Of political shortcuts

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By Dr Tafataona Mahoso

THE just ended 2018 Harmonised Elections followed a mad period in our history in which two groups claiming to represent youth and the future shared three dangerous features: hyper-impatience with history; over-use of historical analogies from other countries which are not applicable to Zimbabwe; and propensity to pursue speedy short-cuts to political power.
One group was a splinter from the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU PF) called G40; the other group was the latest splinter from the Movement for Democratic Change called MDC Alliance.
The G40 over-relied on a false analogy between Malawi during the last years of Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda and Zimbabwe in the last years of Robert Gabriel Mugabe as President of Zimbabwe.
Dr Banda’s regime relied heavily on the Malawi Youth Congress and the Women’s League as power bases which tended to neutralise the roles of Parliament and party structures.
The G40 also almost succeeded in using the presidency, the Women’s League under Grace Mugabe and the Youth League under Kudzayi Chipanga to neutralise the Central Committee, the Politburo and Parliament. But they forgot one organic institution in Zimbabwe which did not exist in Malawi, that is, the National Liberation War Veterans Association with its organic links to the Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF).
They forgot that war veterans were not just old men and women who fought wars before 1980. War veterans included those who also fought in Angola, Namibia, Somalia, DRC and Mozambique after independence.
The false analogies on which the MDC Alliance relied were even more far-fetched.
They focused on the youthful French President Emmanuel Macron’s victory in France and forgot that the US and Malaysia elected old men to the Office of the President at the very same time the French were electing a relatively young man!
So, the analogies, for what they were worth, seemed to cancel out each other.
The G40 and the MDC Alliance seem not to be aware of how false analogies had misled aspirants to political office in the recent past.
In the first week of February 2011 MDC-T leader (the now late) Morgan Tsvangirai celebrated the effects of Western interventions in the Middle East and North Africa which the media then popularised as the ‘Arab Spring’.
Tsvangirai was attending the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where he told Amy Kellog of the US television channel Fox News that his party saw a great opportunity for itself arising from violent upheavals in the Middle East and North Africa.
Upon his return to Zimbabwe, Tsvangirai even attempted to organise demonstrations at Harare Town House in the hope of triggering an upheaval similar to those taking place in North Africa and the Middle East. Tsvangirai’s party suffered heavy defeat in the 2013 harmonised elections which also dashed any prospects for an Arab Spring-like mass uprising then.
This tendency to abuse analogies has a long history.
Let us look at the consequences of the reckless use of false classification and uncritical analogy in recent African and Zimbabwean history in order to appreciate the magnitude of the disservice of the neo-Rhodesian press to its readers.
The MDC and its oppositional allies have tended to rely for strategy, analysis and projection on oversimplified analogies, as follows:
l In 1956, when the British Government wanted to overthrow the Egyptian Government of President Gamal Abdel Nasser, they unleashed media propaganda to frame him as a new Hitler. The Rhodesians used the same tired analogy and tactic against President Robert Mugabe before 1980.
l It is interesting to notice that the MDC and its allies later recycled the same tactic of framing Robert Mugabe as a leader of the Zimbabwe African National Union which had been used before 1980. Mugabe was portrayed as an African Hitler.
l When the people of Chile finally got rid of their CIA-imposed dictator and murderer Augusto Pinochet in 2000, the MDC and the British tried to create a false analogy between President Mugabe and Pinochet, Zimbabwe and Chile.
l When Indonesian President Suharto resigned in May 1998, the forces who later formed the MDC tried to create an analogy between President Mugabe and President Suharto, Zimbabwe and Indonesia.
l When in 2001 President Didier Ratsiraka of Madagascar was defeated in a power struggle by Marc Ravalomanana, the MDC and its allies again tried to equate Madagascar with Zimbabwe; President Ratsiraka with President Mugabe and new President Ravalomanana with MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai. But that is not how history happens.
l When in April 2001 the US and the EU finally overthrew the government of former Yugoslavia after waging an illegal NATO war against that country, the MDC and its allies created a false analogy between Yugoslavia and Zimbabwe; President Slobodan Milosovic and President Mugabe. They fantasised that they ‘could do a Milosovic’ against Mugabe just like the Serbian collaborators with Europe and America had done.
Indeed the false analogies are endless and they illustrate two things: an attempt to gloss over the national state’s needs for independence, to ignore or devalue the nation’s need for liberation and the people’s demand for revolution against the forces of imperialism; and a dismal failure to engage in independent, original readings of historical reality. The MDC’s readings and projections were mostly based on mass media speculation and propaganda. The most notorious one being the Daily News story of February 21 2001 predicting that President Mugabe and his ZANU-PF Government would be overthrown by the opposition by June 2001.
All these analogies were wrong and have been proven wrong as bases for national political choice and decision. And in Perception and Misperception in International Politics, Robert Jervis suggests that: “When interpretation of the past is strikingly incorrect it is likely that it was influenced by current preferences rather than the other way around.”
In other words, it was not a deep understanding of the real histories of Cambodia, Iraq, Chile, Germany or Yugoslavia within the MDC which caused those ridiculous analogies to be made. Rather it was the publisher’s and the editor’s current preference for Euro-American apartheid and hegemony which caused the papers supportive of the opposition to gloss over the profound significance of Yugoslavia, Milosevic and other issues so easily and cheaply.
The prejudices of editors and opposition leaders happened to coincide, with the result that our history was grossly distorted.
The over reliance on one type of analogy over and over in international relations is usually caused by ignorance and narrow-mindedness or by sheer propagandistic mischief or laziness.
In the words of Jervis citing Norwood Hanson: “Suppose no alternative systems of concepts were available with which to describe and explain a type of phenomenon, the scientist would then have but one way of thinking about the subject matter. It would then always make sense to adjust [or force] the data [to fit] the theory [or ideology] because the latter could not be abandoned. A decision – maker whose conceptual framework is dominated by a few [narrow] categories will fit events into them quickly and on the basis of little information.”
Unfortunately for the G40 and the MDC Alliance, there are many alternative systems of concepts available to Zimbabweans outside the analogies which these groups have borrowed from shallow media clichés and fads. Zimbabwe’s living history is too complex for a politician in a hurry to grab power.

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