Any observer of the current political situation in Zimbabwe cannot help but be discouraged. What’s happening there does not augur well for that country’s future. Its current president, Robert Mugabe, is a doddering 93 year old, frequently out of the country for medical attention, and presiding over what by any definition is a failed state or close to it. Zimbabwe has a deteriorating economy without money to even pay its civil servants or government services, a crumbling, some have said rotting infrastructure and disintegrating health care, education and social service systems. What’s worse is that his lieutenants in government are at open war with each other, trying to gain advantage as they wait for this man to ‘depart.’ A recipe for civil conflict.

One would think that Zimbawe’s opposition political parties would be strategic in their planning by uniting to topple this incompetent and corrupt regime at the next election. If there was a time when Mugabe and his ruling party were at a major disadvantage it is now, when they are hopelessly divided among themselves and could be induced into a realignment of that country’s political make up. Instead, the opposition has itself splintered into what an observer has described as “ineffective fiefdoms that have no chance of taking on the ruling party.” Part of the recipe for civil conflict.

Here is what has happened. In the early 2000s, a new nationwide organization, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), became a potent force in Zimbabwe’s politics and actually succeeded in ‘defeating’ Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) in two elections. I put the word defeating in quotation marks because Mugabe not only rigged the vote in those two elections but actually overturned the results in the 2008 election, using violence to win a second round, which the opposition chose to boycott. Yet, instead of maintaining a united front against Mugabe, the MDC splintered into at least 5 organizations, three of them using the same name. So, when another election was held in 2013, Mugabe used the same tactics to cheat, divide and conquer and is still in power.

Recently, Mugabe’s own governing party splintered as well, with several top lieutenants of the President being unceremoniously removed from office and the party. They too formed their own political party and were regarded by observers as a potentially effective unit in a united opposition to Mugabe. They had enough of a following within the ruling party which they could bring along into opposition politics. But they too have splintered within this new party and are instead quibbling over who has rights to the name of the party. Like their MDC counterparts, they concentrate on name calling and quarrels among themselves while their political target sits smugly.

Mugabe has exploited disunity and disorganization in opposition ranks to cheat his way into maintaining power for over 35 years. He may yet do that for a few more years, even when he is dead, with the followers he currently has, using tactics that they have perfected over time. And all this will happen because the opposition is not galvanized into a united front with an effective strategy that ordinary Zimbabweans would be willing to risk their lives to follow. There are examples in sub-Saharan Africa, of opposition parties uniting and organizing to dislodge incompetent old regimes, and doing this without violence: in Malawi to remove another 93 year old dictator, Kamuzu Banda; in Zambia, to end a government whose economic incompetence for over 30 years had brought that country to its knees; and, in Kenya where Daniel arap Moi was forced to face reality.

In Zimbabwe, the ordinary people’s desire for a political transformation is being frustrated because the opposition doesn’t seem to get a simple truism: there is strength in unity. For that they are part of the problem not the solution.

It is time for new, younger and braver men and women to lead the struggle for democracy in Zimbabwe. People in that country demand it and if it is forthcoming the international community will once again lend its full support.

2 Responses to “Zimbabwe’s Political Opposition Has Become the Problem”

  1. Nadine Sahyoun says:

    So very true. This sad situation in Zimbabwe has gone on for far too long. It is time to topple that regime. Is there no emerging strong leader?

  2. Calvin Masilela says:

    Mlilo, excellent observations! But there is one truism; change in political culture is unlikely to happen in Zimbabwe as long as the Zimbabwean middle class opts to vote with its feet. The current political circus is not the answer. Why? Because there is too much a gap between the political elite and the down trodden (povo)to make a difference, hence the need for Zimbabwe’s middle class to rethink their role if they expect desirable change.

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