Party Congress Season, Political Contests Without Policy Debates?

By Paidamoyo Muzulu

Going through Zimbabwe’s mainstream media one can be forgiven for failing to realize the country is on the brink of political stagnation or ripe for change. Between now and October 2014 the country has three congresses from the two main political parties Zanu PF and MDC-T and its offshoot, MDC Renewal.

What is evident is that it is congress season in Zimbabwe regardless of the fact that there are no candid national policy debates among the main contestants.

Zanu PF gets the ball rolling next month when it holds congresses to elect its youth and women leagues’ leadership for the next five years.

One has to stretch their mind to try to find when Zanu PF last had an effective Youth or Women’s league chair. More often than not, previous and current chairpersons of both leagues have functioned on the strict regimen of the party line. A line which at most ties is out of sync with the very real challenges faced by the youth and women of Zimbabwe.
Leadership in Zanu PF therefore becomes a fixed template where either one fits in or they are ostracized. Such leadership can be defined in two terms alone – loyalty and non-criticism of the party “godfathers’’.
Aspiring leaders have been reduced to automatons who regurgitate what the godfathers want to hear making the party meetings stale and sterile.
For instance one will struggle to see what differentiate the two leading contenders for the youth chair’s position Mayor Wadyajena and Shadreck Chipanga besides their names and alleged factions.
Ideologically, no-one knows what they stand for or what would be the signature of their leadership for the next five years. Except perhaps for being cogs in the voting wheel when the succession battle comes to a head in the near future.
The same can be said of the MDC-T youth assemblies. Solomon Madzore is now assumed to have been ousted by one faction of the MDC-T to be replaced by his former deputy, Costa Machingauta. One will be hard pressed to find the substantial debate on key policy issues stemming from their youth assembly divided as it now is.
They are now continually arguing on behalf of the principals of their factions instead of grappling with key national youth policy issues.
These position/power acquisition debates and contestations are however not limited to the youth wings but also replicated at the top – that is the main wings.
Zanu PF for the greater part of the last decade has been divided roughly into two main factions led by vice President Joice Mujuru and Justice minister Emmerson Mnangagwa. However, despite the ten years of their spirited contestation for power the electorate struggles to differentiate their leadership styles and plans of taking the party to the next level. Save for the fact that one is a woman and the other is a man.
The situation is the same in the MDC-T camp where speculation has been high that Morgan Tsvangirai’s leadership is under challenge from former minister and party national organizing secretary Elias Mudzuri. The only material difference between them is one is a former trade unionist while the other is a trained engineer.
The debates among those who seek political power are simply deficient in their depth and over reliance on personalities than grounded vision and strategic plans or ideologies.
The media has not helped either by remaining focused on the trivialities without interrogating the visions and ideologies of our main political parties. For now the discernible trend in the reportage is the glorified experiences of the contestants and their personalities.
It is shocking how robust political debates on ideology and strategies have stagnated in the last 50 years. Convenient mention of ZimAsset does not equate to engagement of substantive structural issues either for the party memberships or the general public. Instead the economic blueprint has been the subject of jokes on social media to the extent that it has become a distant thought.
Despite mounting economic and social problems Zimbabwe faces the electorate has not heard substantive debates from political gladiators on how the country should deal with its US$10 billion debt or how they will restructure the government to efficiently serve the citizens.
The electorate is in the dark on the potential leaders thinking on nationalisation or privatisation of mines and whether we will see increased social spending funded by mineral revenues.
There is no substantive debate on the extent of wooing foreign direct investment (FDI) or the restructuring or partial privatisation of parastatals.
There is zero debate on decentralized government (devolution), funding mechanism for infrastructure development (roads, railways, energy production etc), the establishment of efficient and effective metro mass public transport system and how to finalise the democratisation of land ownership.
Unfortunately, our politics remain deeply entrenched in personality and tribal discourses. Its failing to rise above the abstract debates of whether a woman or member of an ethnic minority group can become state president.
One is tempted to conclude that currently there is no difference among the main political parties despite their different names and personalities who lead them.
Is it not therefore that Zimbabwe needs a new breed of leadership to emerge and take the mantle by being clear in their intentions ideologically and vision they have to take the country forward? I suppose that is the debate this country desperately need at this juncture.