America finally speaks on futility of boycott politics

Obert Gutu

Obert Gutu

Joram Myathi Spectrum

Obert Gutu is right. The MDC-T can’t think on behalf of Americans. It is the other way round. The Americans think on behalf of the MDC-T like they have always done. And they always make their views known, they don’t just hold them.

FOR once, let’s give it to them. The MDC-T appears to have mastered the politics of spite. Only the consistency is self-destructively cynical, masochistic even, exposing the lack of brains to formulate policies which can be sold to voters as credible alternatives to their arch-rival. Then there is the loss of moral authority to judge winners of electoral contests.

The party resolved at its congress last year that it would not contest future national elections without electoral reforms. Let’s assume they are human and could not foretell the immediate future and the frustration among followers engendered by the electoral whipping of July 31 2013. They didn’t know then that a challenge would soon come in which sticking by that resolution meant political suicide.

US Congressman Gregory Simpkins

US Congressman Gregory Simpkins

It soon came in the form of something calling itself MDC-T Renewal Team. Tsvangirai was enraged. When an opportunity presented itself for him to strike back, he picked up a sledgehammer so that his erstwhile colleagues and now adversaries would be unable to take revenge. The sledgehammer was Tsvangirai’s spiteful recall from Parliament of MPs who had joined the Renewal Team, without intending to replace them. He had to look consistent with the congress resolution; he had to give the impression of a man of principle.

The second is the matter of illegal urban street vendors. The MDC-T has taken sides with anarchy without offering alternative policies to alleviate urban poverty. This is the political party in charge of most urban local authorities and has promised us a world class Harare city by 2025. But if it must spite Zanu-PF, it will shoot itself in the foot on the relocation of vendors. Oppose Zanu-PF at every turn. Very consistent.

But the truth is that the electoral boycott has found few takers at home and beyond where the party has traditionally found unquestioning endorsement for its anti-Zimbabwe politics. MDC-T supporters in the Diaspora are sharply divided on the “no reform, no elections” mantra, a slogan whose formulation is just as self-defeating as it is a pyrrhic ego trip to the extent that it is not the MDC-T nor its leader who call for national elections in Zimbabwe. As such, they enjoy a democratic right to boycott elections they haven’t called for.

Which brings us to the importunate US congressman, one Gregory Simpkins, described as director in the Sub-Committee on Africa, Global Health, Human Rights and International Organisations, who recently visited Zimbabwe. Simpkins sought to lend advice to colleagues on whose behalf the US government gave us Zidera in 2001 as punishment for Zanu-PF’s agrarian reforms. The alibi for that iniquitous piece of legislation was that Zimbabwe, by its policies, posed a continuing threat to American interests and foreign policy. Chester Crocker reminded his countrymen about the moral duty they must undertake to protect America: to make Zimbabwe’s economy scream so as to separate people from Zanu-PF.

Since those glory days things don’t seem to have worked as gloriously. Tsvangirai and his party seem to need more “handholding” now than they did at the time of Christopher Dell. People are still largely stuck with Zanu-PF and President Mugabe, as consistently demonstrated by survey, the latest one last week showing Mugabe steadily far ahead of America and Europe’s preferred “democrat” Tsvangirai.

So Simpkins didn’t think it wrong to offer a friend gone adrift a straw of advice and some admonition on his visit this week, thus:

“Oftentimes we have heard the opposition saying it is tough to compete. They have to find a way of being effective rather than just saying it is too tough to compete, so we are not going to take part. If you do not take part in an election process, how can you criticise something you did not even test?”

He was also generous to remind the party that elections are rarely won in the courts.

MDC-T spokesman Obert Gutu took umbrage and gave Simpkins a loaded backhander, which missed the target. “We don’t think on behalf of the Americans,” retorted Gutu. “They are perfectly entitled to hold their own views,” he said.

Gutu is right. The MDC-T can’t think on behalf of Americans. It is the other way round. The Americans think on behalf of the MDC-T like they have always done. And they always make their views known, they don’t just hold them. These are the same Americans whose views and opinions the MDC-T has always valued the most when it comes to the conduct of elections and their outcome in Zimbabwe. Whenever the Americans and their European allies have disputed the elections results, they immediately became “rigged” and the winner an “illegitimate” ruler.

So, Gutu the point is not whether you think or don’t think on behalf of Americans. It is simply that you are incapable of thinking on their behalf and that gives them the exceptionalism to think on your behalf. That is until the MDC-T begins to take its policy decisions “informed by the prevailing local conditions and scenarios” on the ground here in Zimbabwe. All along they have acted to please the Americans and Europeans, displaying haughty contempt for Africa and all its institutions. It is an attitude which helped to alienate the MDC and Tsvangirai from all self-respecting African leaders since its formation.

But that American rebuke over election boycott comes with important lessons which are often lost on the various MDCs and their leaders, with their thoughtless media backers in lockstep. Following their latest boycott of the June 10 by-elections and the low voter turnout, they all congratulated themselves and Tsvangirai’s ‘Solomoniac wisdom’. He had been vindicated and people had heeded his call not to vote or, if they did, to spoil the ballot.

The ill-timing of a midweek election in a “vendor economy” was conveniently ignored as a major factor. How could MDC-T supporters possibly heed a call to boycott an election already boycotted by their party? Who would they vote for?

But what are the lessons from MDC-T advisor Simpkins?

He said you don’t boycott elections simply because the contest is tough. True, that’s what elections should be. He said the solution was “to find a way of being effective”. And obviously one such way to be effective is to come up with credible, homegrown policies, not what the Americans prescribe as a way to make the local economy scream. Those are the “prevailing local conditions” and how they came about which people consider when they vote.

The second lesson is that once you boycott an election you lose the moral high ground to criticise it. “… how can you criticise something that you did not even test?” asked Simpkins of Tsvangirai and fellow boycotters. This is an important question because without the “test”, people are unable to gauge your own strengths and failures and what can be ascribed to the nefarious machinations of your so-called Machiavellian rival. You boycott and you are out. Your arch-enemy has no duty to stop you from committing political suicide.

Third, having lost the moral high ground because of an ill-conceived boycott, you automatically forfeit the moral authority to even presume to confer or withhold legitimacy on the winner. It is only those who take the “test” who know the pain of loss or savour the joy of victory. They alone can show the wounds from the battle. This was the very last moral frontier: the MDC-T had hoped that their “thinking” Americans would deliver the anticipated “sham, illegitimate” verdict on the June 10 by-elections against Zanu-PF.

It’s sad indeed that the Americans should be the last ones to let them down.

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