“Operation restore citizen–power” only path to Zimbabwe’s prosperity

As Zimbabwe commemorates last year's military intervention that led to the removal of long-time president Robert Gabriel Mugabe, and replaced by his then recently expelled deputy Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa - in what some have termed a military assisted transition, whilst others viewed as a blatant coup d'etat - what most of us agree on is that the lives of ordinary Zimbabweans have generally not improved at all - if anything, they have drastically deteriorated, as prices of basic commodities hit through the roof, whilst some company close, as a result of grave foreign currency shortages.

Grace Mugabe.

What most people across the generality of the population – and across the political divide – erroneously celebrated in November last year as ‘the dawn of a new era’ has, unfortunately, turned into ‘the dawn of a nightmare’ – as life has become even more unbearable under the so-called ‘new dispensation’.

As much as people as myself warned in several articles soon after the military intervention, that nothing much would change in terms of our livelihoods – as this was merely a cosmetic change of the ‘packaging of the same product’ – the excitement that gripped the nation could be understood – bearing in mind the decades of suffering and desperation that Zimbabweans had endured  under Mugabe’s heavy-handed leadership.

It was indeed a welcome relief for most, as for the first time since Zimbabwe gained its independence from Britain in 1980, had we had a different leader from Mugabe – something that we had failed to achieve on our own due to the tyrannical and atrocious nature of his rule.

Honestly, as much as I knew that nothing much would change in our livelihoods, it was so refreshing waking up to a country without Mugabe as a leader!

Nonetheless, emotions do not feed the stomach!

Reality had to set in sooner or later – and that reality was that Mugabe did not destroy this country on his own – as he had a whole system behind him.

This system was his party ZANU PF and the military, which included his most trusted lieutenants Mnangagwa and the then commander Constantino Chiwenga – who then became vice president after the intervention – who fully supported and defended all his disasterous economic and political policies.

In fact, they were prepared to do anything to ensure that Mugabe stayed in power, no matter what he did – in spite of accusations of widespread human rights violations, atrocities, and vote rigging.

Throughout Mugabe’s tenure as president, there had been several ‘rebellious’ members of his party who did not agree with his policies, and openly boldly clashed with him, such as then home affairs minister (and now ZAPU president) Dumiso Dabengwa, former ZANU PF secretary general Edgar Tekere, former member of parliament Margaret Dongo, former finance minister Simba Makoni, then industry and trade minister Nkosana Moyo, amongst others.

Yet, never did we hear that Mnangagwa had any problems with Mugabe’s leadership style.

So, why were we to expect anything different after last year’s November military intervention?

Of course, where ever there is a leadership change, one would expect some form of change – as no two leaders are exactly the same, no matter how much they agree – therefore, there have been one or two aspects of Mnangagwa’s rule that have been different from Mugabe’s – such as, re-engangement with the global community, which witnessed the invitation of international election observers and journalists to the 30 July 2018 plebiscite, after an absence of nearly two decades.

Additionally, the absence of former first lady Grace Mugabe from the country’s political stage – characterised by her bizzare and embarrassing antics – was a much welcome change – as we now a first lady Auxilia who is in touch with the ordinary people and  behaves like a true mother figure.

However, these changes also need to be analysed in their broader context.

When Mugabe came to power in 1980, and was still the ‘blue-eyed boy’ of the international community and a darling of the Zimbabwean people, he too, experimented with ‘democracy’, engaged the global community, invited international observers and monitors, opened the country for business, and – save for the Gukurahundi atrocities in parts of the Midlands and Matebeleland provinces – conducted relatively peaceful elections.

However, as soon as his popularity with the country’s citizens waned, as economic hardships hit Zimbabwe in the 1990s, he showed his true colours and reverted to being the tyrant that we now knew him as.

Thus, as Mnangagwa had always been his trusted protege – who adored and fully supported his mentor – one can expect that the ‘changes’ we have witnessed over the past one year, similarly, due to his prior confidence in his popularity with Zimbabweans – and subsequently, resoundingly winning the presidential election on 30 July 2018 – will disappear once he senses that his grip on power is slipping.

In fact, the events of 1 August 2018 – which are still under the scrutiny of the Monthlante commission of inquiry – testify to this fact.

Just as Mugabe’s estrangement with the global community started with his brazen disregard for human rights, and free and fair elections – Mnangagwa’s trajectory appears set in the same direction.

If that is to be so, then we are to expect the Mnangagwa regime to become just as alienated from the international community as Mugabe, and the continuation, if not increasing, of targeted sanctions…and we re-live the whole Mugabe era once again!

What else has not changed with the so-called ‘new dispensation’?

Mugabe believed in awarding loyalty with positions, and conveniently looked aside as his trusted sidekicks corruptly plundered the economy.

During, last November’s military intervention, we were told that this was an operation to merely remove the ‘thieves that were surrounding the president’.

Despite, a couple of arrests – mostly of those openly linked to his G40 party rivals, which was the real reason for the military intervention in the first place – there has not been any meaningful campaign to weed out corruption in the country, irrespective of political allegiances.

No wonder the media is awash with allegations of corruption cartels, for instance the so-called Queen Bee, and so forth – which no one in the Mnangagwa government seems actively crushing.

As is now common knowledge, this whole military intervention came in the wake of the expulsion of Mnangagwa by Mugabe as his deputy – at the height of ZANU PF factional fighting – and had absolutely nothing to do with good governance, the fight against corruption, and economic development.

Had Mnangagwa not been expelled in early November last year, there would have been no military intervention, and no ‘new dispensation’ to talk about today – as he would most likely have been happy being Mugabe’s deputy for years to come.

So, what is needed if this country is to meaningfully move forward?

Zimbabwe urgently needs an ‘Operation restore citizen–power’!

This is not necessarily a revolution against, or removing of the current regime, but for the citizens of this country to finally take over the reigns of power by boldly asserting their demands for real change and development.

Citizen power is not determined by which political party is in power…it could be the current ZANU PF or the MDC, or any other, but the bottom line being that we all need to make our voices heard openly and boldy.

Zimbabweans have taken a back seat to their own welfare for far too long and it is time that we showed those in government that their authority is deprived from us – the people.

Without us, they would not be in government, as we elected them into office to serve us.

We did not go to elections on 30 July 2018 to choose our masters, but those whom we will fearlessly tell what we want and what to do.

Those we elect into office, whether as ward councillors, members of parliament, the president, are all answerable to us – not the other way around.

However, for some strange reason we seem to forget that, and view those we put into office as our masters.

Since when has anyone given their master a job?

We employed these people through elections – and we pay their salaries through our taxes – and, as such, we are their masters.

He who pays the Piper, calls the tune!

The Mnangagwa regime’s talk of them being ‘servant leaders’ is not a favour that they are so graciously bestowing unto us…NO!…that is how is should be in reality.

In all civilized democracies, the people know that they are the masters and they exercise that right to the fullest, by making sure that their demands are known and heard.

Most countries that are developed achieve this through citizen-power.

Let each and every one of us be active –  not necessarily in political party politics – and ensure that we band together as a nation and make our demands heard without fear.

Our political party we all should be loyal to is only ZIMBABWE!

In fact, political party allegiances have been our major weakness and undoing as a nation, as we can easily be divided in our highly polarized country, along party lines.

The more divided we are, the weaker we are!

And the politicians know this very well – that is why it is so easy for them to use the political party line whenever there are problems in the country, and accuse this party or that party.

Those in leadership know very well that if they play the party card, and accuse, for instance, the MDC of being behind our problems, then those alligned to ZANU PF will not be associated with anything that unequivocally calls for accountability from the government.

We need to go back to the days of the early 1990s, whereby we were united as a nation, and demanded accountability from our government without being divided along party lines.

Remember, we managed to force the government to reverse its decisions, such as the 5% Aids levy on our salaries, we demanded the reduction in the prices of bread and other basic commodities, and so many other achievements.

No one was really calling for the unconstitutional removal of the government, but we merely wanted them to do what we employed them to do – serve us.

The same spirit needs to be restored in our nation today, if ever we truly desire development and prosperity.

Let us refuse to  be divided by political parties, as their interests have nothing to do with the interests of the ordinary person on the street.

Political parties, by nature, are there to gain power – nothing else – and they do that by using us through pretending to care for us.

The time for divide and rule is over!

We unequivocally refuse to be pawns in this political game that is meant only to truly benefit those in power, whilst the rest of us watch on the sidelines.

Zimbabwe belongs to its citizens, and as such, we all should have an equal say and stake in the direction it takes.

Let us not act like those passengers on a bus who just watch – probably, just complaining amongst themselves – as the driver recklessly overspeeds, and overtakes where he is not supposed to – yet, when an accident eventually occurs, all of us are casualties.

We need to take action to reign in the drivers of our nation.

We need to take back our power, and speak with one voice.

There is no economy for ZANU PF, or for MDC – but, we are all suffering, therefore we can not afford to just sit back and watch whilst our government decides our future for us.

We have the Constitution on our side – through united peaceful prolonged demonstrations and petitions – again, without allowing them to be hijacked by politicians.

We are the authors of our own lives, and if we wait for Mnangagwa or Chamisa to do it for us, then we should be prepared for even more suffering.

Let us restore citizen power today!

° Tendai Ruben Mbofana is a social justice activist, writer, and speaker. He is the Programmes Director with the Zimbabwe Network for Social Justice (ZimJustice). Please feel free to call/WhatsApp: +263715667700, or (calls ONLY): +273782283975, or email: [email protected]. Please also ‘Like’ the ‘ZimJustice’ page in Facebook.

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