. In the unlikely event Zanu PF is foolish enough to use the National Dialogue as a gimmick, then it is Mnangagwa’s government that stands to lose whatever ounce of credibility that may be remaining. In politics anything is possible, but in this case, there are more reasons for the president to want the National Dialogue process to succeed especially to lift the country out of the current quagmire but also to save himself.

He should try hard to reach out to all political players and extend his invitation to non-political players like churches, civil society, academics, business and many more. 

    Post a comment

    Readers are kindly requested to refrain from using abusive, vulgar, racist, tribalistic, sexist, discriminatory and hurtful language when posting their comments on the Daily News website.
    Those who transgress this civilised etiquette will be barred from contributing to our online discussions.
    - Editor

    Your email address will not be shared.