Zimbabwe’s new President Emmerson Mnangagwa has been cautiously welcomed with the hope that he will place Zimbabwe on a more democratic trajectory. He has spoken of a new democracy “unfolding” in Zimbabwe.
But this is wishful thinking.
There are three major barriers to a decisive break from the corrupt and dysfunctional political system that has been playing out in Zimbabwe: the ruling Zanu-PF, its president and what’s been their main sustainer – the military.
None would want to oversee real change because facilitating democratic rule with real contestation for power would mean running the risk of electoral defeat. This would endanger the networks of self enrichment that have been put in place over decades.
Instead, the next few months will see ZANU-PF, Mnangagwa and the military continue to block democracy as they seek to hold onto the power.
ZANU-PF presents a formidable obstacle to democratic progress in the country. Zimbabwe has maintained the outward appearance of a multiparty democracy since independence in 1980. But it’s effectively been a one-party dictatorship.
Democratic change and clean government pose a mortal threat to these networks and such privileges are unlikely to be surrendered without intense resistance.
Mnangagwa’s ominous record makes it difficult to build a persuasive case that he represents a new beginning.
To see the military’s removal of Mugabe as an overriding good ignores the fact that it has no concept of the national interest, or that it views that national interest as synonymous with its own and ZANU-PF’s.
It is dangerously naïve to expect such a force to help facilitate genuine democratic transition when its entire raison d’etre has been to preserve one-party rule (under a leadership of its choosing), to disable meaningful opposition and to preserve its own corruption networks.
True democratisation – as opposed to merely maintaining the procedural forms of democratic government – is anathema to Zimbabwe’s ruling party, its president and the military.
It is evident that their task is threefold over the next few months. They have to secure support for a measure of liberalisation; arrest political enemies for corruption rather than tackling corruption per se; and provide a smokescreen of a largely vacuous democratic rhetoric.
The hope is that this will be sufficient to secure aid, investment and an endorsement by external donors while virtually nothing changes in the actual power relations inside the country.
Anyone committed to democracy in Zimbabwe -– whether inside or outside the country – should begin mobilizing against this project sooner rather than later.