Zimbabwe: Voting For Progress

Eric Draitser


Zimbabwe’s upcoming elections, scheduled to take place on
July 31st, will go a long way to determining the future of the
country.  On the one hand, the entrenched
power of President Mugabe and ZANU-PF enters the elections with a track record
that both elicits praise and inspires criticism.  On the other hand, there is Prime Minister Morgan
Tsvangirai and his opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) which enters
the election once again with the high-minded rhetoric of “democracy” and
“transparency”, but also with a mixed record that has many questioning their
ability to lead.

With less than two weeks to go before Zimbabweans go to the
polls many questions remain unanswered: Will the MDC-T boycott the elections
due to what they perceive to be a lack of reforms? Will Zimbabwe be able to
carry out peaceful elections, unlike in 2008? 
Are the people of Zimbabwe satisfied with the progress of land
redistribution and other reforms implemented by Mugabe and ZANU-PF?  These are only some of the most pressing
questions weighing on the minds of urban and rural Zimbabweans alike.

Elections: An
Economic Referendum

Since the creation of the ZANU-PF/MDC-T inclusive government
after the election in 2008, there has been a marked change in Zimbabwean
politics.  No longer is ZANU-PF the sole
party in power and, consequently, the sole party responsible for positive and
negative policy outcomes.  Rather, both
parties’ respective leaders enter this year’s elections as incumbents, and both
must face scrutiny over their policies and their actions. 

President Mugabe and ZANU-PF have a difficult fight ahead of
them.  Despite outside factors such as
sanctions imposed by the US and UK, many Zimbabweans hold Mugabe and ZANU-PF
responsible for the economic difficulties of the recent past including record
inflation which led to the collapse of the currency and its abolition in favor of
the US dollar.  The
African Development Bank’s Economic Outlook for Zimbabwe
, published in
2011, notes that, “Inflation is projected to rise to 6.5% in 2012 and 6.7% in
2013.  Inflationary developments in the
short to medium term will continue to be influenced by the US dollar/rand
exchange rate, inflation developments in South Africa, international oil
prices, and local utility charges.”[i]  By adopting the US dollar, Zimbabwe managed
to resolve the crippling plague of inflation, though at the cost of any
semblance of monetary sovereignty.

Unemployment continues to be one of the principal concerns,
particularly among young people, many of whom fear that any hope for the future
is little more than idle daydreaming. 
According to the Reserve Bank
of Zimbabwe
, the unemployment rate as measured in January 2012 was
10.7%.  However, it must be noted that these
numbers, like unemployment rates in the United States, are likely to be a gross
underestimation as they only consider those actively searching for work as a
percentage of the labor force. 
Essentially then, the many Zimbabweans who are officially unemployed but
not “actively looking for work” disappear in these statistics. 

According to the CIA
World Fact Book
, as well as a number of international NGOs, Zimbabwe’s true
unemployment rate is one of the highest in the world, with estimates ranging
from 50% to as high as 95%.  However,
these too are likely to be distorted numbers which do not take into account the
informal economy and the many forms of economic activity that do not have a place
in the official statistics.  Moreover, such
inflated data is rooted in the West’s ideological and political desire to
demonize ZANU-PF and foment political upheaval. 
As Zimbabwe’s MDC-T Finance Minister Tendai Biti explained
in June 2013:


have always had this argument about what is the percentage of people that are
employed or unemployed in Zimbabwe. Textbook economists will say 85 percent but that is not true. If we had a population like that, most people
in Zimbabwe would have died, it is not possible…One is either a farmer, selling
juice cards, driving an emergency taxi, or working as a hair dresser. The fact of the matter is most people are
economically active.[ii]

Biti’s point is a valid one. 
To simply claim that all those people employed in the informal economy
are somehow unemployed is pure dishonesty. 
However, the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe’s unemployment figure of less than
11% is also an exercise in spin.  The true
unemployment is somewhere between these two extremes.  However, no matter the actual figure,
unemployment continues to be one of the most pressing issues on the minds of

Unlike inflation and unemployment – problems faced by all
countries regardless of development – there are two particular economic
programs which are specific to Zimbabwe and have a tremendous impact on the
lives of its citizens: Land redistribution and “indigenization”.  The common thread linking these two programs
is the creation of a self-sufficient and economically independent nation. 

An inescapable outcome of European colonial control and
imperialism has been the dispossession of black Africans.  By the end of the liberation struggle, the
vast majority of arable land was in the hands of white farmers while the black
population worked the land in the service of the European landowners.  However, by 2000, Mugabe and ZANU-PF began
the “fast track” land program.  The
results of this program are discussed in the new book Zimbabwe Takes Back Its Land
The authors explain:


                        In the biggest
land reform in Africa, 6,000 white farmers have been replaced by 245,000
Zimbabwean farmers.  These are primarily
ordinary poor people who have become more productive farmers.  The change was inevitably disruptive at
first, but production is increasing rapidly. 
Agricultural production is now returning to the 1990s level, and
resettled farmers already grow 40% of the country’s tobacco and 49% of its maize.[iii]

It should be acknowledged that the actual distribution of
this land was not without problems and corruption, as some of the best land was
seized by force and through cronyism.  However,
despite this corruption (a droning talking point in the mainstream media in the
West who attempt to demonize Mugabe at every turn), the results of the program
are undeniable: Africa’s greatest land redistribution program has created a new
class of farmers forming the backbone of Zimbabwe’s agricultural output, and
its economy.

Like the land reforms implemented by Mugabe and ZANU-PF, the
“indigenization” program is also designed to increase self-sufficiency and
independence from foreign control.  The
indigenization program altered the laws of the country in regards to ownership,
mandating that enterprises deemed in the national interest should be majority
owned by Zimbabweans, not foreign investors, be they white or black.  Though the program was initially mocked, and
continues to be met with derision by capitalists the world over, it has proven
to be successful, at least in the early stages. 
The indigenization program also is intended to address unemployment, and
specifically youth unemployment which continues to be a major problem.

These economic issues are fundamental to the daily lives of
regular Zimbabweans.  As such, they will
undoubtedly be the issues that impact, more than anything else, how Zimbabwe
votes.  However, although economics is on
the minds of everyone, politics have shaped the debate.  Unlike in 2008, when Morgan Tsvangirai and
the MDC-T were merely the opposition with no political power, this time around
they have to defend their record on all of the economic policies and more.  Likewise, ZANU-PF has a number of significant
political questions to address as it tries to convince Zimbabweans to continue
their commitment and support for Mugabe and the revolution.

The Politics of

Both major parties in Zimbabwe are attempting to present
themselves as reformers interested in progressive change that will improve the
lives of working people and the poor. 
However, ZANU-PF and MDC-T employ very different strategies – policy,
rhetoric, ideology, etc. – in order to achieve substantive positive
change.  While Mugabe and ZANU-PF tout
their tremendous achievements with land redistribution, indigenization and
nationalization, and other nationalistic policies, Tsvangirai and the MDC-T
rely on the more abstract concepts of democracy, transparency and
anti-corruption, and integration with the world economy, specifically with the
Western powers.  These radically
different approaches present Zimbabweans with a very important choice in these

Prime Minister Morgan Tsvagirai has long since been
correctly understood to be the favored choice of the US and UK.  His MDC-T has advocated tirelessly for economic
policies that are geared towards international economic integration, while
blasting all economic policies put forward by ZANU-PF.  Additionally, many Zimbabweans have begun
asking precisely what role the MDC-T has played in the economic assault on the
country through sanctions.  In an op-ed
in the New Zimbabwe, Tobaiwa Tigere states, “A key reason why ZDERA
[Zimbabwe Democracy and Recovery Act] was passed was to enable to US Secretary
of the Treasury to transfer funds from the US to Zimbabwe to ‘aid democratic
forces in that country’…some estimates put the dollar value of resources
transferred to the MDC-T since ZDERA was enacted at well over $250 million.”[iv]  Additionally, one should also recall the WikiLeaks
documents which “Showed that he [Tsvangirai] had been privately urging
Washington to maintain sanctions against Harare, while taking the opposite
position in public.”[v]  Such facts raise doubts in the minds of many
Zimbabweans who are understandably dissatisfied due to poverty and
unemployment, but who likewise understand that an MDC-T victory is a victory
for Washington, London and Wall St. 

Naturally, the amount of overt and covert support the MDC-T
has received from the US and other Western powers has caused many to wonder
what exactly is the on the agenda of the MDC-T and its backers.  The question of regime change, the favorite
tactic of western imperialism in the 21st Century, is very much out
in the open.  In fact, President Mugabe
addressed this very point in a recent
.  Speaking about the need
for these elections, Mugabe stated:


                        We had to
demonstrate to the West that it’s not you who should instruct us to stand down,
ha, regime change does not work.  Who are
you to want our regime to change?…But we said no, we fought them yesterday
you see, we can fight them again.  We
won’t collapse and we didn’t collapse, we will remain and remain with the
leadership they don’t want…We’re defiant…But we will settle down and naturally
we should allow power to transfer.  But
we must be assured that when we transfer that we are well united and we have
built-in strength within the party.[vi]

Here, one can see clearly the juxtaposition that is at the
heart of these elections: Mugabe and ZANU-PF’s defiance of the western powers
and their neocolonial agenda, and Tsvangirai and MDC-T’s embrace of the
neoliberal capitalist ideology as evidenced by their inextricable link to
Western finance and intelligence. 

Tsvangirai and the MDC-T have stated repeatedly that,
despite taking part in the elections, they are not convinced of their
fairness.  They have publicly proclaimed
that, without the necessary reforms taking place (media, security, and electoral
reforms), the election will be irrelevant. 
Deputy Prime Minister and MDC Vice President Thokazani Kupe explained in
that, “As the MDC we are prepared for election anytime but as
long as all these [reforms] are done before July 31 we don’t have any
problems.  But there is no way we can
[stand] for an election without these things being done, it will be a waste of
time.”[vii]  Such comments merit closer analysis.  On the one hand, it seems that MDC makes an
important point that, in order to have truly fair elections, the playing field
must be leveled.  However, seen from
another perspective, this is a cynical ploy utilized by the MDC in order to
protect itself against electoral defeat. 
By establishing the elections as “fair” only if the conditions laid out
by MDC are met, Tsvangirai’s party effectively invalidates the election prima facie or, to put it another way,
the MDC invalidates the elections…unless they win.

The MDC has built its reputation criticizing ZANU-PF and
Mugabe.  The party has managed to win
over millions of Zimbabweans who, out of economic desperation, are willing to
listen to anyone offering the hope of a better future.  However, when examined from a purely policy
perspective, it becomes clear that MDC and Prime Minister Tsvangirai have many
questions to answer.  First and foremost,
the opposition has to explain to working people why it is that the MDC-T has
always sided with the financiers and neoliberals: they opposed Mugabe’s land
programs, opposed the indigenization program, opposed the mine nationalization
program, and much more.  Although these
programs were not without their faults, taken as a whole, they have proven to
be successful and have been supported by the people.  Many Zimbabweans wonder why Tsvangirai always
seems to side with the US and the British speculators and financiers.  They are right to wonder.

The rhetoric employed by Tsvangirai and the MDC is
critical.  They call for “reform”,
“change”, “transparency” and many other buzz words of modern democracy.  However, the real question before Zimbabweans
is, to what extent are these slogans merely the window-dressing for opening up
the country to vulture capitalists and speculators who will be able to profit
off of Zimbabwe’s resources without sharing the profits with the people?  In this way, MDC-T has a very serious image
problem: they are seen as puppets of the West. 
Not only does this have implications for the economic future of the people
and the country, but its political future as well. 

The United States has spent the last few years building its
military capacity all throughout the African continent.  The establishment and expansion of US Africa
Command (AFRICOM) has entrenched US military “advisors” throughout the militaries
of the continent, while drone bases like those in Djibouti and Niger greatly
expand US military capacity on the continent. 
Additionally, considering their domination of the African Union, ECOWAS,
and other regional groupings, the United States has cemented a dominant
position in Africa.  Yet, despite all the
difficulties, Zimbabwe remains untouched by US imperial presence.  How long will such a status quo last if
Tsvangirai and MDC claim power?

As Election Day approaches, all of the most pressing issues
facing Zimbabweans will come to the fore. 
It against the tumultuous political and economic backdrop of life in
that country that the people will make their voices heard.  However, the elections are more than simply a
choice between two political formations. 
Rather, the elections represent the continuation of the revolution and
the liberation struggle.  The heroes who
died for Zimbabwe made the ultimate sacrifice so that the people would be able
to determine their own future, not white European capitalists.  It is upon the ground where they shed their
blood for the people, that the people will cast their votes and decide their

Eric Draitser is the
founder of StopImperialism.com.  He is an
independent geopolitical analyst based in New York City.  You can reach him at ericdraitser@gmail.com.