Monday, February 11, 2008

If The Truth Be Told: A Case For Simba Makoni

Simba Makoni’s intention to seek the presidency of Zimbabwe has injected a welcome excitement into an election that many of us were ready to dismiss as just a farce.

Some analysts have doubted Makoni’s intentions, given his timing - weeks after meeting President Robert Mugabe behind closed doors and days after being denied a chance to contest Zanu PF parliamentary primaries in Manicaland. But the most lurched on “flaw” of Makoni’s is that he insists on remaining a Zanu PF member. Well, the fact that this is the worst his critics can throw at him shows how Makoni is easily what the doctor ordered for Zimbabwe.

In any case who, among politicians of Makoni’s generation (including Movement for Democratic Change (MDC)’s Morgan Tsvangirai and Arthur Mutambara) was not a member or sympathizer of Zanu PF, at some point. The fact that Makoni is challenging for the leadership of the country from within Zanu PF, shows that he has the guts (not displayed by anyone else) to fight for democracy from within.

It is often too easy for people to cry wolf when someone emerges from a party other than theirs, but I believe there is need for us to distinguish between an entire party and those of its leaders who are anti-democracy.

Lest we forget, this is the same Simba Makoni that long before Tsvangirai and MDC came on the scene, people of all walks of life were happy to tout as the most qualified to succeed Mugabe and even do a much better job running the country.

Makoni has proved how smart he is as a politician by not getting carried away and jumping on the earlier calls for him to challenge Mugabe when the old fox was still strong. Lessons were learnt when the likes of Edgar Tekere, Enock Dumbutshena and Eddison Zvobgo tried to challenge Mugabe. They all failed because then, the entire Zanu PF machinery was behind the president.

Now, fissures have developed and the Zanu PF train is just a kilometre from derailment, perfect time to bail out. Even better for Makoni, the opposition is even more disorganized than the ruling party.

Like other people willing to give Makoni the benefit of the doubt, I worry that he might not have enough time to convince the electorate to vote for him but should he lose or be prevented from becoming president, Zimbabwe would have lost the one chance available to replace Mugabe with a leader who has the knowledge and willingness to pull it out of the current economic crisis in short order.

Some critics have been quick to brand him a failure. They particularly single out his 10-year tenure as Executive Secretary of the then Southern African Development Co-ordination Conference (SADCC). They have said he achieved nothing. Not true because to say he failed at SADCC would mean that the current successes of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) are the work of his successors in Gaborone.

The simple truth is that Makoni was thrust into a role that no one had ever been in before at a time when the southern African region was struggling to be self-sufficient from apartheid ruled South Africa. Through his leadership at SADCC, the frontline states managed to sustain themselves and reduce the apartheid regime’s economic hold on its neighbours. If that is not success, then what is?

The fact that supporters and critics all agree that Makoni is respected internationally stems from his successful stewardship of the SADCC and that gives him a clear advantage over his opponents when it comes to forging foreign relations.

In the early 1990s Makoni was appointed Chief Executive of the Zimbabwe Newspapers Group. It was during his term that its flagship, The Herald and its Bulawayo-based sister papers, The Chronicle and The Sunday News were transformed from government mouthpieces to impartial media. That was the only time when you could read, in The Herald, a story as critical of the government as you would read in The Financial Gazette or The Zimbabwe Independent. Zimpapers’ value on the stock exchange soared and circulation increased. Again this puts him ahead of his opponents in terms of the kind of business acumen that is needed now in Zimbabwe.

But there was one hold out at Zimpapers, The Sunday Mail, which was then edited by Charles Chikerema, a relative of President Mugabe. Makoni and Chikerema clashed over editorial issues and Makoni was fired; not because he had failed but because he dared order Chikerema to be a true journalist.

Makoni went into private business and again proved too valuable for Mugabe to ignore and after the ill-fated 2000 election; he brought him back to clean up the mess in the engine room of the country’s economic policy development, the finance ministry.

Ever so diligent, Makoni presented Mugabe with a plan to devalue the Zimdollar as a way to correct the economic imbalances caused by the war veterans' compensation exercise of 1997 and the DRC war in 1998. Mugabe refused to devalue the dollar and the two immediately parted ways. Many congratulated Makoni for that bold move and yet, some people are now twisting the facts to present Makoni as having failed to revive the economy, hence Mugabe fired him.

Quite simply, Makoni is by far the best option Zimbabweans have right now. Mugabe has nothing new to offer except more misery for the country. Tsvangirai may have been appealing in 2000 and 2002 but not anymore. Politically, he has become as dictatorial as Mugabe and even worse, he is very divisive. Mutambara on the other hand is just directionless as, well, a mis-programmed robot.


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