Reflections on why the Bond note demonstration failed

Ndabaningi Sithole replying to his younger brother in a letter in 1977 raises a very interesting point on renewal and regeneration: ‘Seriously though, Mas you and your generation must begin to formulate and express your views on all and every issue. My generation is on its way out, whether we like it or not. We have done our part, sometimes not as well as we might have liked to.’

Unfortunately, four decades later we are still stuck with the same leadership; yes, that very same leadership that Ndabaningi Sithole said in 1977 was on its way out. Even the heavens seem to be conspiring against Zimbabwe’s regeneration. The old is refusing to die and the new cannot be born.

However, this year has been a bit promising. Young people have stepped up and have begun to play their part, reclaiming their space and taking full ownership of their own destiny. They are leading from the front, calling and organising demonstrations and stayaways. Doing exactly, if not more than what Ndabaningi Sithole expected from his young brother’s generation.

But if we are to be truly honest with ourselves, recent demonstrations and stayaways have been quite unsuccessful. It might seem we have taken a step back but rest assured our struggle is going forward. At such times, we can only but draw inspiration from Abraham Lincoln’s words ‘revolutions do not go backward’. But to make this statement true for Zimbabwe, we must interrogate the reasons why recent demonstrations have flopped and learn our lessons.

Thus, this article is not meant to bash those who are stepping up, but is an attempt to provide a few lessons for our struggle going forward.

Coalition building

Winston Churchill’s remarks to his private secretary just a few hours before the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union are quite instructive to this politics of coalition building. The secretary inquired how Churchill, an anti-communist, could reconcile himself to being on the same side as the Soviets. Churchill’s reply was clear and unequivocal: ‘I have only one purpose, the destruction of Hitler and my life is simplified thereby. If Hitler invaded hell I would make at least a favourable reference to the Devil in the House of commons.’

This is the attitude pro-democratic forces need to embrace. They might not agree with one another on many issues but they must build alliances and work together for they share a common enemy.

It does not help that student, labour union, political party and other grassroots movement leaders learn about a demonstration they are expected to participate with their constituencies through social media. If constituencies they represent are important in making a demonstration successful, it follows that they must be involved in the planning and organisation of the protests.

Everyone is free to exercise their right to protest. But to build proper mass protests, we must start working together and stop trying to outdo each other.

Grassroots mobilisation

This takes me back to my time as a student leader at Great Zimbabwe University. We once organised a demonstration against an increase in the catering fees. We knew everyone was against the fee increase and therefore assumed that everyone would join in. Unfortunately, our demonstration was a flop not because people did not agree with us, but because we failed to prepare.

At least we learned a valuable lesson grounded in political realism. Human beings do not always do what they ought to do, sometimes they need a strong push. Mass action is rarely impulsive, it needs cultivation and proper organisation. Twitter and Facebook might be good tools to help spread the word but they are inadequate. There must be mobilisation on the ground and yes this requires a serious investment in both human and material resources but there are no two ways about it.

What is the end game?

This is the most burning question we still need to address. People want to know the immediate objective of any action they are to undertake. It is perfectly legitimate for people to raise this question because in the arena of politics, people are primarily moved by self-interest, after all protesting in Zimbabwe can be quite costly.

People have participated in demonstrations in the past and yet none of their concerns have been addressed. Under such circumstances, it is hardly surprising that some people can become a little disillusioned.

In order to counter this disillusionment, we must make our objectives unequivocally clear for everyone to understand. Secondly, we must learn to pick our battles. We can’t call for a demonstration after every two weeks, this makes the whole exercise very tedious for most people. We ought to be a little more creative in our protesting, we should not restrict ourselves to just street demonstrations. Finally, we must pursue our objectives to the end. We cannot protest against corruption and stop when no one has been arrested or at least fired from government. If through our actions we  do not achieve our objectives then we must do a rethink of our actions.

Change means friction

As Saul Alinsky in his book Rules for Radicals informs us ‘change means movement and movement means friction, we should never expect change to come without the abrasive friction of conflict.’

When we demand change, we must be sensitive to the process of action and reaction. We must anticipate the regime’s actions and adapt our tactics to shifting circumstances, we cannot afford to become trapped in our own ways.

I sincerely believe that our ability to pick ourselves up and learn the valuable lessons we can learn from last week’s temporary setback will determine if this generation of young men and women have what it takes to give birth to a new Zimbabwe.

I remain hopeful, a new Zimbabwe is possible in Mugabe’s lifetime.


Tendai Biti’s National Transitional Authority is nothing but a distraction

The so much hyped American election has come and gone. Who would have known that the people were so much dissatisfied with the American establishment? They voted for Donald Trump showing their contempt for the establishment.

‘One cannot disregard the people’s concerns, taking their lives for granted for over a very long time and expect them not to react.’

This should have been the message the Zimbabwean opposition got from the American election. Unfortunately, our opposition and civic organisations are far more concerned about their funding which is threatened by a Trump presidency.

We must embrace and rephrase this anti-establishment rhetoric sweeping across the western world. Make it suit our local context and re-energise our support base. We can and we must win elections against the Zanu PF rigging machinery. It’s not like we have never been there before, we beat them hands down in 2008.

Zanu PF is vulnerable and it knows it. There is too much infighting and a glaring lack of cohesion within the party and its hierarchy. We must utilise this moment, 2018 is not far, elections are upon us and boycotting is not an option. We boycotted all the by-elections and neither did that stop the sun from rising nor did the AU or SADC lose any sleep over it.

We must wake up and make hay whilst the sun shines. Zanu PF is already preparing for 2018 elections. It has realised the impact and implications of its fight with the war veterans, which is why it is now frantically trying to woo them back by splashing $20 million on new vehicles.

Contrast this with the opposition which is still in disarray. It’s less than two years before the next elections and the opposition does not have a plan. Instead of concentrating on making the coalition a reality which is supported by nearly everyone, some members within the opposition are throwing new ideas up for discussion. This proposed National Transitional Authority (NTA) has become nothing but a distraction to the opposition. I have no doubt whatsoever that Tendai Biti and his party have good intentions but we must not forget that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Since this idea is already in the public domain the sooner we can conclude this discussion the sooner we can start concentrating our energies on the creation of the coalition.

What is NTA?

For the Benefit of those who may not be aware of what this NTA is, I will recap just a few pointers so that we can be on the same page. Tendai Biti, his party and a few other intellectuals are saying that Zanu PF cannot be defeated through elections under the current conditions. They also think that the opposition is too weak to demand electoral reforms or to mount a credible challenge against Zanu PF 2018. Thus, in their view the only viable way to ensure free and fair elections in the future, is for all political players and civic actors to negotiate and create an authority that can manage the economy and the transitional period. The NTA is to be comprised of apolitical technocrats and guaranteed by AU and SADC.

Why would Zanu PF Give Up and Accept this Transitional Authority?

This whole proposal hinges on Zanu PF’s willingness to give up power and capitulate to this new authority. Forgive my ignorance but I have tried and failed to understand what magic trick would be used to force Zanu to agree to this arrangement.

I have asked leading and prominent members of PDP the very same question but no answers were forthcoming. How then do they expect ordinary citizens to buy into this idea when they cannot answer this primary question?

Of course, this is nothing but my simple logic at work here, if at all Tendai Biti and company can devise something that can compel Zanu PF to give up power, why not use that something and force Zanu PF to accept free and fair elections?

AU and SADC are the Guarantors of this NTA

Expecting the AU and SADC to play a significant role in this NTA is contrary to reason. I thought Tendai Biti at least learned something during the Global Political Agreement negotiations which were facilitated by the AU.

Let me put it bluntly, the AU and SADC are neither interested in democracy nor in regime change. Their philosophy is plain and simple ‘they believe in the sovereignty of each individual state and in the case of conflict within the state they believe in peace at whatever cost’.

As far as they are concerned, Mugabe won democratic and peaceful elections in 2013. The AU and SADC no longer have the will nor the desire to take on Mugabe on this issue. Mind you South Africa which is one of the most influential countries within both the AU and SADC is facing its own challenges. There is massive social unrest in South Africa and Zuma is battling for his own survival in the ANC.

I so much doubt that the South Africa government would want to add anything on its plate at the moment.

The legitimacy of the TNA

Tendai Biti attempted to answer this question in some video that was posted online. In his view, this question was a non-issue, he said the NTA could be treated in the same way the Global Political Agreement (GPA) was treated in 2008.

I find this response quite surprising coming from a democrat, how can the issue of legitimacy be a non-issue in any political discussion? Is he forgetting that the political parties that negotiated the GPA derived their legitimacy from the March 2008 elections which were deemed free and fair by everyone?

So, if we are not going to have elections in 2018, where would those who are going to negotiate this NTA derive their mandate from? If the mandate is to be derived from the 2013 election, then Zanu PF has got almost all the political bargaining chips in its hand. In any case, this presents legitimacy issues since the parliament’s term of office will be coming to an end.

Mugabe will not be negotiated out of power

To visualise Zimbabwe’s present day dilemma we must borrow from Antonio Gramsci who said ‘Our crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born’.

There is no doubt in anyone’s mind in Zimbabwe that Mugabe and his Zanu PF are an impediment to the country’s progress and development yet so far we have been unable to organise ourselves and build momentum to force them out of power.

Mugabe will not be negotiated out of power, he is so much preoccupied with a strong desire to die in power. He is not even prepared to hand over the reins to one of his lieutenants. When are we going to wake up to this truth? We know it in our hearts of hearts, if Mugabe is going to leave it is because we have pushed him out of power.

We must show our seriousness in our quest to remove Robert Mugabe and his Zanu PF from power by coming together without fail. The opposition must sign a memorandum of understanding with one another and start organising and leading protests, demanding clearly stated electoral reforms. The united opposition must go into Zanu PF’ stronghold areas campaigning vigorously on Zanu PF corruption, exposing the lavish lifestyles Zanu PF leaders are living at the expense of the rural folk.

Let no one be fooled, removing Mugabe and Zanu PF from power is not be a stroll in the park, our recent history has shown but this is not a fight we can afford to shy away from.

A new Zimbabwe is possible.


We must take a stand together: No to Violence

I had initially planned to pen an article challenging Tendai Biti and his party on their proposal of the National Transitional Authority this week but I just could not bring myself to ignore some videos I saw on Facebook. I found those videos quite disturbing. How can a normal human being bash a woman like that for failing to repay $6? Honestly where did our humanity go?

Perhaps this is an opportunity for us to discuss this simmering problem in our society. Violence has become so rampant. It has spread like a cancer to every aspect of our society. Its used to settle social disputes, to whip political opponents into line by the political elites and by the state to suppress dissent. If we are to meaningfully reduce violence in our society, we must look ourselves in the eye, confront some of our behaviours and certain aspects of our social life that have enabled this vice to thrive.

Social learning theory

Sociologists in what they term the social learning theory suggest that an individual learns behaviour, including criminal or violent behaviour by observation. They say our social environment has a direct impact on our values, beliefs and our general behaviour. Children who were victims of abuse or who often witnessed their parents resolving their differences through violence learn to believe that violence is a reasonable way to resolve conflict.

Kids also pick up on inconsistencies between what we say and what we practice, which is why I think we need a serious rethink on the philosophy of spanking kids. They say ‘spare the rod and spoil the child’, but disciplining a child is not synonymous to spanking them. Spanking sends a message to the kids that violence is a tool to either settle differences or to set someone straight. How can we be surprised by the level of violence in our society, if we are actually teaching our kids that violence is okay?

We must also hold our patriarchal culture to account for some of this violence in our society. It has falsely taught young men that they must enforce their natural rule over their wives and children then as they are the head of their houses. More often than not this justifies and encourages male violence and mistreatment of women. Although women are most often the victims of domestic violence, gender roles can and are at times reversed.

What is more worrying is that this violence permeates right to the top in our society. At one point in time, Robert Mugabe bragged that he possessed degrees in violence, boasting on how he beat Morgan Tsvangirai “takachidashura”. Such statements from the highest office in the land condoning violence can make young people believe that violence is an acceptable behaviour in settling differences.

The stain/stress theory

Let’s face it, everyone in Zimbabwe is under some level of stress. A majority of our citizens are living in abject poverty. Even those who can make ends meet, struggle with the level of uncertainty in our economy. In as much as most individuals can deal with stress in socially acceptable ways, the strain/stress theory argues that stress has the ability to trigger drug abuse, violence and aggression in some individuals.

Thus, as part of the fight to reduce violence in our society, we must also confront our government that has pauperised a majority of our citizens, forcing them to engage in petty crimes and prostitution in order to keep their homes afloat.

It is not surprising that when people who are struggling and in most cases failing to make ends meet catch these petty criminals they unleash violence and dehumanizing treatment. It’s because they have so much stress, anger and frustration bottled inside. Whilst I do understand their levels of stress and frustration, I think they must channel and direct their anger and aggression towards the government which has failed in all its responsibilities.

I hope by paying attention to these social factors that contribute to an increase in levels of violence in our communities, I am not seen as making excuses for those individuals that engage in these violent acts. Rather, my intention is to identify these factors that can help us reduce the levels of violence in our society.

We are our sister/brother’s keeper

We must stand up and make it equivocally clear that we do not tolerate violence as a tool to settle our differences, emulating that group of fearless women who went and confronted the man who had beaten a woman over $6. However, perpetrators of violence must not just be confronted and condemned, but must also be offered treatment and healing.

Our society must show zero tolerance to violence.


Africa’s broken relationship with the International Criminal Court

To be or not to be is the question that Africa has begun answering in regards to the ICC. President Pierre Nkurunziza signed a decree on Tuesday the 18th of October 2016 signalling Burundi’s intention to quit the International Criminal Court. This came after its parliament had voted overwhelmingly to remove the country from the court’s jurisdiction.

Before the ink on the decree had dried, South Africa had already made a formal request to have its membership withdrawn from the ICC. Adding intrigue to this ongoing debate, Gambia announced its intention to withdraw its membership from the ICC too.

Initially it was easy for commentators to dismiss Burundi’s actions since the court had launched preliminary investigations into the country’s leadership. But South Africa and Gambia have made it abundantly clear that Africa’s threats to leave the ICC en-masse were not empty.

I probably agree on many issues with many of you, perhaps this is one of the few cases were my personal view is not in tandem with the so called pro-democratic forces. I support and respect the African Union’s position to leave the ICC and here is why:

The court’s neo-colonial agenda

We must never forget that the architecture of the international system was crafted by the victors of the second world war. Institutions like the United Nations, the World Bank and the IMF have been used by the powers that be to further their own neo-colonial agenda. Unfortunately, the ICC has become an extension of that global system.

To highlight my point, the Security Council can refer cases to the ICC despite the fact that three of its five permanent members with veto powers are not party to the Rome statute. Even more worrying is the fact that the Security Council has not always acted above board. For instance, the United States of America has on several occasions vetoed Security Council resolutions concerning Israeli war crimes on Palestinian territory. And so, has Russia and China vetoed UN draft resolution to refer Syria to the International Criminal Court.

It’s amazing that countries that do not want to be held accountable under the Rome Statute play referee, referring or blocking cases that can go to the ICC from the Security Council? We must not only wonder where the Security Council derives its moral authority from, but question why it is allowed to play such a role?

This whole system has been faulty from its origin. Even if we were to somehow accept the authority of the Security Council, are we Africans supposed to sit and smile when we do not have veto power in this council, worse in matters that affect African countries?

I do not think so. I hope this ICC crisis will act as a sign to the powers that be that all is not well. International systems need to reform if they are to live up to their promises and moral values.

Africa says peace over justice

African institutions like the AU and other regional bodies have an opinion in this thorny debate namely that pursuing justice can undermine peace negotiations. Many might not agree with Africa’s stance on this debate but its stance is clear, Africa believes in peace over justice.

The ICC obviously does not agree. It believes in justice at whatever cost to the affected country. This behaviour is not any different to how Western leaders behave or have behaved in the past. They have sought to get rid of leaders who are not subservient to their interests under the pretext of them being evil. This is not to exonerate that the condemned regimes, but it is simply to explain the Western hypicrisy, for it mantians cozy relationships with far worse regimes. The West under the banner of international community overthrew Gaddafi. Need I remind you dear reader that Africans were excluded in the deliberations on Libya, their advice utterly ignored. Now the country is ungovernable with even more human rights abuses. The international community chose expediency over peace and Libya reaped anarchy.

The ICC has taken this unfortunate direction, indicting sitting Heads of States, which obviously, the African Union disagrees with. The African Union’s view is to suspend justice in exchange for a possible end to a conflict. It has argued that prosecution or indictment poses a dangerous and unfortunate obstacle to any peace process. That is why the African Union viewed the indictment of Omar Bashir in 2009 as an assault on the peace process in Sudan. Justice must never be mande a hindrance to diplomatic efforts to establish peace.

Surely the Court could have delayed indicting any sitting Heads of State until they have left office. This small gesture would have resolved the conflict between the AU and the Court. Showing a bit of respect to African Institutions and their line of thinking is not too much to ask for. I wonder if the Court will ever attempt to arrest any Western sitting Head of State.

 The selective enforcement of the Rome Statute

The Gambian Information Minister Sheriff Bojang explaining why Gambia decided to leave the ICC had this to say: “this action is warranted by the fact that the ICC, despite being called the International Criminal Court, is in fact an International Caucasian Court for the persecution and humiliation of people of colour, especially Africans”.

Unfortunately, the sentiments expressed by the Gambian Information Minister are shared by many Africans across the globe, myself included. Why has Tony Blair and his army generals not been indicted by the court? This is a question we cannot ignore. Great Britain is a party to the Rome Statute thus their actions are within the court’s jurisdiction. The then United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan described explicitly that the Iraq war was illegal as it breached the UN Charter. Do the Iraqi civilian lives lost through this illegal war count for nothing? Or are Western perpetrators of war crimes above the law?

According to South African ruling party ANC’s head of International Relations Sub-Committee Obed Bapela, 66% of the ICC budget comes from the European Union (EU). It therefore does not come as a surprise that Tony Blair, the former British Prime Minister, has not been indicted for war crimes during the illegal Iraq invasion in 2003. We know that he who pays the piper calls the tune. But we Africans are sick and tired for being second class citizens of this world.

Dr Milton Wolf says selective enforcement of the law is the first sign of tyranny. We as Africans are feeling the weight of this tyranny. In fact, we have always felt it. During our liberation struggle our heroes were labelled terrorists. Yet, yesterday’s monsters, those who murdered, brutalised and dehumanised our people during Africa’s colonization, are celebrated in Western cities. King Leopold the second is celebrated across Belgium but he committed a genocide in the Congo. As victims of the worst kind of racism (slavery) , we are very conscious of the existence of racism on the international scene.

Thus, we view this selective application of international law not only as a form of legal abuse but a threat to the rule of international law. What is good for the goose must also be good for the gander.

 A case for victims

The Africa Group for Justice and Accountability notes that the decision to leave the ICC has the potential to deprive the victims of human rights violations a recourse to justice. That is why I find pulling out from the ICC without a clear strategy on how to make our leaders account for atrocities they commit in their respective countries not only morally wrong but also foolhardy. It sends the wrong message about our seriousness to deal with these heinous crimes and our desire to see an end to impunity.

We cannot afford to forget the African victims in this intellectual discourse. Since Africa’s pull-out is no longer in doubt, the AU must establish its own independent African Criminal Court with the jurisdiction to prosecute individuals for the international crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. We must all now be gripped with discussions around the modalities of establishing this Court.

Of course establishing the court will bring with it many challenges. Friends and foes alike  will question our court’s integrity but I sincerely believe that in the long run Africa will rise to the occasion.

We shall over come