Folly of professional opposition in Zimbabwe

via Folly of professional opposition March 21, 2014

In Western democracy, an opposition party is regarded as a government-in-awaiting. If the incumbent administration snoozes on the job, come next election, there will be a new driver on the wheel. Consequently, parties constantly renew their leadership while sticking to their respective ideologies. In this environment, if a leader loses an election, chances of retaining his/her job are invariably between zero and nil. As a result, this has shortened the cycle of incumbency-to-opposition. In the process, we have often seen further entrenchment of democratic principles and processes.

When Helen Clark of New Zealand lost to John Key, she immediately packed her bags and went to a far away place, literally. She did not remain as leader of the opposition for a day longer. Today, she has a very rewarding job at the United Nations, presumably earning much more than what she would ever dream of as Prime Minister of New Zealand.

John Howard lost to Kevin Rudd and retired from politics. As we speak, he is rated as one of Australia’s best leaders ever, if not the best. In retirement, he is a very happy man. In the opposition, Malcolm Turnbull ousted Brendan Nelson who was later ousted by Tony Abbott. Recognising talent even within the opposition, Kevin Rudd appointed Brendan Nelson Australia’s Ambassador to the European Union where he served for a few years before resigning to pursue other interests in life. Indeed, there is life after politics!

After a relatively short stint as opposition leader, Tony Abbot capitalised on factionalism in the ruling Labour Party and cruised to Canberra as Prime Minister. He appointed his predecessor, Malcolm Turnbull, one of his front bench ministers, and life goes on. If the Liberal Party had remained stuck with either Turnbull or Nelson, it would probably be still in opposition today.

When Gordon Brown lost to David Cameron, he simply quit and the fight for opposition British Labour Party was between two siblings; David and Ed Miliband where the latter prevailed. Ed is now likely to be Britain’s next Prime Minister.

In Africa, we have the same faces every election; the so-called “face of the opposition” or “face of the struggle”. We saw it in Botswana. From 1965 until 2000, Dr Kenneth Koma was the epitome of opposition in Botswana as president of Botswana National Front (BNF). On several occasions, he ignored calls to step down and allow new leadership to take the movement forward. Consequently, in 1998, the BNF split and the Botswana Congress Party (BCP) was formed.

This formation went away with all sitting MPs for the BNF then. Today, the BCP has risen to become Botswana’s third biggest political party and well within reach to cause a big upset in that part of Southern Africa. They have fully embraced the idea of leadership renewal though it may be a long time before they manage to dislodge the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP), which, like the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), not only believes in but executes leadership renewal every ten years. If Dr. Koma had stepped down in time and allowed new leaders to emerge such as Gil Saleshando, Paul Rantao, Maitswarelo Dabutha or other firebrand cadres of the time, BNF would have probably formed government a long time ago. Koma died in 2007 at the age of 84 sadly, without realising his dream of becoming President of Botswana.

From Zaire to DRC, long-time Congolese opposition leader, Etienne Tshisekedi, has become the embodiment of opposition politics in the vast African country endowed with rich natural resources that are largely untapped. While he served briefly on three occasions as Prime Minister, he never was President. His last service only lasted exactly one week from 2 to 9 April 1997! Despite his long history of failed attempts, at times boycotting elections for various reasons, Tshisekedi, like Dr. Koma, is also likely to go to the grave without achieving what he set out to.

Moving to Kenya, Raila Odinga also suffered the same fate. After the 2007 contentious elections, he fell into the deadly trap of a negotiated settlement.  While he spent most of his time between 2008 and 2013 focussing on delivery in government, his nemesis deployed energy and resources towards regrouping. When elections happened in 2013, his cry was the same, “we were robbed” but this did not change anything. In, came young Uhuru Kenyata from revived KANU while the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) was virtually relegated to the political dustbin. Does this sound familiar?

Winding back the political clock, we would also remember that despite fighting for democracy for several years in Malawi, at times even assuming the unofficial title of “father of Malawian democracy”, Chakufwa Chihana was stunned when he was overtaken by a new entrant, a returnee from the Diaspora, Bakili Muluzi who went on to become Malawi’s first democratically elected president as leader of the newly-formed United Democratic Front (UDF). Up to the present day, Chihana doesn’t know what hit him. He still thinks there can never be opposition in Malawi without him. Such is the fate and folly of professional opposition in Africa.

Another Diaspora returnee, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia, captured the world by becoming Africa’s first female president. This was later to be replayed by Joyce Banda of Malawi, in very similar circumstances.

Fredrick Chiluba, from whom Zimbabwe’s major opposition borrowed its template, sprang from trade unionism to the presidency of Zambia, defeating veteran nationalist Kenneth Kaunda in the process. If Chiluba had missed on his first attack, given what has happened elsewhere as demonstrated by the examples above, probably he would never have become president of Zambia. In the game of soccer that I love so much, if a team misses three clear chances including a penalty kick in a crucial match, hoping to win in the dying minutes of injury time against a seasoned opponent is pushing one’s luck a bit too far unless there is a prolific super substitute on the bench.

Introspect, renew, re-strategise and re-align are not just empty buzzwords. This is what happens in the real world. Those who want to hang on to power for as long as they still have some breadth in their lungs will face the Koma-Tshisekedi-Chihana fate if in the opposition or the Kaunda-Banda-Mobutu serendipity if in government. Time for real change has come; we just have to accept it. Those who have been bystanders for a very long have finally lost patience. There is a tsunami on the horizon!

Moses Chamboko is interim Secretary General for Zimbabweans United for Democracy (ZUNDE). He writes in his personal capacity. You can visit ZUNDE at



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    Zunde come home and start the campain on the ground 5yrs is near.just come and launch yr party are already showing us that you are not serious ,you are selfish you care about yr wel being nt Zim poor you are afraid of loosing your jobs out there.Tsvangirai is nt employed by a company bt by the people of Zim ,why cant you do the same??you just write blaming other Opposition Parties then you think you can win an election by doing so.You have to work hard on the ground and talk are just Political analysts not see what Tsvangirai is doing on the ground nt on internet.i say cme hme guys

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    Tjingababili 7 years ago


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    Dzatsva 7 years ago

    I have said it before and i will say it again,MDC-T needs to REBRAND,in order for them to come up with any even stronger BRAND,the transition has to be smooth and fair.This is were MRT,has to show Leadership and Maturity.

    He has to groome the next party president now,using his popularity to sell that person to the grassroot supporters between now and 2018.Those that chose him in 1999 to lead the party realised the talent in him and he didnt disappoint us,BUT HIS TIME IS UP,its time he preserves his LEGACY AND THE TRUST OF ALL THAT SUPPORT HIM AND SUPPORTED HIM.THE PARTY STILL NEEDS HIM BADLY BUT FOR OTHER DUTIES AND BELIEVE YOU ME HE WILL LIVE TO ONE OF ZIMBABWE’S ‘LARGEST HEROES’ OF ALL TIME.

    To those that are calling for REBRANDING,dont give up politics has never been a fair game,you will be called names but dont despair he knows he has to pass on the batton.Emotions will run high and morals low but the more we talk about it the more rational we become and tolerant too.Unity of purpose is great.

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      nesbert majoni 7 years ago

      Who are you to say you have said it before. After all its your opinion

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    oliver chikumba 7 years ago

    Zundu party ndeye mazundu chaiyo,do u want power zundu to rule Zimbabwe when u ar advising opponents to be strong.That then makes me to smell the rat.What wil u benefit as also gvt in waiting if Tsvangirai steps dwn,ar u then pushing yo sinister agenda wth Mbiti in our party nxaaa

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    thembani 7 years ago

    MDC T is not a real opposition party in the true sense.They have never spoken out about pertinent issues like corruption and violation of liberties.One can say that they are only focused on being opposition parties and enjoying funding money.

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    Rocks tone 7 years ago

    Dzatsva , you hammerd it straight to the point leadership must vitally change to brandish the agressiveness of the struggle , if the engine oil of the car is too old it will result in missperfomance of the car, as a result, it won’t be efficient.So to then people who are not ready to embrace the change at any juncture for the goodwill , you should rethink because time and tidy wait for no man , time is ticking, and our country is being rampaged everyday,yes we will blame , Mugabe for staying long in power , but, what effort are we putting to put an end to the rampaging & distraction of our nation.We are the nation , the will of the people , by the people comes from us .The Sherperd must not just have a pride of hearding a flock , but should heard the flock to the GREEN PASTURES.

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    Msizeni silwelani 7 years ago

    I do not agree with people who call for MDC T rebranding. It is literally impossible considering the political literacy levels in Zimbabwe. Any attempt to reshape the opposition will be manipulated by zanu pf for cheap propaganda. Zimbabwe has been turned into an informal economy translating to less urbanisation compared to other African states reffered to by the writer. By ruralising all the available land zanu pf created its own loyal constituencies at the same time collapsed the agricultural sector. People go to the polls hungary, then vote with their stomachs, a thing unheard of in diaspora (zunde) It is folly on the part of the writer to assume that the prevailing socio-economic situation allows for product/organisational rebranding
    Untill we realise and accept that our political literacy levels is far less than those countries we compare ourselves with, only then we will understand the reason we need a face of the struggle (MT).

    Politics appeals to the heart than facts. A fact the ruling zanu pf has utilised having all the state machinery at their disposal. We have to fight zanu pf. As it is MT has two fronts to face with the emergency of diaspora, mini and academia political groupings.

    Come home Zunde.

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      roving ambassador. 7 years ago

      Rebranding is needed now and a broader coalition. Fresh and new leadership is needed now because currently MDCis just an extension of Zanu. Peolple are not stupid ,they see and know whats happening. Tsvangirai’s desperate calls for another GNU do not help the situation.
      I agree with comments above that we need to constantly inform our country folks that constant renewal of leadership is progressive both on the political and economic front.
      Zanu is beyond help, because the whole apple is rotten to the core.
      Unfortunately Tsvangirai is too daft to realise that as party chairman ,his support for the new part President would propel him to a better hero and he will still be the face of MDC.
      Going back to my original point, we seriously need a Broader coalition where a new leadership will come out . We cannot leave the planing of our future in the hands of Tsvangirai, God forbid.
      Zanu is suicidal. They are going to the grave with the loot. I pray foolish Tsvangirai will not bail them out again.

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    Mandy 7 years ago

    Chamboko should be forgiven for misinterpreting what is happening in the MDC T. Perhaps that is what happens when one is far away from home and divorced from every day reality.
    No body here is contesting the issue of change of guard in the opposition MDC T. In any case Morgan Tsvangirai himself is talking about it. At his cross-over rally Tsvangirai put it out squarely to the 150 000 present that he would not wish to continue even if he, by hook or crook, lost the 2013 July elections. True to his word, in August, soon after the election, at a retreat of the National Executive held at Mandel Training Centre, Tsvangirayi offered to depart and an early congress was mooted. It is also inferred that Tsvangirayi even went further to remove his own personal advisers as a way of paving the way for the change of guard. In recent public statements Tsvangirayi continues to hint at the same. Leadership renewal is therefore is not under contestation in the MDC T.
    Developments on the ground instead exposed a conspiracy to stab Tsvangirai in the back on the part of Tendai Biti, Elton Mangoma, Roy Bennett, Elias Mudzuri and Nelson Chamisa leading to the loss of the election and what people saw as their only chance to once again place destiny in their own hands. It is this exposed culpability of those making the call at the last elections that is playing out in the movement. It does not matter that Chamisa is trying to play out as sitting on the side of Tsvangirayi. The gin is out of the bottle. The response of the grassroots to the calls for a change of guard is clear.
    If my memory serves me right, the first person to fire a shot and expose the change of guard conspiracy was no other than Obert Gutu who prior to the elections had been drafted as a co-conspirator. What motivated Gutu of course has never been a subject of discussion but the facts that he brought out have not been disputed by anyone including Biti, Mangoma, Mudzuri, Chamisa and Bennett. Instead western diplomats, especially Britain and Sweden have gone on to confirm their various roles in the scheme. This has left the grassroots bitter and without confidence or trust in those who are calling for a change of guard outside of the known framework of leadership renewal. In fact on the ground the interpretation of the loss of elections is now that it was internally driven and engineered as a boardroom coup. Strange as it may appear but what is panning out is therefore a rejection by the grassroots of an attempt by Biti, Bennett, Chamisa, Mangoma and Mudzuri to impose themselves on the democratic movement. This creates a situation where, in the view of the grassroots there is no renewal but simply a hijack of their project by power hungry people who are being sponsored by forces strange to the movement’s real interest let alone their values and principles.
    For this reason grassroots are demanding of Tsvangirayi that he stays on to enable a new leadership to emerge. A departure by Tsvangirayi at this moment in time will no doubt be interpreted as the biggest betrayal of the democratic movement. The results will be simple – a disengagement from the democratic movement by those who volunteered their time, invested their faith and committed themselves to the movement.
    For this reason Zanupf is keeping fingers crossed that lucky smiles on his miserable lot and the coup in fact takes place as this would allow them the space to back out the corner that they placed themselves.

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    wordwriter 7 years ago

    This is an excellent, well researched article.
    TSVANGIRAI, you have failed. you must go. we have a sense of being betrayed and we no longer support you. Because you will not go, but are holding on to power in MDC like a drowning man grabbing a straw, we are looking for another party. Resign and we may support MDC. You are a millstone around the neck of MDC and the electorate that craves another MDC president. You will never be president of Zimbabwe because you are weak negotiator and you fail to grasp what zanu is up to, falling into their traps each and every time. You have failed to establish grass roots support in the countryside and you have failed to come up with an African based ideology that is divorced from the declining, rotting west. You are an also ran, a tried and failed, a wannabe,a fancier, a person whose ego robs him of realty, a person drunken on hubris, a failure, ….. please Morgan, eliev us of the burden of pretnding to respect you. BE GONE MORGAN!!!

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    Fallenz 7 years ago

    All deep strategies way beyond typical grassroots thinking. Offering a chicken in every pot, manipulating voter registration, greasing the palms of those who can frog-march their villagers to the polls… those are the proven strategies that win elections in ZANUPF’s version of democracy.

    Yes, in most countries, political strategy is almost a science… in some, it’s a matter of whose finger is on the trigger of the AK’s and who controls the military, police, and courts.

    In Zim, those who have been in power to steal the most have the most to lose when they can no longer thwart real investigations into their dirty deals, their unexplained acquisition of wealth, and their miscarriages of justice. With such at stake, no price is too great to pay to retain control… especially, when the money they use to pay it isn’t their own.

    Opposition strategy and implementation must include playing by ZANUPF rules… and that takes compromise off the table.

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    Tongoona 7 years ago

    If the broom has lost its brushes, the owner will replace it with a brand new broom. The owner of any political party is the citizenry. The main opposition has certainly seen off its broom brushes, they no longer can perform to the task. MDC has so far failed to deliver regime change despite the full support it enjoyed from sponsors for decades. Repeated failure to win elections demoralizes the citizenry to the point that they start scouting around for new choices. The choice of opposition parties depends on how real the opposition party is. The majority of opposition parties in Zimbabwe are proxies of the two main political parties. Be warned! However there is one or two real opposition parties which can deliver regime change upon one try.

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    Gen. sjamfombisi 7 years ago

    What has this scholarly research got to do with removing Robert?