Zimbabwe's Morgan Tsvangirai facing political oblivion

Prime Minister of Zimbabwe Morgan Tsvangirai addresses a media conference in Harare on August 3, 2013. Critics argue the MDC leader erred in sharing power with President Mugabe

The whispers and the sniping have been around for years. He's "not clever" enough. He loves his golf a little too much. He's brave, for sure, but no strategist.

Today Zimbabwe's thrice-failed presidential contender, Morgan Tsvangirai, must surely be facing the real possibility of political oblivion following his party's crushing defeat in last week's election - and there are plenty of people who feel he deserves it.

Even if the allegations of massive rigging are comprehensively proven, and Zimbabwe's neighbours eventually grumble and huff about a re-run, President Robert Mugabe has no reason to fear any serious challenge to his now formidable grip on power.

So why blame Mr Tsvangirai?

Some critics argue that the MDC leader's defining mistake was his decision - after pulling out of the 2008 election because of the rising violence against his supporters - to join President Mugabe in a power-sharing government. As such, the argument goes, Mr Tsvangirai enabled his rival to cling onto power at the moment when he was weakest.

Mr Tsvangirai's move was certainly controversial at the time - and bitterly opposed by some of his closest colleagues in the MDC - but I personally think it was a noble move. Zimbabwe was in a deep crisis - the economy in meltdown. By joining a unity government, Mr Tsvangirai seemed to be putting the broader interests of a bruised population ahead of his own. A more cynical - and yes, perhaps pragmatic - politician might have gambled that he could profit from an ever-deeper national crisis.

But to my mind, Mr Tsvangirai's mistake was not in grudgingly agreeing to share power with Mr Mugabe, but in refusing to stand up for himself in government.

Supporters of ZANU-PF party celebrate with a coffin wrapped in a Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) flag in Mbare township, outside Harare August 4, 2013. A coffin draped in the flag of Mr Tsvangirai's MDC is carried by Mr Mugabe's supporters in a celebratory rally near the Zimbabwean capital, Harare
Abusive relationship

On the very first day, when Zimbabwe's army commanders refused to salute him as Zimbabwe's new Prime Minister, Mr Tsvangirai should have quietly stood up, told the visiting dignitaries that he was sorry they'd come on a wasted journey, and walked out of the deal. That would have shown a few people.

By failing to do so he signalled to President Mugabe that he was the compliant, junior partner in an abusive relationship that endured until last week. To extend that metaphor, Mr Tsvangirai - the battered victim - kept talking up the close working rapport he'd established with Mr Mugabe, pontificating about the importance of reconciliation, and hoping that with time and effort, his partner would mend his ways and democracy would follow.

Instead, Mr Mugabe - by turns domineering, and contemptuously polite - blocked, parried, and changed the rules as he went along, until he finally rushed Zimbabwe into an election on his own terms.

Some say Mr Tsvangirai should have pulled out of that election ahead of time, when it became clear that Mr Mugabe had no intention of allowing time for a proper voter registration period, or of revealing the now highly suspect voters roll.

Instead, Mr Tsvangirai went ahead and legitimised an election that he now describes as a sham. Was it another noble move, or a combination of naivety and over-confidence? At some point soon that question may be answered by his own party activists, and - much further down the line - by Zimbabwean voters.

Compare 2013 parliamentary election results with 2008
Andrew Harding, Africa correspondent Article written by Andrew Harding Andrew Harding Africa correspondent

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  • rate this

    Comment number 262.

    Just when I see and hear such distaste from Africans towards the West it makes me think why we even bother intervening, sending aid or having people try to come and sort problems. It's a desperate continent that should now be responsible for itself. The south can maybe prosper a bit more than the north, but I'd say let it sort its own problems out, or just stagnate and remain poor as. Not fussed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 261.

    To all those that keep telling the world that Zimbabwe hates whites can you please explain to me

    Sam Levy and his family

    I will be interested on your ideas

  • rate this

    Comment number 260.

  • rate this

    Comment number 259.

    only been there 2010 (1 trip), 2011 (3 trips), 2012 (3 trips), 2013 (1 trip, next 1 in october)
    Have seen things improve.....


    Have had a look at indicators on this link, the nation is indeed recovering and rebounding particularly from 2010 onwards !

    WILL, have u planned yr next trip in 2014? Don't be so depressed,BYE

  • rate this

    Comment number 258.

    Statistics have always been fun and interesting,

    In 1976 when 70% of children were able to attend primary school, only 23% of Grade 7 pupils could proceed to secondary.

    Africa Literacy Ranking 2013
    1. Zimbabwe 90.70

    True the definition of Literacy is completely different the O levels

  • rate this

    Comment number 257.

    --And for the UK !

    Clair Short 1997

    " should make it clear that we do not accept that Britain has a special responsibility to meet the costs of land purchase in Zimbabwe. We are a new government from diverse backgrounds without links to former colonial interests ????

    -- lets get serious --and less UK nationalist ill-informed propaganda --please !

    -- Facts on the ground DO exist.

  • rate this

    Comment number 256.

    only been there 2010 (1 trip), 2011 (3 trips), 2012 (3 trips), 2013 (1 trip, next 1 in october)
    Have seen things improve for the average person both in town and the countryside, true things are not perfect and things (with hindsight) could have been done better.
    If things are as bad as you say not sure why some of the white Zims are moving back home from UK.

  • rate this

    Comment number 255.

    Robert Mugabe should be applauded for some of the things he has done. He stood up to the colonial powers and returned farms stolen by white immigrants to the black majority.
    That's why he's so vilified in the Western media.

  • rate this

    Comment number 254.

    What the heck are some contributors talking about ?

    Read the #253 link --then discuss !

    "none of which could remedy the government decreed overcrowding, which resulted from cramming up to 99% of the population onto 25% of the country, in the low rainfall land.

    In 1979 Zimbabwean whites, made up 5% of the population, and counting only 4500 farmers, owned 70% of the most fertile land."

  • rate this

    Comment number 253.

    #246 Chihwason

    "we took back our land. I do not need Mugabe to tell me that."

    ´in the Whites Only central plateau regions of Zimbabwe. These farmers took the Whites Only European Areas to farm commercially on the more fertile upland regions where the rainfall was higher.

    Africans had been deported to the low rainfall areas.


  • rate this

    Comment number 252.

    I've been in Zimbabwe in 1985, 1991, 1999, 2003 and 2011.
    Everytime it gets worse.
    You are arguing the unarguable against every fact.
    Under Mugabe literacy has declined, infant mortality increased, life expectancy decreased and HIV infection stands at 20%.
    It isn't sanctions that have caused that either. It is corrupt and incompetent government.
    The MDC couldn't do worse.

  • rate this

    Comment number 251.

    when was the last time you were in Zimbabwe?

  • rate this

    Comment number 250.

    "when Zimbabwe's army commanders refused to salute him as Zimbabwe's new Prime Minister, Mr Tsvangirai should have quietly stood up, ..."

    This is really a non-issue and should have not made news. The PM position was/is a civilian position and thus did not warrant the commanders to salute him. It would have been a different issue if he had been the President or even vice President in the GNU

  • rate this

    Comment number 249.

    What you have said is not supported by the facts.
    ZANUPFs own information says that less than 15% of Zimbabweans have an O level education.
    Zimbabwe has not taken back its land, China has taken the land and Mugabe now has billions in Swiss banks.
    Mugabe does hate the West- at numerous rallies he has said quote: 'the white man is our enemy'.
    What you have written is nonsense.

  • rate this

    Comment number 248.

    I agree Zimbo's do not hate the west, but the do find it hard to understand how the West's media portrays them and their country. Have found that a lot of the people I know who voted MDC in 2008 had changed to ZANU by last year

  • rate this

    Comment number 247.

    Another point is that we do not have uneducated people in the rural areas. The average Zimbabwean has done "o" levels which is a feat that the so called 1st world countries do not match. Why do you think voting for a stooge of the west is a show of education? We were all informed and the fact is MDC councils were the worst corruot we have seen since 1980!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 246.

    We do not hate the west. We know them and that they are bringing sanctions because we took back our land. I do not need Mugabe to tell me that. Tsvangirai tried to be elitist but unfortunately his brains do not compliment this. Those who advance the idea of rigging are either being mischevious or did not do a due diligence of the internal controls of the actaul voting process.

  • rate this

    Comment number 245.

    34 years ago I was looking after a couple of Zimbabwean (Rhodesian) refugees in Botswana who did not want to get involved in the fighting over Ian Smith. They wanted to return after the fighting to rebuild their beautiful country into a prosperous democratic forward looking African nation with honest politicians. I wonder what they are doing now. I would love to see their previous hopes come true.

  • rate this

    Comment number 244.

    My logic should be easy to understand.
    Mugabe is very clever. He has systematically decreased education standards in rural areas while whipping up hatred of the West.
    He has ensured that the peasant class is not educated enough to read about his corruption, Chinese investment or declining living standards.
    If Mugabe had an educated peasant class he would be in the ground like Gaddafi.

  • rate this

    Comment number 243.

    Why did the 'uneducated ZANUs supporters' would like to vote for highly educated Mugabe whilst 'well educated MDC's supporters like lowly educated Tsvangirai?

    sorry again I missed 'who' would like to vote for...in rush hrs...


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