By Garikai Chimuka
The recent announcement by Mugabe that elections will be held on 29 March has led to a clear dilemma within the opposition movement, civic society, churches and the academia in Zimbabwe. Some quarters have called for the opposition, in particular the MDC, to boycott the elections on the basis that the conditions on the ground are not conducive for a free and fair election. Some like Dr Madhuku are even quoted as having said that Mugabe has already won the elections. The bitterness in the opposition camp emanate mainly from the Thabo Mbeki led initiative in which the opposition wanted a new constitution before the elections. However, I strongly believe that its naïve for any politician in Zimbabwe to ever dream that Mugabe can legislate himself out of power en route to The Hague to face charges of crimes against humanity. It is on this basis that the only way forward for the MDC is to quickly unite, campaign vigorously and defeat Mugabe come 29 March 08
The issue of whether or not to participate in the elections to me is a mere academic dilemma for I believe that the practical reality on the ground behoves the opposition to get into the ring and fight.Malcom X has always been clear that in a revolutionary struggle against oppression, people have to use all means necessary to bring about freedom and liberty. Given the configuration of global, continental and regional geopolitics, the only feasible option for the opposition to assume power in Zimbabwe is through elections.Withiout any other viable alternative like mass action or armed struggle, the opposition will have to participate in the elections with the kind of hope that gripped the nation in 2000.Boycotting elections without any other option to remove Mugabe will be merely surrendering the struggle and handing Mugabe victory on the silver plate
Those who are campaigning for a boycott choose not to tell people that if the MDC boycotts the elections, other smaller parties funded by the regime will mushroom and contest giving Mugabe some modicum of legitimacy.Moreso, within the MDC itself, there are some politicians who believe strongly in participating. Most legislators in the MDC who have tested power will never take heed of election boycott and will definitely participate. This can lead to the fragmentation of the opposition and that is exactly what Mugabe is looking for. Analysts must never forget that the unfortunate MDC split of 2005, though it may have been based on other core differences, was brought to the fore by the Senate boycott politics
Secondly, those who are calling for the boycott don't tell the people of any viable alternative. If the MDC boycotts the polls, what other strategy must it craft to gain power and launch a new beginning for Zimbabwe? The opposition has tried mass actions, demonstrations, diplomatic pressure and negotiation without any success in the past. So if they boycott, what will be the alternative strategy except colossal irrelevance?
Thirdly, there is a serious misconception in Zimbabwe today that Mugabe rigs the elections in a crude way of stuffing ballots or during the counting. The truth of the matter is that previously, the elections have been rigged before the voting through intimidation, vote buying through chiefs, violence and reducing polling stations in MDC strongholds so that few opposition supporters vote like they did in Harare and all major towns in 2002. These are the main methods how ZANU PF has rigged and continues to rig the elections. Otherwise if the elections were rigged after voting, I believe that the MDC would have never won 57 seats in 2000 and given Mugabe's arrogance, he would have never allowed the opposition to control Harare and all urban centers
Therefore the major lesson the opposition should have learnt from the previous election is that if opposition supporters overwhelmingly votes against Mugabe, it will be very difficult for him to rig the elections. This is the actual challenge confronting the MDC today: How to mobilize people to believe again and vote in their multitudes on 29 March 2008.
The first step is to make sure that the majority of urban voters are going to vote in their millions. The challenge is about mobilizing. Talking about boycotts will only alienate the economically battered urban opposition supporters who may then ignore to vote. If the MDC fails to fight apathy in the urban areas, then ZANUPF will bury them for ZANUPF supporters in urban areas are those who are benefiting in one way or the other from the current crisis and will definitely go and vote as a basis for personal survival. Therefore the challenge for the opposition is to make sure that people in the urban areas check that they are on the voter's roll, know which ward they are going to vote and finally vote in their millions on voting day. If there is overwhelming turnout in the urban areas, it does not need a rocket scientist to know that such a turnout will be indicative of an MDC victory in the cities.
On the other hand, the rural vote will be problematic because ZANU PF uses vote buying, for example farm implements, food, fertilizer etc.They also use chiefs to force all the people to vote meaning that when there is overwhelming turnout in the rural areas, and ZANU PF expects victory. The MDC thus needs to go to the rural areas and campaign. They need to find ways of breaking the chiefs' hold on the rural populace. Mugabe has rewarded the chiefs with cars, electrified homes, salaries and political power thus the chiefs know that they must defend him in order to continue benefiting .The MDC must however realize that sub-chiefs and village headmen who are on the ground are bitter because they are seeing chiefs getting rich every day whilst they are getting nothing or peanuts. The message to the MDC is that sub chiefs and village headmen are ready for harvesting .Jonathan Moyo used that strategy and won in Tsholotsho in 2005 and that strategy can be replicated throughout Zimbabwe. The conditions on the ground as of today are favorable for a shocking rejection of Mugabe in the rural areas in a way he has never expected.
Hence it is very clear that the opposition needs to immediately craft strategies, deploy their officials on the ground in each and every corner of Zimbabwe and send Mugabe packing come 29 MARCH 2008.The rural folk who Mugabe thinks he can continuously manipulate for his political survival are ready for change. The MDC leadership must remove their gloves and fight. With the right urban and rural campaign strategy, victory is certain!!
Garikai Chimuka (firstname.lastname@example.org) is an analyst based at Wageningen University, The Netherlands