HomeOpinion & AnalysisPolitics of entitlement: A threat to electoral democracy

Politics of entitlement: A threat to electoral democracy


The election season is upon us and Zimbabwe will go to the polls on July 30. This election is both critical and unique in the sense that it is now urgent that the country moves forward after a long period of economic retrogression. It is unique because for the first time in almost two decades, the election will not have Robert Mugabe (former President) and the now late opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai on the ballot paper.

By Terrence Muvoti

The absence of these two men from the ballot papers marks a monumental shift that has caught the country unawares; however, a sense of unchallenged entitlement has become one of the focal points of these elections.

Entitlement has for a long time been the default state of the political landscape in Zimbabwe. A hegemonic interplay of consensual and forceful power based on an ethos of liberation entitlement that was accepted by the public due to colonial resentment has enabled Zanu PF to maintain a monopoly on political office under the façade of democratic governance.

The opposition parties have also used some political rhetoric in local socio-cultural structures, which in turn have produced folk theories of democracy which gave some of their members a sense of entitlement to lead.

Democracy is more than just a buzzword of revolution. It represents hope for a better, freer, and more prosperous future in countries around the world. But all too often, it faces threats to its expansion and even to its very existence. Conventional wisdom tells us that good political societies are built on the principles of democracy.

Democracy also implies the utilisation of electoral processes to decide which citizens will be entrusted with the basic tasks of government and the right to democracy is the right of people to be consulted and participate in the process by which political values are reconciled and choices made.

The right to electoral democracy builds on these, but also seeks to extend the ambit of protected rights to ensure meaningful participation by the governed in the formal political decisions by which the quality of their lives and societies are shaped.

An “electoral democracy” describes a democratic government based on a system that enables all the citizens to select one candidate from a list of competitors for political office. The process is called an election. Each citizen becomes a voter who casts a secret ballot with their choices. In order for the election to qualify for democratic integrity, the process must be free and fair without any coercion or bribery tactics and independent of the incumbents. The politics in Zimbabwe pose a different picture; leaders on both sides of the aisle are more interested in politics of entitlement and maintaining their elite positions. Far too few politicians have the best interests at heart of anyone but themselves.

To be entitled means believing you have an inherent right to something. It is very easy to feel entitled, to feel like you deserve a certain quality of life or valuable opportunities and positions. No one is immune from entitlement at one time or another. It’s what you do with that sense of entitlement that matters more. Every Zimbabwean is entitled to healthcare, shelter, education, etc. To have these basic human needs fulfilled should be an inherent right for all Zimbabweans. Then, there are the war veterans of the liberation struggle who feel it is their inherent right to be the leaders of the nation because of the great contribution they gave to the attainment of independence. They are on record saying “the pen cannot rule the gun”, loosely translated to mean elections cannot override the liberation war. Such seismic political comments if not nipped in the bud have the propensity to reach alarming proportions as has been the case in Zimbabwe.

The notion of “the gun rules the pen” leads to a false sense of entitlement whereby those who fought in the liberation struggle feel that they are entitled to lead only because they fought the war. The former war veterans leader, Ambassador Christopher Mutsvangwa is on record advocating for the war veterans to get ministerial posts. Mutsvangwa also seems to have been affected by the November 2017 euphoria when Mugabe was removed from power. He is determined that he played a crucial role in the removal of the long serving statesman and, therefore, the idea of him participating in the primary elections was just but a procedure, he already has the passport to be a Member of Parliament and probably a minister.

During the leadership fight in Zanu PF before the removal of Mugabe, there were allegedly two embattled factions who both felt they were entitled to takeover the leadership of the ruling party. One of the factions referred to the leadership issue as “chinhu chedu” (our thing) showing high levels of a sense of entitlement.
It went to an extent were an alleged member of this group was quoted saying “chinhu ichi chine vene vacho” (this thing has its owners). This is just a window in which one can see how a sense of entitlement had reached alarming levels, and as the country prepares for the July elections, that mentality of “Chinhu chedu” politics must be arrested in its infancy, because it has the potential to set parameters for something very dangerous and something very ugly which would be a threat to electoral democracy.

The death of Tsvangirai also heightened tensions in the opposition MDC-T as the vice presidents jostled for the ultimate position in the “cockpit”.

The politics of entitlement also exists in the MDC-T political culture. Elias Mudzuri criticised his party for subjecting him to primary elections saying as the vice president he could not “be seen being challenged by junior people unless the idea was to reduce him into a political midget”.

Clearly, Mudzuri felt he was entitled to automatically represent the party in the constituency without going through the constitutionally obligated procedure of primary elections. These sobering and measured considerations of law and procedure by the MDC-T just to secure the most popular outcome must be condemned in a democracy.

“To die for an idea is unquestionably noble, but how much nobler it would be if men died for the ideas that were true,” once said American journalist Henry Louis Mencken.

Jessie Majome came out guns blazing blaming the party for allowing one Joanna Mamombe to contest her for the Harare West constituency. Her reasons were that the late leader, Tsvangirai had promised them that seating MPs will not be contested. This is just an indicator that the MDC-T is not an electoral democracy which determines leadership by election as required by the Constitution. To them leadership is bestowed on the person who receives the last anointing of the patriarch as in Bronze Age Palestine and other medieval/feudal societies.

Many Zimbabweans do not know what to think about politics anymore. They just don’t. They do not know how to have faith in politics anymore and it is a sad reality, because cynicism and apathy accomplish nothing. There is no such thing as a perfect politician, but whoever holds the office must demonstrate humanity and humility.

As a nation, the people have waited for the equalisation and respect among all members of the society regardless of the majority or minority status.

The culture of entitlement solely based on one’s position and contributions is archaic politics which needs to be discouraged.

 Terrence Muvoti writes in his personal capacity

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