Funding Democracy

Between Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton and all associated institutions, the recent US elections cost several billion dollars. Democracy is not cheap and yet this basic tenet does not seem to register with many who are the direct beneficiaries of democratic activities.

MDC-T local government secretary Eddie Cross

MDC-T local government secretary Eddie Cross

I have seen a document emanating from the Joint Operations Command in 2013 which states that the total budget for their activities in the 2013 elections was US$800 million. The MDC budget for the same election was US$5 million. As any political consultant will tell you, you get what you are prepared to pay for – politics is in many ways all about money.

When the MDC was formed in 1999, we were the sole Party with any grass roots organisation and presence capable of taking on the Zanu PF monolith. We caused a lot of excitement and volunteers and to some extent, money, poured in. Because of this we were able to mount a very substantial challenge to the Zanu PF and established ourselves as a real option to take power. In the early days many international organisations came to our assistance with training and expertise. They helped us develop policies and then to publish them and make their content known.

We remain the only Party in Zimbabwe that has any realistic chance of taking power and yet we face perhaps the worst financial crisis in our history. There are many reasons for this – we are not the new boys on the block anymore – we have been here for 16 years, we have not covered ourselves with glory in the way we have handled funds in the past – there has been abuse. But we have taken the heat, we have been beaten and many have died in this struggle for democracy in Zimbabwe and MDC with its many thousands of supporters – mainly the poor and disadvantaged, have borne the brunt of State sponsored brutality and worse.

Today almost all foreign Governments have specific policies which forbid the funding of political parties in other countries. In Zimbabwe we have a law which makes it a criminal offence for a political party to accept foreign funding from any source. In this country, any business person who makes a donation to the MDC will face State pressure and worse. Early in the life of the MDC we had a local businessman who made a donation of about US$5000 to the Party and was filmed by CNN handing the donation to the President, Morgan Tsvangirai. Two weeks later he was gunned down outside the gate to his home and died in the arms of his son.

Most sanctions for funding an opposition Party in a country like Zimbabwe are less dramatic but no less serious – Government is such a large player in the economy that no serious business can ignore it. Tenders and licenses all offer pressure points. If you belong to an opposition Party you are automatically excluded from any opportunities that might come up in business.

On the other side of this coin, the Party in power can force business to donate to its coffers, use State funds for Party purposes and use corrupt means to secure funding on a large scale for political activities. In this situation, it is critical for those who have an interest in keeping the democratic flame alive in a country, to try to help fund those activities in some way or another.

The need for such funding comes in many forms – we have to fund lawyers who defend the soldiers of democracy in the struggle, we have to provide food to prisoners of conscience and those falsely accused of crimes and to provide support for their families. Children need school fees, families need food and rentals. Those of us who have taken to the struggle for democracy take the heat – but we need help when the State turns its guns on us.

We need money for salaries for the staff who work for us, money for expenses related to normal Party political activities, rallies, workshops and meetings of all kinds. We need money for regalia – when you see a sea of red on the streets do you ever think of where all those T shirts come from? We need to be able to publish our policies and make our views known; we need to advertise in the media. We need money for food and travel.

The IRA used to rob banks – any decent, open, Democratic Party cannot resort to such tactics but what can we do if people do not come forward and help us with the funds required to fight these battles? During the liberation struggles in Africa foreign governments provided generous funding to the Parties who engaged in the fight for basic human rights and freedom. Often overlooking the violations of those very rights being abused in the struggle itself arguing the means justify the ends. In a country like Zimbabwe, where the Parties who fought the liberation struggle came to power, only to abuse their new power and deprive their citizens of their rights and democratic privileges. Is the post Independence struggle for democracy not worthy of support in the same way as during the struggle for Independence?

We are building a database of our membership and this is expected to reach 500 000 people by this time next year – we want to use this to ask our members to send just one dollar a month to the Party. When we approached Ecocash, a cash transfer company handling hundreds of millions of dollars a month, for an account to receive such small donations on our behalf they refused to do so. The reason, they feared for their operating license in Zimbabwe.

So what do we do? I personally am totally fed up with the wider Community in Zimbabwe and in the Diaspora. Appeals for funding are just ignored or denied. It should not be necessary for us to make such appeals – people should be approaching us and asking how can we help?

You do not need to wait for CNN to film you making a donation to the Party in public. You can do so in many different ways, food packs for the 200 to 300 political prisoners in jail at any one time, get the name of a family who have a mother or a father in jail for political reasons and support the family. Give small cash donations to individuals in the Party who can be trusted to pass them on to those responsible for our funds.

The economic justification for political funding is clear – Zanu PF has completely destroyed our economy in recent years. Right now they are again stripping out from our banks our hard earned cash resources through the Reserve Bank. Every bank is technically insolvent – business is finding it impossible to operate. The solutions are political, not economic and until we get new leadership in place no progress is possible.

I am told by virtually all foreign missions to Zimbabwe, often in emphatic terms that we will not receive any support for economic stabilisation and recovery until there is a democratic Government in power after a free and fair election. That is not going to happen if we do not see to it that the democratic forces in Zimbabwe have the resources to fight this battle on behalf of us all.

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  1. kwambuya

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