Monday, October 12, 2009

Expediency or Enlightenment?

A power-sharing arrangement was brokered last year in Zimbabwe, between Morgan Tsvangirai and the notorious Robert Mugabe. This amorphous and delicate governing structure, with Mugabe as President and Tsvangirai as Prime Minister, was put into place in September 2008, to chart a path forward for this bankrupt country. This was all done to apparently fulfil the wishes of the people. For years they toiled under the Mugabe regime. Tsvangirai has himself been the subject of numerous beatings, repeated incarceration, and treason charges. He has suffered in the hands of a man whom he now has to call ‘Mr President’; and work with under difficult circumstances. Between these two giants, they have to find a formula to rescue the beleaguered country, which continues to be inundated by travel bans and sanctions (the protest shown by the world against the Mugabe regime). Was Tsvangirai truly ‘enlightened’ to have taken on this new role, or is he simply pursuing a path of expediency and political survival?

Make no mistake about Robert Mugabe - he has 9 lives, and is nothing short of a born-political survivalist. He began his political life in the 60s as the secretary general of the Zimbabwe African National Union (“ZANU”). He became a political prisoner in Rhodesia (when the Republic of Rhodesia was an unrecognised state). During incarceration he nursed his grievances and fortified his convictions for an inevitable struggle - to replace white minority rule with a one-party Maoist regime. After his release in 1974, Mugabe went to participate in the Zimbabwe liberation struggle. He contested elections in 1980, when Rhodesia’s electoral system allowed Black participation. Upon Independence in 1980, he became the Republic of Zimbabwe’s first Prime Minister. Calling for reconciliation, Mugabe presented to his people a Maoist-centred government. As years passed, the Mugabe regime became the target of international and domestic criticism. The Government in Zimbabwe moved against the white people, expropriating thousands of white-owned farms, printing hundreds of millions of Zimbabwean dollars.  After issuing a $(Z)100 million currency note the government is set to follow it up with a $(Z) 200 million note.  These notes of high denominations make even buying a loaf of bread a luxury beyond ordinary citizens.  Hyper-inflation was rampant, and political opponents were intimidated and terminated. Zimbabwe’s economy declined rapidly. Oil and food shortages followed, and the white minority felt prejudiced and intimidated. Following the March 2008 elections, the G8 released a collective statement in July 2008, refusing to accept or recognise the legitimacy of Mugabe’s Government. Make no mistake - this country is in serious trouble.

On 15 September 2008, a power-sharing agreement was brokered by the then South African President, Thabo Mbeki. Under this agreement, Mugabi would remain the President, and Tsvangirai would be appointed Prime Minister.

Morgan Tsvangirai was the President of the Movement for Democratic Change in Zimbabwe (“MDC”). He was a key opponent to Mugabe duringt the most recent elections . Prior to this, Tsvangirai also participated unsuccessfully in the 2002 elections. Following the March 2008 elections, the official results showed that Tsvangirai, as the candidate for the MDC, had taken 47.8% of the popular vote. Mugabe received 43.2% of the vote, but did not concede defeat. Even before the official announcement, MDC had challenged the electoral process, and said that there were 120,000 votes that remained unaccounted for, which MDC said would have given them outright victory.

Tsvangirai may be best described as a lifelong political activist. His career began in Mugabe’s ZANU party. He rose to the senior ranks, and progressed quickly. By 1989, Tsvangirai became the Secretary General of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, the umbrella trade union of the country. Under Tsvangirai’s leadership, the union left the ZANU, to form the MDC.

As an activist, and later opponent to Mugabi, Tsvangirai’s life has been plagued by tribulation and continuing tragedy. He has survived at least 3 assassination attempts, including one in 1997, when unidentified assailants broke into his 10th storey office and tried to throw him out of the window. Between 2000 and 2008, Tsvangirai had to endure charges of treason, detention and torture (at the behest and orchestration of the Government - led by?). He was barely recognisable after a series of beatings that he withstood in the hands of the Zimbabwean Special Forces, in March 2007. At that time, a freelance journalist by the name of Edward Chikanbo, smuggled television pictures of Tsvangirai to show the extent of his serious injuries. Chikanbo was himself abducted from his house. His body was discovered a week later, in another village.

Even after the March 2008 elections, there was no abatement to the harassment of Tsvangirai. In June 2008 Tsvangirai was detained by the police while campaigning in the run-off elections in June 2008 (there being no clear winner in March 2008) Describing the June elections, as a “violent sham”, Tsvangirai withdrew from the contest and took refuge in the British Embassy at Harare. He did not seek asylum to England.

Even after an ‘agreement’ was reached between Mugabe and Tsvangirai, where the MDC would have control of the police, and ZANU would command the army, both sides could not agree on the allocation of cabinet positions. It was only in February 2009 that Morgan Tsvangirai was sworn in as Zimbabwe’s Prime Minister.

This ‘unity’ government is a coalition of two political figures, held together by duck-tape. Following the swearing-in ceremony, Tsvangirai’s announced nominee for deputy Agriculture Minister, Roy Bennett, was arrested and charged with treason. The charges were later reduced. Meanwhile, the President continues with the implementation of his unpopular land reform policy.

Tragedy continues to pursue Tsvangirai. On 6 March 2009, Tsvangirai and his wife, Susan Tsvangirai, were involved in a car accident. Susan Tsvangirai was killed. A lorry had collided into the Prime Minister’s car, because the driver allegedly fell asleep behind the wheel. The view has been held by some, including the former US Ambassador to Zimbabwe, Ian McDonald, that the President was behind this ‘accident’. Just within a month after this accident, Tsvangirai’s grandson Sean died by drowning in a swimming pool.

Can there be no end to this tragic and tortured life? The man has spent the better part of his life to achieve power to govern his country. He has attained it in some measure, but he has to serve under a President who is not only his nemesis, but may have machinated, and continue to remain culpable for much of the misfortune that has befallen on Morgan Tsvangirai. Enlightenment may show forth in the exercise of genuine forgiveness of one’s life-long adversary. There are no indications of this. The Prime Minister has also alienated himself from some Western institutions, which may have been a mistake. He has exclaimed that the IMF are ‘devils’, in the context of blaming Zimbabwe’s economic woes on IMF’s structural adjustment programme. It remains to be seen whether the former trade union leader can actually lead as Prime Minister, surrounded by this and so many other constraints. Regardless of whether the political motivations of Tsvangirai are based on enlightenment or expediency, in the final analysis, in either case, the price may one that is too high to pay.

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