HomeOpinion & AnalysisNo democracy works without dialogue

No democracy works without dialogue

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Guest column: Gibson Nyikadzino

WHEN a President in the United States of America (USA) is set to address the nation, it is often reported that many citizens tend to go about their business and catch up with the address afterwards. However, in Africa, Zimbabwe in particular, when the President addresses the nation, everyone pays attention because what he says either builds or shatters a dream. That is the difference. There is an issue Zimbabweans are pinning hopes on, daily talks of and the media has always been setting an agenda for politicians with little progress — national dialogue.

The issue of a national dialogue in Zimbabwe has been one set and deliberated from a tone of anger.

While citizens recite platitudes of reconciliation, it sounds as hatred festers in many hearts because of a lack of national consensus.

Surprisingly, instead of seeing happiness in dialogue, it is seen through the eyes of patriots against sellouts, the pious versus the profane.

Historically, all wars end on the negotiating table and as South Africa’s late former President Nelson Mandela once remarked: “You dialogue with people you disagree with.”

Zimbabwe’s independence was a holistic product borne out of the need to end animosity, hostility and rancour.

Similarly, the post-independence challenges in Zimbabwe’s southern regions, though imperfect and defective in content and structure, were resolved to enunciate stability and an end to national repugnance through dialogue.

The 2008 Global Political Agreement (GPA) negotiated between then President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu PF and two Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) formations led by Morgan Tsvangirai and Arthur Mutambara grasped dialogue through strenuous and intense commitment.

In the case of Tsvangirai, he endured police brutality, harassment, torture and political persecution and desired to negotiate with his tormentors for the national good.

Though he had been denied the right to the presidency, he looked at the issue of dialogue beyond the presidency.

In an interview with James Lewis from the International Bar Association (IBA) in 2010 about the Zimbabwe-European Union (EU) strained relations, Tsvangirai argued in Zimbabwe’s corner: “We have got legitimate concerns from Zimbabwe, so let’s find a platform at which we negotiate.”

Tsvangirai, unlike his “heir apparent” Nelson Chamisa, looked at dialogue from a broad sense of engagement.

Circumstances Tsvangirai engaged in dialogue with Zanu PF were more burdensome than today, making him incomparable with the present, even outclassing the perceived heir.

While Chamisa understands that dialogue is key in Zimbabwe, he has resorted to setting conditions from a minimalist point of view.

He has continued to focus on dialogue mostly from the point of the presidency. In 2018 he said: “I will not be tricked into talking to (President Emmerson) Mnangagwa, he betrayed Tsvangirai for selfish reasons.

“I do not know what they will be inviting me to talk about. This is a new ball game, this is a new direction.”

The 2018 presidential legitimacy argument within the MDC-Alliance led by Chamisa appears to be evaporating by the day.

A soft stance by his party lieutenants like Tendai Biti and Job Sikhala is emerging after some uncompromising arguments that “we will not talk to Mnangagwa”.

There appears to be a lack of consensus among the MDC-Alliance elite.

Recently, Biti acknowledged the need to dialogue with Zanu PF.

“We are prepared to talk to them without any conditionality, we haven’t said Mnangagwa must cease to be President before we talk to him, we haven’t said that,” said Biti.

Similarly, Sikhala also mentioned that he no longer considers any value from “polarising politics” after conceding that opposition leaders are not doing enough.

It is here that three years after his death, Tsvangirai’s absence is felt with demonstrable pain and consequence.

In 2008, Tsvangirai had regional and international capital that gave him recognition which pushed Zanu PF to the negotiating table with necessity.

This is where Chamisa’s handicap emerges.

The Southern Africa Development Community (Sadc) and other regional and international bodies, though spoken out of reservations, urged parties to respect the 2018 Constitutional Court determination.

No democracy works without dialogue, and dialogue does not mean compromising values, ideals and beliefs.

As popular as Chamisa is through claims of garnering 2,6 million votes without providing evidence, it is imperative to consider that some people who voted for him were protesting the unceremonious departure of Mugabe.

It is, however, not guaranteed that he will have those numbers in 2023, nor that those people will vote Zanu PF out.

Tsvangirai’s legacy and credentials will never be transferred to any of his “heirs” either Chamisa or Douglas Mwonzora.

His area of strength, the ability to dialogue with those whose ideology he opposed, today is what he is revered for by his critics and tormentors.

With dialogue seen as a key factor to determine a better outcome to issues bedevilling Zimbabwe, the approach by those who today claim to be “representing the Tsvangirai legacy” further dents the late MDC-T leader.

The Zimbabwean situation is abnormally peculiar.

Could the lack of progress in Zimbabwe be a case that God spends the day elsewhere, but “sleeps” in our country?

In some countries, warring parties negotiate and deliberate their positions for a common goal.

Wars end through negotiations and dialogue.

In Columbia, after over five decades of armed conflict between the government and FARC rebel forces, they dialogued and ended conflict in 2016 with a peace deal.

In Kenya, Raila Odinga and President Uhuru Kenyatta found each other through dialogue.

The world’s two biggest economic giants, despite a simultaneous imposition of sanctions, the USA and China continue to talk for progress and to address their hurdles without losing their values.

Zimbabweans have for long been eager for dialogue in anticipation of positive outcomes through genuine engagement that prioritises the people.

  • Gibson Nyikadzino is a journalist. He writes here in his personal capacity.

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