African Arguments

Ian Scoones

Joice Mujuru’s ‘manifesto’ is only subtly different to other parties’ policies. The real battle for power in 2018 will entail making elite alliances and attracting key constituencies. 

Sowing the seeds for 2018: Joice Mujuru with EU Ambassador Aldo Dell'Ariccia. Photograph by EU.

Zimbabwe’s 2018 election battle started in earnest last week, with the publication Joice Mujuru’s ‘manifesto’. Although her People First party has not yet been launched, this was a clear signal that it will be soon. Amongst the new acronyms and the big promises, the important question is what alliances will be struck with whom, and whether this is the basis for a genuine opposition that can dislodge the hold of the ruling ZANU-PF.

Mujuru was unceremoniously thrown out of ZANU-PF only at the end of last year by a faction led by First Lady Grace Mugabe, and closely linked to the current Vice-President Emerson Mnangagwa.

Once President Robert Mugabe’s favoured successor, Mujuru’s fall was rapid. She had been a ZANU-PF stalwart with a strong track record dating back from her heroism in the liberation war, where she took the nom de guerre Teurai Ropa (spill blood), reputedly gunning down a Rhodesian helicopter in a fierce battle. She went on to be Vice President and a leading business person, taking over her husband’s empire after he died in mysterious circumstances in 2011.

Since being ousted from the party in December, along with various allies, Mujuru has bided her time. Her team has also been discussing with various factions of the split MDC opposition, and the recent ‘manifesto’ is the result.

What’s in the manifesto?

Beyond the new acronyms (BUILD – Blueprint to Unlock Investment and Leverage for Development; RAMP – Remove All Measurable Pitfalls; and PEACE – Presidential Economic and Advisory Centre for Excellence), what does the short manifesto say?

In many respects, there is indeed not much to distinguish it from other offerings from other parties, including ZANU-PF. In his recent speech to parliament, Mugabe himself offered a ten-point plan for investment, inclusive growth and tackling corruption that was barely different in key aspects. And the government’s ZIMASSET programme offers an ambitious – some would say unrealistic – plan to do the same. Meanwhile, the MDC opposition’s own plans (and own acronyms of ART, JUICE and the rest) are all very similar, and many opposition commentators have welcomed Mujuru’s document.

But if you look beyond the general statements to the more subtle emphases and associated mood music, you can see some differences. Mujuru’s manifesto, as Alex Magaisa points out, did not start with the classic ZANU-PF narrative centred on the liberation war. It is mentioned, but not as the origin of all positions. The statement on ideology covers all bases:

“We are national democrats, guided by the values of the liberation struggle, of self determination, self-dignity, self-pride, expressed through the adoption of market driven policies under a constitutional democracy, with the State acting as a facilitator and regulator to allow for a level playing field and provide equal opportunities for all.”

This moves beyond the ZANU-PF position of the nationalist state, and towards a more liberal version of a facilitating and regulating state, operating in the context of market-driven policies and rule of law.

There are important shifts on the discourse of being indigenous that are significant too. According to the document, land in Zimbabwe is to be available to all those who call the country home, and the indigenisation policies so favoured a few years back are to be relaxed to encourage investment. However, all these provisions are of course open to flexible interpretation.

The assertion of securing property rights and boosting investment has been interpreted by some as a swing to a neoliberal view, and away from a more nationalist perspective. Certainly, the Mujuru faction has always been more ‘business friendly’ – they have plenty of businesses to protect and support after all – while the Mnangagwa group builds on the exposure to Chinese principles of development in the hope that alliances with the East rather than the West will see Zimbabwe through.

Some in ZANU-PF have also accused the Mujuru manifesto of rejecting land reform and proposing policies that will usher in a recolonisation of land by whites. The Herald as the mouthpiece of the party is particularly shrill on this, as is Jonathan Moyo’s twitter feed. But I do not see this in the document. On land, it is clear that the establishment of productive agriculture, based on secure tenure, is essential (the same as in Mugabe’s ten-point plan) and that paying compensation to those removed through land reform is crucial. Mujuru, like the MDC in its last election manifesto, seems committed to land reform, but emphasises agriculture and productivity, as does everyone else. Indeed, at face value, section 6 on land policy seems to have no differences with the current government position.

The struggle behind-the-scenes

It seems it will be the interpretation and realisation of all these policies that will matter, not the documents themselves as they are open to so much interpretive flexibility. And this will depend on how alliances are struck and who the constituency for any new political formation will be.

These manoeuvres in the run-up to 2018 will be vital. ZANU-PF has maintained a constituency that includes large portions of the rural poor, alongside many of the new beneficiaries of the land reform. In 2013, the MDC opposition failed to mobilise these groups, and did not offer a convincing stance on land and rural development. It instead relied on the traditional base of disaffected urban populations and workers. For a range of reasons – including vote rigging, intimidation but also a failure to engage with rural issues – the opposition failed in the 2013 elections and has imploded since.

A key question is whether People First – or whatever a new party emerges as – can develop a narrative around land and rural development that earlier opposition groups failed to do, and in so doing draw from the traditional ZANU-PF base. I do not see this appeal to the aspirant rural population – particularly those in the A1 farms, and their natural allies in the communal areas – coming through as yet.

The political-economic analysis of Zimbabwe’s dramatically changed rural scene remains very weak across all parties, but there is an important constituency out there ready to be enlisted who are neither attracted to ZANU-PF’s tired nationalist discourse nor the ‘return to commercial farming’ position of the MDC. This group will seek to ally themselves with a progressive political voice that understands the consequences of radical land reform and how this has provided opportunities for a significant number of new, relatively younger, educated and aspiring farmers, well linked to urban and other economic and political circuits.

There are two other factors that will play heavily into the 2018 electoral drama, and will be central to this complex alliance building.

The first is regional and ethnic political affiliation. With Mnangagwa and Mujuru potentially pitched against each other, we can see the split among Shona groups becoming more significant, alongside the longstanding Shona/Ndebele divide. This is unfortunate, but perhaps inevitable as individuals seek support. Alliance-making across such divisions will be crucial and may require links to and between different MDC factions for a solid electoral bloc to be created.

The second is alliances with security services. The MDC opposition was of course rejected by the securocrats in 2013, some publicly saying they would not serve under a Morgan Tsvangirai leadership. But there are divisions now within the military-security elite that play into the new splits within and beyond ZANU-PF.

For now, President Mugabe has retained a core group with known affiliations to Mujuru, but there will no doubt be plenty of behind-the-scenes discussions of who will ally with whom in the coming period. Mujuru has promised security reform in her manifesto, and this will no doubt please the donors she is wooing. But ensuring a stable transition that brings the security elite with her will be paramount, and having been intimately wrapped up in this political-military establishment with ZANU-PF for so many years, she knows how dangerous and challenging this will be.

While the policy statements will remain bland and general, appealing to everyone and no one, it will be this backroom politics and complex alliance-building that will occupy people and fill the bars and newspaper columns with endless gossip and speculation for the next few years.

Hopefully this process of building alliances for the future, from whatever party, will not just happen in elite business-security-political circles as is the default, but will remember the wider population – the electorate – whose trust and commitment has to be sought. The majority of the electorate remains poor and rural, but there is a growing group of emergent aspirants who could, if given the chance, drive a new political consensus. It is going to be a rocky ride, but the next chapter of Zimbabwe’s politics is certainly not going to be dull.

Ian Scoones  is a research fellow at the Institute of Development Studies and co-author of the book Zimbabwe’s Land Reform: Myths and Realities.