How the West let Tsvangirai down

Movement for Democratic Change leader Morgan Tsvangirai is under siege. His leading lieutenants, especially those that control funds, want him to go. And it seems, they have the support of the principal backers of the MDC. The problem is that Tsvangirai lost the elections to Mugabe for the third time. And he has been at the helm of the party for 15 years. But the West is not acknowledging its role in Tsvangirai’s defeat in last year’s elections.

Morgan Tsvangirai was a very popular organiser with the trade union federation, the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), where he was secretary-general from 1988.

He organised the labour movement to become the most powerful lobby challenging government policies especially when Mugabe adopted the Economic Structural Adjustment Programme sponsored by the International Monetary Fund in 1991 to try to revive Zimbabwe’s economy.

As things got worse, the ZCTU became more powerful as it fought for workers’ rights when thousands were laid off. The ZCTU’s influence spread to the general public because there was no viable opposition party in Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe has always had between 10 and 30 political parties on its register at a time but barely two or three were active.

At independence Zimbabwe had four active political parties: the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front which had 57 of the 100 seats, 20 of which were reserved for whites; the Zimbabwe African People’s Union with 20 seats; the United African National Council with three seats and the Rhodesia Front which changed to the Conservative Alliance, with the 20 seats reserved for whites.

The number declined to three in the 1985 elections when the UANC was phased out after it lost its three seats, and the Rhodesia Front bowed out two years later when the reserved white seats were abolished. ZAPU and ZANU-PF merged to form ZANU-PF in 1988.

Though there were still several opposition political parties, Zimbabwe became virtually a one-party state between 1990 and 2000 as the new ZANU-PF swept all the seats- except the Chipinge seat which was won by ZANU-Ndonga.

It was the emergency of the MDC in 1999 that brought about real opposition politics as the new party almost shocked ZANU-PF in the 2000 elections when it won 57 of the 120 contested seats.

Though it was one of the most formidable opposition parties in the country, the MDC was always dogged down by its own composition. It was a coalition of too many forces, with too many diverse interests which were at times not compatible.

The backbone of the MDC was the labour movement from which Tsvangirai and most of the leadership came.

It also had academics and students represented by secretary-general Welshman Ncube and Nelson Chamisa.
It had civil society represented by people like Priscilla Misihairabwi and human rights lawyers like David Coltart; white farmers represented by the likes of Ian Kay and Roy Bennett; and white business represented by people like Topper Whitehead and Eddie Cross.

The MDC therefore had to delicately balance its support base which was the workers and its financial base which was white farmers, business and the West, which quickly jumped in to help push Mugabe out.

Another headache was that the MDC’s popularity was never based on its policies, but rather on the need to kick Mugabe out because of his stance on farmers, investors and the West. The MDC’s popularity was, therefore, more by default. It was set up as a movement to get rid of Mugabe after which things could then be sorted out.

Tsvangirai’s leadership of this broad coalition was questionable from the start, but he was indispensable because his ZCTU had spearheaded the formation of the MDC and he had the people behind him.

His coalition partners had no choice but to work with him. Even when the party split in 2005 over policy differences, law professor Welshman Ncube was blamed for weakening the opposition yet the split was over Tsvangirai’s decision to over-ride a decision that had been reached by the party’s national executive.

Ncube and his colleagues, mostly academics, argued that Tsvangirai was behaving like a dictator yet the opposition was fighting to remove a “dictator”- Robert Mugabe. But the West rallied behind Tsvangirai, not because he was right, but because he had the numbers behind him and represented the only plausible challenge to Mugabe.

United States ambassador to Zimbabwe at the time, Christopher Dell, aptly described Tsvangirai’s leadership qualities just before he left the country in July 2007.

Dell, according to the government-owned media, had been specifically assigned to Zimbabwe – from another troubled spot Kosovo- to effect regime change, shortly after the United States brought its Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act into force.

The act clearly stated in its opening paragraph: “It is the policy of the United States to support the people of Zimbabwe in their struggle to effect peaceful, democratic change, achieve broad-based and equitable economic growth, and restore the rule of law.”

In his diplomatic cable entitled: The End is Nigh, Dell said: “Zimbabwe’s opposition is far from ideal and I leave convinced that had we had different partners we could have achieved more already. But you have to play the hand you’re dealt. With that in mind, the current leadership has little executive experience and will require massive hand holding and assistance should they ever come to power.

“Morgan Tsvangirai is a brave, committed man and, by and large, a democrat. He is also the only player on the scene right now with real star quality and the ability to rally the masses. But Tsvangirai is also a flawed figure, not readily open to advice, indecisive and with questionable judgment in selecting those around him. He is the indispensable element for opposition success, but possibly an albatross around their necks once in power. In short, he is a kind of Lech Walesa character: Zimbabwe needs him, but should not rely on his executive abilities to lead the country’s recovery.”

Indeed, Tsvangirai had the masses behind him and always got more votes that all his lieutenants combined at elections. But despite his popularity he was losing voters at every election.

In 2002, he polled 1 258 401 votes, the highest number of votes ever polled by the opposition. His party got 1 041 292 votes in the 2005 parliamentary elections before it split over whether to participate in the reintroduced Senate later that year.

In 2008, though he beat Mugabe, Tsvangirai polled 1 195 562 votes and his party 1 061 000. His tally was down to 1 172 349 in 2013.

No one seemed to be noticing that Tsvangirai was losing voters at every subsequent election. No one paid attention to what Dell had advised when the MDC won the elections less than a year later, either, or when Tsvangirai became Prime Minister in February 2009.

Instead of giving him “massive hand holding”, the West put pressure on Tsvangirai to get rid of Mugabe instead of focussing on how he could build his own power base and increase his waning popularity.

Though the West knew that Tsvangirai had questionable judgment in selecting those around him, they went on to pump a lot of money to boost the salaries of the people in the Prime Minister’s Office leading to internal squabbles about who could work in that office.

The fight was not about how the Prime Minister could improve service delivery to the people but about what each individual could get for him or herself.

The West also decided not to channel its aid through Tsvangirai’s government or his MDC but through non-governmental organisations. This exposed the West’s mistrust of Tsvangirai and the MDC. It clearly showed that the West did not trust Tsvangirai or his party to do the right thing.

The “massive hand holding” that the West should have given to Tsvangirai and the MDC came, instead, from ZANU-PF which influenced Tsvangirai and his lieutenants to realise that five years in politics was too short. This was a job which did not have a guaranteed pension. One had to make the most out of it in that short period.

And the MDC leaders fell for it. They became more corrupt and accumulated more wealth in four years than their ZANU-PF counterparts had done in decades. To make matters worse they flaunted their newly acquired wealth publicly for everyone to see. This provided election fodder for ZANU-PF in the 2013 campaign.

Though he had always been a womaniser, even during his trade union days, Tsvangirai had not been under public scrutiny especially over moral issues. But he came under the spotlight when his wife, Susan, died in a car accident barely a month after he became Prime Minister.

Tsvangirai’s womanising and lavish lifestyle prompted the New York Times to carry a front page story on 13 April 2013, three months before the crucial elections, entitled: Tasting Good Life, Opposition in Zimbabwe Slips Off Pedestal.

The story described Tsvangirai’s lavish spending at his wedding to Elizabeth Macheka- the daughter of a high-ranking ZANU-PF official- and how that wedding had been downgraded to a traditional ceremony because another woman, Locardia Karimatsenga, had taken Tsvangirai to court because she was married to him traditionally.

Two other women also claimed they were his lovers.

The story said Tsvangirai was now travelling abroad regularly with a big entourage, had a honeymoon in London and holidays in Monaco. He was now living in a US$3 million government mansion.

Tsvangirai’s lifestyle did not go well with his party supporters. But to make matters worse, he and his party leadership became arrogant. They no longer listened to the people and rejected candidates that were selected by the people and imposed their own. Some people said this cost them the election.

According to the Guardian, 29 members of the MDC-T who were disgruntled with the manner the party’s primaries were conducted defied the leadership and ran as independents.

“MDC-T divisions were particularly stark in Manicaland province, where imposition of parliamentary candidates by Tsvangirai resulted in a serious rift between him and the provincial executive. Manicaland – unlike in 2008 — voted for ZANU-PF this time,” the paper said. Tsvangirai who had 24 of the 26 seats in Manicaland in 2008 ended up with only four.

The MDC leadership had not learnt anything from their past. The same naivety cost the party 16 seats in 2005. It cost them 51 seats in 2013.

The MDC leadership had ditched its strongest constituency, the workers, in both cases.

Labour leader, Japhet Moyo, now holding the same post that Tsvangirai held prior to 1999 did not mince his words. He told MDC leaders at their retreat in May- just two months before the 2013 elections- that the party had deviated from its pro-poor foundations and this could cost it the elections.

“We have noted with concern that some policy pronouncements from party officials do reflect that. It’s important to come out in the open. Either you come from the left or from the right. There is no need to sit on the fence. If you are not clear, people will find it difficult to vote for you because they don’t know what will become of you once you are in government. Pronounce yourselves very clearly,” Moyo said.

He warned Finance Minister Tendai Biti, who was also the party’s secretary general, that it was the people that voted not investors, clearly indicating that workers’ interests came first.

“Let me be very clear Cde Tendai Biti, mind your language when you are in government because hausati wavakutonga. Ndizvo ka?(you are not in power yet, isn’t that so) Be very careful of what you say. You are destroying the party uchiti urikupliza ma investors (thinking that you are pleasing investors). Vanhu vanovhota (the people that vote) are the poor, not the investor. Mind your language Mr Biti. How do we defend an MDC minister? At least you dialogue with workers.”

To Public Service Minister Lucia Matibenga, Moyo had this to say: “Mai Matibenga, kuma civil servants uko. Talk to those people. Please, please, please! You put us in a difficult and awkward situation to justify the close links that we have colleagues. Ndizvo ka?”

The Public Service was the single biggest employer but the government was under pressure to reduce the size of the civil service.

To make matters worse, Tsvangirai’s campaign was this time not well-financed. It was not clear why the West abandoned Tsvangirai because polls by conservative think-tanks such as Freedom House, which was solidly behind Tsvangirai, had indicated that his support was declining while that for Mugabe was on the rise.

British-based Zimbabwean academic and Guardian columnist Blessing-Miles Tendi wrote after the elections: “A largely unstated factor so far in debates about how ZANU-PF won this election is that for the first time in years the MDC-T ran a less effective campaign because of financial constraints. As MDC-T insiders have revealed to me, the party’s traditional Western backers were not as forthcoming with financial support as they were in 2008. During the campaigns Tsvangirai publicly criticised the West for giving up on removing Mugabe from power in preference for eventual accommodation with the Zimbabwean president. The West has been unequivocal in its public condemnation of ZANU-PF’s victory but in the coming weeks it must answer hard questions about why it abandoned the MDC-T financially prior the election.”

Tsvangirai also had only one thing to offer to the voters, one million jobs in five years. But this hugely depended on foreign investment coming into the country. The Zimbabwean public was very sceptical about this because foreign investors had not flocked in when the MDC joined the inclusive government.

The West had not given Tsvangirai the massive hand holding they had been advised to give him. In the end, Tsvangirai went into the elections already a loser, saying this was an illegitimate election regardless of who won. This was not something a winner would say.

Tsvangirai went into the elections quite aware that he had lost. Only God could save him.

“We are faced with an election without reforms and against a leopard that has remained faithful to its spots, but our faith in God and our collective desire for real transformation will make us triumph over the setbacks, which are temporary. God does not wish the people of Zimbabwe to remain in a permanent state of suffering. Our faith and our unshakeable belief in liberty will drive us to usher in a new era for our country, even as we participate in these polls with a heavy heart. Fellow Zimbabweans, let us put God first in everything that we do,” he told thousands of his followers at Rudhaka Stadium in Marondera when he launched his campaign.

But it appeared God was on Mugabe’s side. Besides, the situation was totally different from that of 2008 when the country was rocked by hyperinflation estimated officially at 231 million percent. This time, there were plenty of goods in shops and inflation in June was only 1.87 percent, the lowest in Southern Africa.

While lack of reforms was the theme song of the MDC, Tendi said Tsvangirai was to blame for the lack of reforms because he and his party had spent too much time squabbling over government posts, the reversal of the appointments of the attorney-general and the central bank governor, the appointment of provincial governors and ambassadorial posts.

“Tsvangirai’s party lost sight of the need for rapid and comprehensive institutional reforms in the early years of power-sharing. It expended most of its energies in fighting for appointments to the ministry of agriculture, attorney general, the central and provincial governors,” Tendi said. “By the time it refocused on institutional reforms, the period to elections had shortened significantly. There was little time, energy and external goodwill left for the MDC-T to pursue what should have been its main pursuits from the beginning.”

Tendi went on:”However, the MDC-T from early on sought to reform one particular institution: the military, which it saw as having blocked its ascent to power in the 2008 election. According to Tsvangirai, Zimbabwe underwent a ‘de facto coup d’état’ in 2008 and was now run by ‘a military junta’, making security sector reform necessary. But the MDC-T’s pursuit of this reform was based on a misunderstanding of the military’s relationship with ZANU-PF. The military does not and never has ruled Zimbabwe; the MDC-T has never presented evidence to the contrary, despite its passionate claims.”

This is an excerpt from the 22 000word piece- God, Mugabe and the West.



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