Politics around the world have their socio-cultural mettle. In Africa, there are several tenets (doctrines) or cultural indicators that determine how most of African political impasse are addressed, and most of these are subtle, subconscious and gradually nurtured to occupy a deep human mental consciousness, largely owing to African politics being dependent on poverty-ridden, rural populations that have very little access to the shenanigans of books, media and technology.
This understanding can very clearly explain why after a week, a coup to remove Mugabe is still lagging slowing behind time in Zimbabwe.
Both Mugabe and his detractors are desperately banking on the cultural heritage identities of doing African politics to secure their positions of power. There are socio-cultural and socio-political factors that can be observed as at play since wednesday 08th Nov 2017 when the whole saga started. These are liberation struggle politics; respect for elders; gendered African leadership; personal greed as a prerogative for political leadership. These African politics identity tenets are being exposed gradually in the current Zimbabwe political situation as follows:
- The liberation struggle from colonialism politics
This is one of the most common indicators of African politics. Reminding the masses that they come from a place where only a particular ruler or group of rulers liberated them, and without these folks they are likely to go back and get swallowed again, only this time, indirectly so. This political tenet is what gives most southern African leaders the brotherhood, and is even marked by some of the similar colors on African flags. While this is an occurrence that African politics and democracy should indeed not forget but rather forgive, when the power path gets tough for most African leaders they are likely to use it as a card for the masses to stick with them or else…. This can be seen now in Zimbabwe whereby only veterans ‘purge’ evoked a rivalry against a leader who has been permitted to do all he likes for 37 years. His sin was to now put the younger generation that according to veterans society of the country, have not fought for the country nor can they be trusted to carry forward the mandate of the liberation struggle that Mugabe himself orchestrated and led.
The opposition parties being coined and led by people younger than the liberation struggle fellows, are also discredited on this basis, as seen from Tsvangirai’s struggle in 2008 where the very same general Chiwenga that is now concerned for the people of Zimbabwe, assisted R G Mugabe, Mnangwana and Zanu-PF to stay in power. All these the masses understand as identities to cling onto or else…
2. The respect for elders understanding of African culture
African heritage has all the hallmarks of chivalry when it comes to elders who have been influential in socio-political life of their country. It is a tradition ingrained even at family levels. What is being seen now in Zimbabwe done by the military General is in-fact the General walking on an egg-shell of cultural identity. Very few of them want to be fingered as the ones who ruthlessly pushed out the ‘old man’ of African politics who has seen them through a ruthless minority white supremacy of Smith. In-fact television is awash with civilian placards thanking Mugabe for what he did for them but now begging him to step down in dignity. The African tradition of relating between young and old is what Mugabe is also counting on to buy time in power – and is what most veterans of Zanu-PF are also counting on to take leadership of country. Nobody knows what the General says to Mugabe in camera, but the first pictures to emerge of their meetings clearly showed a military General in awe of his elder rather than an military General carrying out a quo to ensure Mugabe steps down swiftly – in accordance with successful quo operations. These nuances Mugabe know about, and he will milk them by looking them all in the eye in Parliament and, if he goes that far, at a Congress in December 2017. Very few can look an elder of his calibre in the eye and tell him to go. He knows it as an African elder.
3. Ethnicity and politics
Ethnicity will always determine the direction of African politics. Most politicians use it to win elections. Kenya is a case in point. But also a lot of other countries. In Zimbabwe at the moment the talk of the 2nd VP being sacked without much sins attributed to him in this Mugabe removal saga has some indicating his sin may be that he is Ndebele. The Ndebele-Shona dichotomy of Zimbabwean politics is a well documented phenomenon. Operation Gukurahundi is one case in point. But over the years the dichotomy has been associated with political representation choices, where one ethnicity is seen as advancing itself more than the other. Again this is a very commmon heritage trait of African politics that is now secretly going on in the current struggle for who is next to rule Zimbabwe
4. The forbidden women politician: Men lead, women trouble their leadership
The female scapegoat is also one heritage trait of not only African, but worldwide politics. While in the global arena females lose on the stage, most times after trying in the ranks like Hillary Clinton, in Africa the female as a non-leader in a male environment is banished far off before they can even feature in appropriate ranks. And in this the patriarchal African society always comes to the rescue of the male contestor who only has to evoke cultural misgivings of the said woman for majority society including women, to support them. A case in point in Zimbabwe is the uneventful removal of Joice Mujuru, a woman who had the veteran label safe in her belt, having fought in the bushes of guerilla war Zim, but nonetheless General Chiwenga did not see her as a ripe candidate to be protected against the veteran purge. The purge only became serious when a male colleague, Mnangwana, was expelled the same way Mujuru was. So the talk of Grace Mugabe being a typist that never went for veteran war is really a sugar-coat of African male cadres saying ‘we cannot be led by a woman’. The rest of the reasons given against Grace Mugabe are simply evoked cultural norms surrounding a woman, that the society is called to see as distateful, hence disqualifying of Grace. How dare she misleads Mugabe when her place should be confined to a woman’s things of a first lady. However, Mugabe gave his defiant speech on 19th November evening without Grace’s ‘misleading’ habits, clearly indicating that he has afterall been calling the shots. However, African politicians knew that they only had to mention a ‘mad woman’, and the African society will come assist.
5. The greed for long-term recognit
This seemingly obvious tenet is not so obvious at the moment in the situation of Zimbabwe because the greed here is not for economic assets but rather for socio-political recognition. But looking closely one can see it. It has its heritage in African chiefdom, where all land belongs to the chief, and even at times most cattle belong to the chief by virtue of serfdom. This becomes clear when one starts asking themselves the following questions: i) Why couldnt the General wait for Mugabe’s Zanu-PF congress in December to assist Mnangwana and Chinamasa in their endeavour to ‘free Zimbabwean people’? ii) After waiting for 37 years, why could they not wait for June 2018 to assist each other to dethrone Mugabes (either Grace or RG)? In my view, the answers could be found again in the heritage of African politics. African political leaders get their credit mainly from having dethroned some important figure. It was important for them to act now (before the people liberated themselves at the ballot), in order for them to remain credible ‘fighters’ of freedom for the duped masses. To dethrone Mugabe is the biggest credit of them all in the current situation. This may be what made the military break one of the most important principles of war, being “never disturb your enemy when they are committing a mistake”. Mugabe was already committing a mistake by putting the weaker link Grace (already loathed by the society as the military say). It would have been easier for them to coup the politically weaker and younger (read: none-veteran) Grace post 2018 elections if at all she managed to win without her husband. But now they disturbed Mugabe out of this mistake, why? Much credit is to be had by dethroning a powerful figure than a political nonentity like Grace.
However, this seems to now have derailed the military and Mnagagwa plans, with Mugabe now seemingly pushing them to impeach or coup him, by so doing martyring him. If they impeach Mugabe and then fail to correct the situation in Zimbabwe economically, the Mugabe legacy will always be remembered as the better ‘devil’ the people knew. The legacy will be remembered as the old man who fought to liberate Zim from minority white Supremacy of Smith, only to be trampled upon by the General and Zanu-PF that he built from scratch. The military is aware of this, hence the kid gloves on Mugabe, and the option for impeach by Zanu-PF, rather than a quo by military which carries other international law consequences as wel.
In summary therefore, when trying to understand the political situation in Zimbabwe at the moment, one has to look into the heritage identity of African politics, in particular surrounding the socio-political tenets of African liberation struggle, ethnicity, gender, socio-policial greed.
The main questions to ponder on are as follows:
i) are these identities helpful to the modern democratic aspirations?
ii) What part should they play, if at any, in African democracies guided by international law and human rights?
How can these heritages be harmonised with modern African democratic states?