Zimbabwe’s Democracy Faces New Challenges With Nelson Chamisa’s Exit

In the wake of Nelson Chamisa’s resignation from the opposition Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) recently, Zimbabwe’s is grappling with new political challenges, prompting concerns about the state of democracy in the country.

Miles Tendi , an author and expert on Zimbabwe’s politics, explains that the origin of the current political turbulence can be traced back to the early 2000s.

He specifically cites the period between 2004 – 2005, when the original Movement for Democratic Change under Morgan Tsvangirai experienced internal conflicts that led to the creation of the CCC.

“Where we are today is symptomatic of a long-standing problem within the party, around institutions and the transition of power,” Tendi says.

He added: “I want to emphasise his belief in God.Much of what Chamisa does…he believes he is told [to do] or has visions [from God] – that he has got some proper right to manage the party in this way.”

This, he says, makes it difficult for the opposition “to have an internal conversation, debate about logic, because here’s a figure who believes [God’s] authority ‘comes through me and I hear the voice of God’.

“And that’s been part of the cause of the breakdown today,” Tendi said.

FELLOW CITIZENS, This is to officially, and under my hand, inform you, that, with immediate effect, I no longer have anything to do with CCC.My focus remains fully on Zimbabwe, asserting your victory, honoring the citizens mandate and God’s calling to provide leadership…. pic.twitter.com/amUrxI2ED2— nelson chamisa (@nelsonchamisa) January 25, 2024

Mission from God

Chamisa’s leadership style and his strong belief in divine guidance has set the stage for the current divisions within Zimbabwe’s opposition.

The ruling Zanu-PF has also exploited opposition divisions for its own benefit, often buying off opposition figures or infiltrating their ranks.

The history of opposition splits and Zanu-PF’s opportunistic manoeuvres have contributed to the fragility of Zimbabwe’s political landscape.

In the aftermath of his departure from the CCC, Chamisa was quick to announce the launch of a new political group, declaring that he and his followers “are building a new church”.

So where now for Zimbabwe’s opposition? Tendi says the future success of the country’s opposition depends on reviving their founding principles.

Those prinicples, he adds, emphasise democratic internal structures and formalise a constitution that aims to foster transparency and unity, something that was lacking in the CCC.

Coup or no?

In 2017, there were high hopes that Zimbabwe’s democracy would evolve following the departure of Robert Mugabe.

Tendi is critical of expectations at the time that Mugabe’s exit would lead to immediate democratic reform.

“Robert Mugabe lost power in a military coup. Nobody in the West, including France, called it a coup. Nobody in the African Union or SADC called it a coup publicly,” Tendi said.

This begs the question as what actually happened. Is it possible to maintain, or build a democracy after a coup?

“The evidence for that is rather poor,” Tendi said. “To meet the expectation that Zimbabwe would somehow become more democratic, carry out all kinds of reform and be on a better footing on the back of a military coup is puzzling.

He says the French public are particularly engaged with what’s going on in the Sahel and how the coups are playing out there.

“A coup in Chad is not called a coup. But a coup in Niger is a coup,” he says, pointing out to the inconsistencies in labelling such events for what they are – and the consequences of not taking appropriate action at critical junctures – will have negative repercussions.

Missed opportunity

Tendi contends that the missed opportunity following Mugabe’s ouster in 2017 allowed Zanu-PF to consolidate power, making any potential external intervention less effective.

Addressing the historical use of sanctions and limited success in political reform, Tendi maintains that interventions should occur at key moments when a regime is vulnerable.

“In my view, I think it’s about when these particular moments arise … if you miss that opportunity, you probably have another eight or ten years before that opportunity arises [again],” Tendi concludes.

In this context, external actors – such as South Africa, France or the United States – won’t attempt any kind of effective intervention now that Zanu-PF has a reaffirmed its grip on power.

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