Will MDC-T rise again?

The generic African political narrative shows that movements that arise to contest against a nationalist movement and fail at the first hurdle hardly last, let alone win in subsequent fights. Even if they do win and get to rule, that tends to be short-lived.

We have seen this in Zambia, where Fredrick Chiluba came like a typhoon and deposed Kenneth Kaunda. His party fizzled out after the second term. In Kenya, Raila Odinga had his victory stolen, and ended up in a jittery coalition with the party associated with independence.

Even though Uhuru Kenyatta broke away from Kanu to form his own version of a political coalition, The National Alliance, he lingered in the minds of the electorate as an offshoot of a nationalist formation, considering that Mzee Kenyatta was his father. Odinga never tasted power; instead that went to Uhuru, a man the International Criminal Court still wants to try for alleged human rights abuses. And, as we talk, Odinga’s coalition is at a low ebb following its defeat.

Of course, reasons for the poor performance of these movements, which tend to proceed on the clear need for a new form of liberation considering the propensity for nationalist movements to trample on their own, are varied. They range from relative inexperience to the advantage of incumbency enjoyed by the nationalists. State institutions are usually deployed to frustrate democratisation processes.

It is true that Morgan Tsvangirai and the MDC are victims of this incumbency, considering the extent to which Mugabe and Zanu (PF) have taken advantage of their hold on real power to subvert popular will and choice. That Tsvangirai and MDC-T have been severely emasculated by the disputed July 31 polls is a fact, and many are now questioning the ability of the party to unseat an old and tired, but still foxy, movement fronted by Mugabe.

David Blair, the Daily Telegraph’s foreign correspondent, has voiced a disillusionment that could reflect the mentality of many within MDC-T, as well asmembers of the international community.

He acknowledges the brave fight that Tsvangirai has put up since the formation of the MDC in 1999, but says it is time for the former trade union leader to call it quits and hand the baton to others.

Disillusionment in this regard is inevitable. Like Chiluba, Tsvangirai came like a typhoon, riding on a protest wave as the economy started to free fall, corruption was mounting and there were flagrant human rights abuses by Mugabe and his band. He did not take over in 2002 when he ran against Mugabe, and failed in 2008.

The problem was not his. Mugabe has always been stealing these elections. Fatigue is always bound to set in among those who have set their hopes on you if you don’t bring tangible results. A father who fails to buy uniforms and bread is sooner rather than later destined to invite the scorn of his children, even if the problem might be with the employer or the economy. The children will wonder why their colleagues next door are still going to school and having food.

Even those in the international community now question Tsvangirai’s leadership qualities. They are disgruntled that he has not been able to remove Mugabe from power, despite three chances. Ironically, they know that the odds have been against him, but still feel that he should have worked a miracle, especially during the time he was in the coalition government.

His party has lost its lustre over the years. The trade union movement and civil society that played an essential role in its formation and subsistence have either broken ranks with it or are now tending to be lukewarm.

There is also a significant portion of the party membership that thinks it was short changed. Thousands who were persecuted from 2000, say the party did hardly anything to help them. There are also those smarting for being side-lined – especially during this year’s primaries, when the internal polls were clearly rigged in favour of some.

But more tellingly, it is seems that, despite internal and outside calls for Tsvangirai top step down, there is hardly anyone in there who holds as much charisma as him. Tsvangirai had become the MDC brand, and remains so.

Tendai Biti is considered brainy, but lacks the oratory and rallying skills associated with Tsvangirai. Many at Harvest House I have talked to say he is too arrogant and a bit of a bully. Nelson Chamisa was not doing too badly, but it is too early for him to take over, not even in 2016 when MDC-T holds its next elective congress.

Does this mean the MDC-T won’t rise again? My answer is “yes and no”. It all depends on how the party conducts itself in the aftermath of the rigged elections. MDC-T still has a magic card – none other than Zanu (PF) and Mugabe themselves.

Zanu (PF) has always been seized with power at the expense of service delivery. If anything, we are going to slide again and people will start questioning why that party is still in power. Second, as soon as Mugabe is out of the picture, Zanu (PF) will splinter beyond recognition.

There wouldn’t be any problem with Tsvangirai keeping the reins until 2016, as the party grooms a new and acceptable leader. In the meantime, it ought to shed its trade union mentality, revisit the grassroots and demonstrate to the people that it has learnt from its mistakes. – For feedback, please write to [email protected]

Post published in: Opinions & Analysis
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