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#Coup17: National dialogue and fading dream of economic transformation in Zim

ZIMBABWE’S two main political parties have gone through both succession and transition since the coup in November 2017.

The disputed election held on July 30 2018 did not suffice — despite the best of attempts at placating a cynical international community. If anything, the immediate post-election violence fuelled a deeper cynicism. It is fair to surmise that the political elite, across the political divide, has failed to realise, embrace and react decisively to the national question and the challenges that face the post-coup Zimbabwe.

Constitutional and legislative reforms have been very slow. There is no national consensus on issues of human rights, rule of law, access to justice and the effects of sanctions on economic recovery. Zimbabweans are agreed that instances of grand corruption, mismanagement and sheer wastefulness have spectacularly increased since 2017.

What has collapsed since the November 2017 coup in Zimbabwe is “collective leadership and solutions”. The ruling party has dismally failed to sustain the kind of mass mobilisation that preceded the coup. Zimbabwean elite consensus and solidarity is waning. One key lesson from the coup is that you cannot reconstruct a nation using armies, lumpen radicals and hired intellectuals without the painful task of engaging disagreeable and discontented voices.

The real test of the post-coup moment was never about who would win the election, but rather about reconstructing the nation based on inclusive ideas, ideals and legacy that is future-focussed. The post-coup leadership was duty-bound to discover a clear vision and mission “fulfill it or betray it”. Regrettably, they have failed on several premises, namely: Reconciling a highly polarised and divided nation. In other words, it has abandoned nation-building. Managing diversity and mitigating the tensions between different national identities within the nation-state. Tribalism and regionalism have grown.

Empowering Zimbabweans in relation to geo-economic and geo-political predatory interests and doing so whilst democratising society and creating a deeper sense of belong and patriotism.

Empowering the Zimbabwean state and political elite in relation to broader global forces and interests in the face of the new scramble for Africa. Instead it has created a highway for recolonisation with very little nuanced protection of any local economic development interests.

Creating a new economy based on care, solidarity and inclusive business approaches. The flourishing of mafioso intermediators in the Zimbabwean economy and unruly arbitrage by the central bank remains as bad as it was under Gideon Gono’s Casino’s Economy, if not worse.

Transcending the ghost of Robert Mugabe and Ian Smith. The automatic resort to brute force and violence to settle national disputes has retarded both the prospects of deeper democratisation and inclusive development.

Reversing state capture characterised by a pervasive securocracy that is conflated with the ruling party, the economy and government. The post-coup regime has emboldened the “stockholders” of Zimbabwe Inc. narrative (that is, vene venyika (owners of the country).

There is growing hostility towards the state and political elite. Zimbabwe faces the challenge of “personalisation of political parties” and their “de-institutionalisation” or hollowing out. The results are two contradictory trends, namely: hollow political parties are more popular and at the same time they are inaccessible to the majority of young people as sites of ideation, political consciousness and nation-building.

This has created a conflation of notions of leadership with protest (kudira jecha (raining on the parade) or kutonga (ruling). These narrow binaries have led to a de-ideologisation (loss of ideological compass) in our political culture. Without ideological compass, political parties become spaces for corrosive identity or personality politics driven by narcissistic and celebrity leadership.

In such dominated spaces, different constituencies often talk at cross-purposes. Coercive and hegemonic forms of mobilisation and building consent and consensus now predominate our political spaces that are characterised by a pervasive weakness on policy formulation and ideation. The levels of discontent have reached terminal levels. But more poignantly: There is an unfolding demographic crisis. More young graduates from high school and tertiary education institutions that are unlikely to ever get gainfully employed are being released into the labour market every year. These literate and de-humanised youth cannot afford the luxury of silent hopefulness.

Finance minister Mthuli Ncube’s bromance with ultra-neoliberal economic quick-fixes has generated social and economic absurdities that have necessitated governance by Presidential Powers (Temporary Measures) regulations. These policies are producing poverty and discontent on an industrial scale.

The multi-billion-dollar mega deals touted post-November 2017 seem to be mirages in the proverbial economic wilderness. The country and its political elite are in the vortex of an ethical hurricane that a local comedian has described as the “Catch and Release” approach to fighting grand corruption.

The ambitions of millennials and the reality of their deprived lives versus their dislocation from the state, the economy and politics are creating a new social gulf.

Conversations about social cohesion and the national peace and security architecture are not really nuanced and serious about addressing impunity and state accountability.

The “Zimbabwe is open for business” mantra has thrown the door wide open to a rapacious recolonisation of Zimbabwe by allies and foes alike. Transition in Zimbabwe must encounter, engage and go beyond the aging elite (bureaucratic, military and economic) and conscripted or captured “Youthies”. We literary need “New names” and new ways of doing politics.

The real blind spot to any national dialogue is the question of inequality and exclusion (socio-economic, geo-spatial and political).

The blind pursuit of laissez faire capitalist policies. Neo-liberalism and the dominance of finance (as opposed to productive) capital has created a new casino economy driven largely by speculation in money.

This has created a new tribe of oligarchs linked to both power politics and economic accumulation.

The prevalence of political populism and ad-hocism are mere confirmations that our public discourse now lacks an intellectual and reflective core. The civil society space has been pre-occupied largely with carving out new spaces and the existential questions of sustainable funding. We now have multiple layers of illegitimacy of institutions, policies and leaderships. So there is need first to address the legitimacy question. But which legitimacy question? The first is the legitimacy of Zimbabwe’s social contract, institutions, development pathway and leadership. This latter point speaks to a broader question about the legitimacy of the political class epitomised by its accountability to grassroots communities.

The people-to-people conversations and the people’s engagement with the national elite (political and economic) determines how such national elite interacts with geo-political actors such as investors, donors and so on and so forth.

Why dialogue is overdue

Calls for dialogue — though alluring — have been deliberately designed to block out contentious political issues such as the implications of economic distribution and redistribution of the contentious policy to compensate white commercial farmers without so much as even mentioning black farm labourers.

Across the political divide, politicking without a clear politics of transformation is on the rise. This is a subtle politics of regime continuity and consolidation. As scary as this sounds, we mostly have become part of the tapestry of status quo politics and thinking.

The central question in contemporary Zimbabwean politics, therefore, is: How is power conquered, distributed, used and transformed for the benefit of the nation? Reducing the national question into personality feuds is the by-product of false consciousness. It reduces multi-layered structural problems into anecdotal individual preferences or idiosyncrasies. This parochial view acts as a barrier that alienates the majority of citizens, social movements and the informal sector. It decreases reflexivity and innovation in the search for national solutions.

Weaknesses of the state and state institutions; court decisions that are ignored or manipulated and a largely unreformed public media that aligns itself with partisan political interests deflect attention from the scope and magnitude of the national crises. This is decadent old politics (dop).

The agenda for national dialogue cannot be determined outside a nuanced appreciation of why our country is in such a splendid mess. John Maxwell argues that “Leaders must be willing to let go of what worked yesterday and learn new ways of seeing and, doing and leading”.

Chinua Achebe in Things Fall Apart reminds us that “We come together because it is good for kinsmen to do so.” Zimbabwe is hurting and has been hurting for over 100 years, in part because:

The conquest and retention of political and economic power has so blinded our national elites that they are unable to see the misery of the nation, let alone hear the cry of the poor, the excluded and the oppressed.

The desire to radically transform the status quo died at Independence with the sheer obsession with renovation of the repressive state apparatus inherited from the Rhodesians.

The Zimbabwean opposition for its part has been rather unimpressive in attempts to reshape national narrative and momentum. It has not fully harvested the opportunities presented by the epic failures of an evidently inept and deeply divided post-coup ruling class.

The ubiquity of stupidity in our politics now makes what Kempton Makamure described as the “need for courses on national cleverness and wisdom” totally urgent. We have framed our politics over the last two decades purely in polemical terms. We are schooled in sustaining differences, even stupid ones. But let us be frank, all of us are quite illiterate when it comes to finding common ground on critical national issues. Our irredeemably narcissistic politics of unpleasantness does not help in this regard. Nothing is working as it should and across the political divide there are hisses about the need to strengthen the quality of leadership and ideas.

There exists an urgent need to establish new social relations based on a consensually agreed social contract or value base. We need a new process of evolving a national vision. Given that our political parties do not have credible research and knowledge management competencies and also lack listening and learning competencies, the prospects for rational dialogue and discourse seem rather remote, unless we look to three unlikely sources, namely: young people who are more invested in Zimbabwe’s future; the clergy and traditional leaders’ joint dialogue, and the military. These would need thorough research and knowledge generation so that we collectively respond to evidence as opposed to anecdotes.

Brian T Kagoro is a lawyer and political analyst.

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