The defeat of the opposition by ZANU PF in the 2013 plebiscite eroded the once vibrant power of the opposition. Since that heavy defeat of the MDC-T, the ruling party ZANU PF has been consolidating its support base to an extent that pundits have already predicted a landslide win for the liberation movement in 2018. Yet, benign to the so-called resurgence of ZANU PF are internecine struggles and convulsions that make it vulnerable to its own self-engineered demise. With endless splits, the once vibrant movement, the MDC-T has been reduced into a ‘pressure group’ that now needs to rejuvenate itself and undergo a serious metamorphic phase to reclaim its lost glory. As a mitigating measure, the opposition has forged an alliance in the hope that they will field a single candidate under the auspices of the MDC Alliance, with Morgan Tsvangirai as its sole candidate.

The Need for Numbers that Matter

By forging the alliance, the opposition is responding to the reality that ZANU PF is a colossal animal that requires all forces to unite and confront it in the upcoming elections.

The default logic of politics is that the numbers matter at the end of the day and the fact that they have coalesced means that they need numbers. However, the critical question that has to be asked is whether the MDC alliance will bring the numbers that matter as argued by McDonald Lewanika, a London School of Political Science Doctoral Researcher in Gravitas Vol 1 Issue 2 of 2017. Lewanika observes that:

In the final analysis, an opposition coalition alone may be necessary but insufficient to lead the opposition to victory, and a coalition of opposition parties, which doesn’t take on board broader societal interests, and interest groups in urban and rural areas may be doomed to fail. Opposition parties can fail to garner the numbers that matter for defeating ZANU-PF if they do not accede to the reality that putting together a winning coalition may entail moving beyond the limited space of political parties to encompass other social and economic interest groups, in urban and rural areas.

The fundamental lesson learnt is that coalitions are the key to electoral success for opposition parties but at the same time designing a winning coalition needs to consider diverse and complex interests rather than simple arithmetic reductionism. The idea of coalitions ahead of an electoral process is not a new phenomenon, a glance in many parts of the continent can attest to the value of cooperation by the opposition movement and building alliances to achieve common goals. There are many examples in Africa, where the opposition have 3 successfully coalesced to defeat the incumbent and some cases are instructive: Gambia (2016), Nigeria (2015), Lesotho (2012 and 2015), Senegal (2000 and 2012), Benin (2006) and Kenya post-2002.

In these cases, the coalitions were successful because, they designed alliances that were informed by and based on the different social classes composing their societies. It is my contention that the recent coalition signing ceremony that happened in Harare on the 5th of August 2017 was nothing short of a high school reunion laced with pomp, fun fare and hot air rather than any heat to melt the hegemon or dominance of ZANU PF. The event which drew a significant crowd failed to restore hope amongst many Zimbabweans who yearn for a better alternative to end ZANU PF’s decades of misrule. In my view, the coming together of these ‘former’ comrades was nothing much to write home about. In much simpler terms, it was just an elite pact or rather a high school reunion of 1999 boys and a congregate of the banqueting; simply rearranging chairs. In reality, they took the prefects to the banquet and forgot the students from the classes (society). There is a lot of work to be done if that said coalition is to see the light of the day.

Names Matter: Where is the New Zimbabwe Alliance?

Firstly, the name itself ‘MDC Alliance’ is not inspiring at all, it is trapped in the nostalgia of history, in particular 1999 and in this case, they could have sought Job Sikhala’s permission to run under the rubric MDC 99. I do not doubt he would have accented. However, the only danger of this strategy is that in as much it will send a clear message of the terms of the reunion, it will be oblivious to Professor Brian Raftopoulos’ observation of the reconfigured political economy and calls for new forms of organising. In addition, it becomes exclusive to the present realities that there are now new kids on the block such as Zimbabwe People’s First, National People’s Party, citizens’ movements and new voting demographics, thus becomes limited in attracting the numbers that matter in designing a winning coalition.

Naming and branding are very important in politics and the coalition needed a name that unites the people and at the same time a name that gives the people hope. Branding is all about appealing to peoples’ dreams. Politics is all about selling hope to a people. Political branding is gaffe-prone territory. It is a delicate operation where missteps and unplanned moments can spell political doom. This is indeed homework for the coalition. Maybe, The New Zimbabwe Alliance may have helped in giving a national outlook and as well as aspiration for a better tomorrow, thus sending a clear, simple and straightforward message that can easily resonate and at the same time energise the masses.

Secondly, the speeches by the principals were nothing but hot air with the usual rhetoric of ‘Mugabe must go’ and massaging inflated egos of the politicians without proffering a clear framework on how to solve the economic political impasse engulfing the nation. There was a sense of insincerity and it shows that the leaders are not coalesced around certain ideological principles, a shared national vision which is more than the Mugabe must go rhetoric. With allegations that the donors were behind this coalition, it already paints a bad picture on part of the leaders as greedy people who are driven by their own material conditions. Coalitions should not be formed because the donors have said so, but they should be formed on the basis of the people’s aspirations.

Forget Makarau and Think People

As it stands the coalition has failed to inspire hope and questions which we might have to ask are: What has changed and what is new, in the wake of the same political players that failed to unseat Mugabe whilst still united? Whilst there is much talk about electoral reforms and emphasis on transforming Justice Rita Makarau’s ZEC; it has to be borne in mind that ZANU PF has already declared that it will not reform itself out of power and any over-investment or over-reliance on that strategy is tantamount to chasing a waterfall. Without the much talked about electoral reforms, what is the strategy of the Alliance in as far as ensuring pacification of the margin of fear and margin of rigging? I would hasten to say that the MDC Alliance might need to go back to the founding documents of that movement of 1999 in Gwanzura, as those are still as relevant as today.

The National Working Peoples Convention and documents like ‘Beyond ESAP’ clearly articulated a shared vision of the mass democratic movements, the working class, the churches, students and other social classes of our broader society. In the same vein, the MDC Alliance needs to go beyond the 1999 analytic lens and realise that there are other new social classes such as, rank marshals and touts, Kombi drivers and operators, artisanal miners, vendors, new farmers, millennials, cross border traders, and the new citizens’ movements amongst many other existing groups or that may emerge.

Sincere Reconciliation is the Foundation for Democratic Politics

Thirdly, one can get the sense that there was a lot of hypocrisy and if not grandstanding of the highest order especially from the likes of MDC leader Welshman Ncube, who chose to trivialise his speech by ‘apologising’ to the people of Zimbabwe. One wonders what exactly the law professor was apologising for, when in reality his departure from the united MDC was a genuine expression of the lack of internal party democracy under the leadership of Morgan Tsvangirai. Perhaps, the professor might need to tell us what has changed now? The need to forge a coalition is more than just the call for Mugabe to go, but rather it is about bringing a new politics and forms of governance practices that are pro-people and different to ZANU PF’s anti-people politics. It is about delivering social services and a better life to people as well as ending corruption, but above all the coalition should provide a framework on how they envisage taking the country forward.

Fourthly, this coalition is not a sincere move but rather it is just meant to address short-term goals of ‘Mugabe going’ rather than to inculcate enduring democratic reform agenda. Instead of the opposition coalescing around a shared vision, ideological underpinnings and principles that will provide a democratic narrative to salvage Zimbabwe, the parties in Zimbabwe are opportunistic vehicles for their own selfish ends. It is just a coalition of individuals without an organic mass movement enough to bring confidence and building the numbers for the coming elections. There is need for the coalition to extend beyond the existing political parties and an elite civil society comprising of individuals who dominated the proceedings at the launch.

Realism Helps

Fifthly, there is an issue of the spoilers: small man with a big man syndrome in the mould of PDP Secretary General Gorden Moyo who is exhibiting shocking levels of infantile radicalism. While his principal Tendai Biti has shown commitment to be part of the coalition, Moyo is busy packing emotions as science and objective reality. Moyo should know that good English and rhetoric is not the same as having the numbers. He and his lot need to be patient, otherwise they face the wrath of history and run the risk of perishing. The painful reality for the other small parties is acknowledging that at least for now there are two political homes in Zimbabwe: Morgan Tsvangirai and Robert Mugabe and the rest will remain shadows for now.

Nevertheless, this is no blank cheque for the MDC-T to be arrogant but a call to leadership and exercise magnanimity by realising that all creatures great and small matter. However, it has to be noted that the opposition coalition will have a twofold objective outlined in the perking order and weight below in the 2018 elections. The numeric power that is needed is firstly, to dislodge ZANU PF from power and this is the most primary objective and best-case scenario. Secondly, is to reduce ZANU PF’s two-thirds parliamentary dominance, i.e. capacity to amend the constitution in the legislature and to defend the zones of autonomy as part of withering authoritarianism.

The question of Mugabe going is now a question of Nigerian Novelist Dan Fulani’s “God’s Case: No Appeal”. If he wins the 2018 election, the constitution will not allow the nonagenarian to run again for office in 2023, assuming God is gracious with time and life to him, thus this is likely Mugabe’s last dance as president of Zimbabwe. If he decides to run again in 2023, Mugabe may not rig the biological life circle of a human being; his day is now a matter of time and the tale-tale signs have started creeping in. That day will certainly change the dynamics of our politics. For doubters, a reading of Malawian and Zairean history will give us lessons on how Africa’s former strongmen tumbled from grace in their last days: Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda and Mobutu Sese Seko Wazabanga.