via Will 2014 usher in an Egypt-style revolution in Zim? Part 1 By Dr Clifford Chitupa Mashiri, 1st January 2014.
Amid reports of Zimbabweans predicting a bleak future due to worsening economic challenges following what others see as rigged July 31 elections and a serious failure of leadership, questions are being asked about what kind of change 2014 will bring. This 3- Part instalment joins the debate on the prospects of an Egypt-style revolution in Zimbabwe. There has indeed been a raging debate on the subject.
‘An Egypt-style revolution is possible’ – Makumbe
Before his death, former University of Zimbabwe political science lecturer Professor John Makumbe told SWRadio Africa in February 2011 that repressive legislation and the pro-Mugabe security forces would make protests very difficult in Zimbabwe. “An Egypt-style revolution is possible in Zimbabwe but it might be unwise,” he said. “We could see a similar bloodbath that we are witnessing in Libya right now.”
But Professor Makumbe emphasised that “there is a price for freedom,” and dismissed comments that Zimbabweans are too afraid to take their frustrations onto the streets. “That is an underestimation of the anger people are feeling, the people-power that Zimbabweans have. Once this starts in Zimbabwe it will be unstoppable,” Makumbe said (Alex Bell, ‘Zims urged to follow Egypt, Tunisia and Libya’s lead,’ SW Radio Africa, 22 February 2011).
‘An Egyptian style revolution is not possible’ – Mitchell
On the other hand, a senior Zimbabwean historian, Diana Mitchell who reportedly foretold the downfall of the former Ian Smith regime in 1977 spoke against thoughts then in the wait for an uprising that was being engineered on social networking website Facebook in August 2013. According to Zimeye, Mitchell signalled that an Egyptian style revolution is not possible in Zimbabwe. In her view, Zimbabweans will “cling to peace as a preferred option. The flames of the Arab Spring’s violent revolutions are not an attractive model for change right now,” Mitchell said (See Zimeye, ‘Top Historian Diana Mitchell Dismisses Baba Jukwa Uprising’, 18/08/13).
But any assessment of a revolution should recognise the political dynamics of the specific situation at any given time. In order to understand the significance of the prevailing Zimbabwean dynamics, it makes sense to briefly review the literature on the Arab Spring in order to draw some inferences and/or comparisons.
A revolution is not a dinner party
Of course a revolution is neither a walk in the park nor a dinner party. As Mao Tse Tung of China once said:
“A revolution is not a dinner party, or writing an essay, or painting a picture, or doing embroidery; it cannot be so refined, so leisurely and gentle, so temperate, kind, courteous, restrained and magnanimous. A revolution is an insurrection, an act of violence by which one class overthrows another” (Googlereads).
Four lines of analysis
Florence Gaub in Understanding Instability: Lessons from the Arab Spring (2012) asserts that an assessment of a country’s vulnerability to risk and conflict requires four lines of analysis: conditions, catalysts, triggers on the side of society, as well as the state’s capacity to handle these on the other side. Conditions or the underlying root causes for instability could include the evolution of the state, historical experiences, politicisation of regional, ethnic or religious identities, distribution of wealth and income, unemployment rates and so on. Root causes themselves do not cause instability by merely existing.
Echoing the same sentiments, Rajeev Agrawal a Research fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analysis (IDSA) in New Delhi, India says: “Revolutions don’t happen overnight.” They require definite preconditions and sufficient and largely spread discontent to trigger them. “Also often it is the last straw for the oppressed masses with their backs to the wall and ‘nothing to lose’ attitude,” Agrawal writes in the IDSA Issue Brief for October 26, 2012.
Gaub emphasises that catalysts of instability become the decisive factor in the determination of actual conflict potential. But still that requires a ‘trigger’, a one time event capable of animating the actual social dislocation such as elections, natural disasters, economic shock, death of a leader or an activist and so on.
The state’s capacity to handle conditions of instability is best understood by examining William Quandt’s four ingredients of authoritarian regimes: ‘ideology, repression, payoffs and elite solidarity’. [Arguably these four exist in full in Mugabe’s Zimbabwe]. In Tunisia and Egypt, according to Toby Dodge of the London School of Economics the ideological justifications for rule had long since failed to have any purchase on the population [Cf. Zanu-PF’s jingles about Chimurenga].
In affirmation, Lieutenant Colonel El Hassane Aissa of the Morrocan Army astutely argues that after more than five decades of independence from European colonialism, autocratic rulers have failed to meet the legitimate aspirations of the Arab people. These, he says, include political freedom, economic prosperity and human dignity. [While Zimbabwe is a multi party state, political freedom is not guaranteed in the wake of Gukurahundi and other human rights abuses].
Aissa contends that the economic situation [in the Arab Spring] was worsened by almost three decades of unsuccessful economic models of the IMF and the World Bank. [Cf. Zimbabwe’s ESAP, Zimpest and now Zim Asset].He also points out that centres of power were held by ruling dynasties or families, the military, nationalist secular parties or influential tribes led to political disaffection as a motive for rioting [Cf. Mugabe’s Gushungo dynasty and its grip on power including seized farms, JOC’s diamond mines, tribal chiefs and other party cronies]. Regime corruption in both Egypt and Tunisia thrived by excluding the majority of the population from the economy [Cf. Afrobarometer rated Zimbabwe the third most corrupt country in Africa at 81 percent, behind joint leaders Nigeria and Egypt at 82 percent, VOA, 13/11/13].
The ruling elites in both countries allegedly flaunted their wealth in the streets of Tunis and Cairo’s families as the majority struggled to keep head above water. [Cf. Mugabe chided his cousin Philip Chiyangwa for showing off, New Zimbabwe 19/09/13. Furthermore, Zimbabwe’s annual output of 30 000 university and tertiary graduates without guaranteed jobs].
[The educational environment in the Arab world was ripe for the emergence of such upheavals [Cf: Zimbabwe has the highest rate of literacy in Africa]. Dodge notes that the “constituency for revolutionary change” [in the Arab Spring] steadily expanded as the population between 15 and 29 years-old rose, by 50 percent in Tunisia and 60 percent in Egypt since 1990.[Cf. According to the 2012 census Zimbabwe’s youths aged 15-24 years old form 60% of the population].
The drivers of the revolution
Apart from the demographics dimension of the upheavals of the Arab Spring other drivers were mobilised masses, enabled and assisted by technology – the social media – a powerful tool indeed and the role played by the military as well as the intervention by outside forces. [According to the Sunday Mail of 21/07/12, Zimbabwe’s internet traffic conducted through mobile phone devices “is the highest in the world at 58.1 percent.”]
Consequences of a revolution
Any revolution will naturally have consequences or a series of reactions. The Arab Spring inevitably triggered state, regional and international reactions – some reactive others proactive. Similarly, it would be naive to assume red carpet treatment for staging a mass uprising in Zimbabwe. Just for being suspected of plotting an Egypt style revolution, Munyaradzi Gwisai and others were slapped with a two year suspended sentence in March 2012.
Possible implications of a Zimbabwean Spring
It will be an exceptional opportunity for political change towards democracy. As in the Arab Spring, the removal of a dictator will be the first step in the right direction. A major implication will be how the regional power house South Africa will react to a Jasmine revolution next door. Equally interesting would be how the U.S., UK, Russia, and China would react in the event of a Zimbabwean Spring.
Clifford holds a PhD in International Relations. He is also an author, political analyst, former diplomat and a fulltime PhD Social Sciences candidate at London South Bank University focusing on forced migration. Zimanalysis2009@gmail.com.