SPT-Zimbabwe Update No.1. March 2011: The effects of the events in North Africa on Zimbabwean Politics

SPT - Zimbabwe UpdateGiven the economic and political convulsions that have marked Zimbabwean politics for the last decade, it is not surprising that the momentous events in North Africa have been imported and constructed in contested ways by the major political players in Zimbabwe. With the Zimbabwean landscape torn by the polemical rupture between the redistributive language of the ruling party Zanu PF that has monopolized the legacy of the liberation struggle, and the opposition MDCs and civic movement that were formatively shaped by the politics of human rights and constitutionalism from the 1990’s, the complex events of the Maghreb have resonated differently within Zimbabwe.

Mugabe’s Zanu PF have responded with a combination of renewed coercion of opposition and civic leaders, and combined this with the launch of their campaign for the next election which could take place in either 2011 or 2012. Soon after the events in Tunisia and Egypt, Zanu PF organized a form of pre-emptive demonstrations and violence demanding a greater indigenization of the economy. This action and its accompanying demand need to be understood within the context of the Mugabe regime’s attempt to construct the ‘sanctions’ or ‘targeted measures’ imposed by the EU and US on key figures of Zanu PF for human rights abuses since 2000, as a regime change strategy that amounted to broader economic sanctions against the people of Zimbabwe. The sanctions campaign has thus become the central focus of the ruling party’s strategy both as a central election strategy and as an attempt to mobilize popular opinion to give the impression that the real heirs of the events in North Africa are not the opposition forces but the ruling party itself. In this scenario the popular risings in North Africa have been interpreted as struggles against authoritarian regimes propped up by Western imperialism and thus sharing a common vision with Zanu PF’s anti-imperialist message. In the words of one of its key media messengers, Tafataona Mahoso:

“In what ways can the anti-sanctions launch be compared and contrasted with what people have been trying in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Jordan, Yemen and Libya? The answer is imperialism, made up of the imposition of neoliberal corporatist policies expressed in our region as structural adjustment programmes; made up of the unilateral Nato-driven security programme called the ‘war on terror’ in the Middle East and masquerading as Africom in the rest of Africa; made up of the global financial crisis and Western efforts to prescribe responses to the crisis for other regions of the world; made up of the myth of ‘change’ and ‘democracy’ which tries to substitute mere words for real work, production and livelihoods; and made up of strenuous efforts to impose and maintain the Western media template on the rest of the world.”

Furthermore as one of Zanu PF’s chief ideologues, Jonathan Moyo writes, this battle against the ‘regime change sanctions’ strategy is the latest in a long-line of anti-colonial struggles to ‘reclaim’ the rights of the ‘indigenous people’ to the resources of the country. Thus the battles against the colonial regime were continued in the land struggles of the post 2000 period and in the current conjuncture find their embodiment in the fight to impose majority indigenous control over the entire economy. Key to this final struggle, cast in an ‘End of History’ worldview, is the intent to mobilise the youth as the key beneficiary of this process.

In both these constructions the battle for democratization and human rights in North Africa is either ignored or denigrated as a foreign, Western agenda. Moreover there has been a selective coverage of the events in North Africa with limited coverage in the state media of the events in Libya compared to the much wider reportage of the events in Egypt and Tunisia. Because of the Mugabe regime’s close relationship with Gaddafi, the state media has largely parroted Gaddafi’s interpretation of the popular demonstrations in Libya as a Western-sponsored ploy to effect ‘illegal regime change’.

Armed with such interpretations of events in North Africa the Zanu PF state arrested 45 activists in early March 2011 who had gathered to view a video on the North African protests. 36 of these activists have since been released but the rest have been charged with treason. Aside from this incident there have been two bogus campaigns calling for mass protests through the social networking websites that predictably have come to naught. This is because whatever the similarities in the authoritarian regimes confronting the peoples of North Africa and Zimbabwe, there are crucial differences. The ‘Egypt moment’ in Zimbabwe occurred in the late 1990’s when a strong alliance of trade union and civic forces confronted the Mugabe regime in a series of strikes, stay-aways, demonstrations, the creation of a vibrant constitutional movement and the formation of a strong, national, and multi class opposition party that effectively challenged the ruling party at the polls throughout the 2000’s, and in 2008, against great odds and a long history of state violence, defeated the party of liberation in the elections of that year. The decisive difference between the current events in North Africa and the situation in Zimbabwe was the role of the military, which in Zimbabwe effectively blocked the popular vote from being translated into a change of state power.

In the current moment it is highly unlikely that such an uprising will occur again, the least important reason being the lower levels of internet penetration in Zimbabwe. More fundamentally the livelihood structure of the Zimbabwean economy has been completely deconstructed in the period of the crisis, with the formal working class effectively decimated, thus undercutting a key constituency of the opposition movement. Moreover there has been a movement of some 2 million Zimbabweans into the dispora that has in some ways displaced the crisis at national levels onto a broader regional and international plane. The land occupations of the post 2000 period have also, not only caused displacement and economic disruption; they have also created a constituency for Zanu PF through the substantive numbers of Zimbabweans who have received land. Thus the Mugabe regime has countered the challenge to its sovereignty in elections, by calling on the legitimacy and sovereignty it claims from the legacy of the liberation struggle and the taking of land from the former settler community. This conflict of sovereignties, underwritten by persistent state violence and coercion, has complicated the democratic struggles in Zimbabwe and made any easy comparison with events in North Africa, which have their own enormous complexities, untenable.

Please cite this article as follows: Solidarity Peace Trust (2011) ‘SPT-Zimbabwe Update No.1. March 2011: The effects of the events in North Africa on Zimbabwean Politics’, 17 March, Solidarity Peace Trust: http://www.solidaritypeacetrust.org/1004/spt-zimbabwe-update-no-1/

Thu, March 17 2011 » History, Zimbabwe Update

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