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Why Mnangagwa ‘won’, but lost the 2018 election

Opinion & Analysis
PRESIDENT Mnangagwa won the 2018 election on one hand, but lost it on the other. First, while the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) and Mnangagwa celebrated their vindication by the Constitutional Court (ConCourt), the upshot was that Zec, Mnangagwa, and the ConCourt got tainted.

PRESIDENT Mnangagwa won the 2018 election on one hand, but lost it on the other. First, while the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) and Mnangagwa celebrated their vindication by the Constitutional Court (ConCourt), the upshot was that Zec, Mnangagwa, and the ConCourt got tainted.

Moses Tofa

While the MDC Alliance lost the ConCourt challenge, it exposed the degree to which the entire system is defective.

Second, there is an entrenched perception that Mnangagwa is a ruthless man who played a role in the commission of grave human rights violations, including Gukurahundi. Mnangagwa has rejected these claims, claiming that he is “as soft as wool”.

However, the August 1 shootings in which seven people were killed and scores injured seems to validate the long-held perceptions about the crocodile.

Additionally, they seem to falsify the “new dispensation” narrative which Mnangagwa has desperately been peddling since his rise to power.

Third, it is oxymoronic that Mnangagwa won with a very slim margin while Zanu PF won more than two-thirds majority in Parliament.

This shows that all is not well within Zanu PF.

There should be a crisis of confidence in his leadership.

He is likely to commit considerable energy towards fighting internal factionalism.

It is likely that some within Zanu PF will disrupt his efforts.

The crisis of confidence may be largely hidden from the public eye at the moment, but it will gradually play in the open as Mnangagwa proceeds with his term of office.

Any ambitions by him to go for the second term will attract a backlash within the party.

Fourth and most importantly, Mnangagwa had hoped that the election would deal with the legitimacy crisis which has been troubling him since November 2017.

Unfortunately, it did not.

This disadvantages him from two fronts.

Within Zanu PF, those who assisted him to rise after his expulsion from the party and government will continue to claim that they fought for him to be where he is.

This is especially considering that apart from the coup, they also fought to ensure his slim margin of victory in the elections.

A resounding victory in a largely credible election would have assisted Mnangagwa to liberate himself from the claimers and enforcers of entitlement.

But the election left him entangled in the mesh of entitlement.

This means that Mnangagwa does not have the power and latitude to make major decisions. He is not the prince in Zanu PF.

He is the crocodile, but the waters are those who fought for him.

The power lies with the waters, and not the crocodile.

The crocodile serves at the pleasure of the waters, and is told that you can only go this far.

It is, therefore, futile to expect a radical change in the leadership of Zanu PF, including the presidium and the Cabinet.

Externally, the opposition has remained disgruntled, making it difficult for it to accept his desire and call to move on.

His tragedy is that the ability of a post-election country to move on depends on the question of legitimacy.

This makes his task to restore the economy very daunting.

Mnangagwa’s “missed opportunity”

In my view, Mnangagwa missed what could have been a golden opportunity when he took over power from former President Robert Mugabe in November 2017.

For the first time, people across the political divide, both in Zimbabwe and the diaspora, united against Mugabe.

Civilians were seen embracing the military, one of the institutions which they dreaded over the years.

Mnangagwa could have capitalised on this atmosphere by entering into a government of national unity (GNU).

By choosing to go for elections, Mnangagwa spoilt the atmosphere of nation-building and plunged the country back into polarisation.

There was need for a GNU arrangement, which could have postponed elections for at least five years, while uniting the nation and reforming institutions and the economy.

Such a GNU would have offered Zimbabwe a rare opportunity to bury a significant part of its dark past and move forward.

The foundation and principles upon which a GNU is built are important.

GNUs, which are formed against a background of violence and stolen elections have inherent problems.

These include a tendency by parties to feign unity while focusing on outmanoeuvring each other, including setting snares against each other.

In addition to forming a GNU, Mnangagwa should have stated that he would not contest for presidency at the end of the GNU.

His role should have been to assist the country to turn a new chapter after years of despotic rule.

This task required him to put the interests of Zimbabwe above and beyond those of individuals.

This route could have made him a two-sided hero — a hero of the liberation struggle and a “late hero” of the post-independence struggle for legitimacy, democracy, and transformation.

Such a GNU could have legitimised him and liberated him from the claimers and enforcers of entitlement.

There were mainly two barriers to the formation of such a GNU. First, the crocodile was probably willing, but the waters were not because it was against their interests.

Second, Zanu PF does not want a GNU in which the opposition appears to have paid its own way.

Instead, it wants to be seen stretching a “magnanimous hand to give the opposition what it does not deserve”.

Under this strategy, the party prefers to “trounce” the opposition first and then stretch out its hand.

Where the opposition faltered

In politics, it is always strategic to be a “detective of the right moment” as Robert Greene warns us under law 35 of The 48 Laws of Power.

In respect of the July 30, 2018 election, the opposition stumbled at least two times.

First, it faltered when it joined Zanu PF in the November 2017 demonstrations without setting conditions for its participation.

The architects of the coup wanted to avoid attracting the attention and possible intervention of Sadc, the AU, and the international community.

The best way to achieve this was by making sure that Mugabe resigned as soon as possible. However, this was difficult to achieve without the cooperation of the opposition, especially in the impeachment process.

Without such cooperation, Mugabe could have probably dug in, causing the situation to deteriorate and complicate.

The opposition should have set minimum conditions for cooperation, including laying a clear roadmap to the post-Mugabe era.

Instead, it was caught with euphoria. It forgot that Mugabe the person may go, but Mugabe the system could remain intact.

It acted under the impression that a Zanu PF without Mugabe at the helm would be easier to fight. However, it was clear that after the military intervention, Zanu PF was going to assume a more military nature.

It is, therefore, not surprising that the “Egyptians” which the opposition assisted yesterday, have turned against it today.

Second, the opposition faltered when it participated in the 2018 election. This election was important for Mnangagwa than it was for the opposition.

Mnangagwa was desperate to cleanse himself of a coup-backed legitimacy. The only way to do this was through an election.

A boycott by the MDC Alliance could have made it difficult, if not impossible, for Mnangagwa to redeem himself from the coup-linked crisis of legitimacy.

Yes, some smaller opposition parties could have participated, but this could have been inconsequential.

It is better for a crisis of legitimacy to be linked to a contested election than a coup.

Now that the legitimacy crisis rests not on the coup, but on a stolen election, Mnangagwa can feel comfortable because this kind of crisis is common on the African continent.

Where do we go from here?

On the one hand, Zanu PF wants the country to close the chapter of elections and “move on”.

On the other, the opposition is aggrieved and believes that working with Zanu PF is as good as certifying the electoral theft.

The opposition has resolved to consult its support base on the way forward.

In my view, the way forward is not an easy one. I am, therefore, confident that Mnangagwa and Zanu PF do not understand what they mean when they say let us move forward.

In the same vein, I don’t trust that the opposition knows what it takes to move the country forward.

This is Zimbabwe’s dilemma of dilemmas. Moving the country forward requires a major shifting of positions, principles, practices, perspectives and approaches by Zanu PF, the opposition and all citizens.