My enemy’s enemy is my friend


Politics is the art of the possible.
In computer language, default means a value that a program or operating system assumes, or a course of action that a program or operating system will take, when the user or programmer specifies no overriding value or action.

The two MDCs could soon find themselves in each other’s arms whether by design – or default.

Under siege from a common and powerful adversary, Zanu PF, they appear to be closing ranks, a natural reaction. Given the circumstances, this is an inevitable development.

Buoyant after their congress in January, the Welshman Ncube-led MDC felt able to confront both MDC-T and Zanu PF simultaneously.

But sooner rather than later, they had to revise this strategy as the reality on the ground proved vastly different.

President Robert Mugabe refused to accept that Ncube had replaced Arthur Mutambara as MDC leader and categorically stated that he would not swear him in as Deputy Prime Minister, virtually overriding the MDC decision at its congress.

Mutambara remains Deputy Premier by default.
Last month, the party had almost all its scheduled rallies forcibly stopped by the police despite having given due notice and satisfying other laid-down conditions.

The MDC-T has suffered worse at the hands of the regime.

Yes, the MDC had a messy divorce in 2005 and both sides were to blame, to various extents.

Yes, there should be admission of real and perceived issues which split them in the first place, such as policy and strategy differences.

There were accusations and counter-accusations of dictatorship, etc. In political parties, as in broad society, there is normal distribution of bigots and these bigots on both sides of the MDC further poisoned the split by lacing it with tribalism.

Yes, bitter words have been exchanged between the two parties, but they must avoid the Zanu PF culture of regarding political adversaries as political enemies.

But I am inclined to think the split had much, though not solely, to do with strategy. In politics, you need to view the totality of the picture.

Sometimes, one must make a choice; they must choose. Some accommodation is needed when there is one formidable enemy.

That is why the MDC last month threw in its lot with the MDC-T in the Speaker of Parliament vote. Everything is loaded against the MDCs, with even the state apparatus used to fight political battles.

So the MDC wisely delivered the Speaker post to the MDC-T; they did considerably more for considerably less.

“My enemy’s enemy is my friend” has been a staple of realist statecraft since time immemorial. In 1941, responding to criticism over his embrace of Josef Stalin’s Russia, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill declared that “if Hitler invaded hell, I would at least make positive reference to the devil in the House of Commons”.

Yes, using a common enemy as the basis for an allegiance can be problematic unless there are other substantial areas for common ground, otherwise if the common enemy disappears, the allies might turn on each other.

This has been shown before, such as when some of the United States-backed Afghan Mujahideen fighting the occupying Soviet Army spawned the Taliban and al-Qaeda after the Soviets withdrew in 1979, both now among America’s greatest enemies in the early 21st century.

On the other hand, if two parties that share common ground in other areas later find the need to ally against a common enemy, the ensuing alliance might endure even after the threat disappears.

One example would be the lasting improvement in relations between Britain and France after the end of the 19th century, despite them being enemies for centuries, after both understood the need to align against the growing threat posed by Germany.

Although the formal alliances only came about from necessity, prior to any talk of alliance Britain and France had both largely democratised and thus eventually came to see themselves as fighting for a common cause against authoritarian regimes.

Although other powers (notably Russia) also joined forces against Germany, their ideological differences precluded any chance of an alliance that could survive the defeat of the common enemy.

“Politics has a certain ecology to it – and MDCs are Zanu PF’s natural prey,” to paraphrase one political commentator. The two MDCs have much in common as both drivers for a progressive system and targets of the repressive system.

In the circumstances, the MDC cannot afford to confront both MDC-T and Zanu-PF with equal vigour because the levers of power, real power, are in the hands of Zanu PF, as seen in Mugabe’s utter refusal to have Ncube as principal and the continual disruption of MDC rallies.

Ncube’s party, while much smaller going by parliamentary representation, holds the balance of power.

That is a political reality that the MDC-T can only ignore to their folly and ruin. They need each other because they have much, much in common. In other words, they should close ranks. That’s realpolitik.

Now it’s time for realpolitik, that is, politics based on real and practical factors and not on idealism or theories. 2008 was a wasted opportunity; the MDCs snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.

As can be seen from Mugabe’s refusal to swear in Ncube, the Global Political Agreement (GPA) is, by design, about policy, but, by default, about politics. That’s why important issues are still outstanding over two years later.

After the signing of the GPA in 2008, the MDC accused the MDC-T of misinterpreting a power-sharing accord for a power transfer arrangement, but reform and regime change are two sides of the same coin; one inevitably leads to the other. You cannot separate policy from politics, and politics from strategy.

While Zanu PF may still be strong enough to do almost anything, it is not powerful enough to do everything. If it persists, as it is presently doing, it risks achieving nothing, as the Speaker vote outcome showed.