Before he became prime minister of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe was a Marxist. At least, he insisted he was—not just because he needed arms from the East. His nationalist rival, Joshua Nkomo, got bigger and better weaponry from the USSR without ever affirming a Marxist belief.
But Mugabe is master of the Delphic phrase. Nowadays he prefers to say he has simply been the fortunate beneficiary of a wealth of “influences”: those of Marx, Lenin, the Jesuits, “our own tradition,” even Lord Soames, the brief British governor. “We adhere to definite socialist principles,” he asserts. “He stands somewhere between Swedish social democracy and Yugoslav socialism,” one of his closest friends suggests. Mugabe is also said to admire Albania. Yet he has also to accommodate himself to South African capital. He gets on well with South Africa’s greatest tycoon, Harry Oppenheimer, and pleads for aid and investment from the West.
Mugabe is today an enigma. No one seems sure what his real ideological intentions will be once he has consolidated power. Meanwhile he is all things to all men. He needs to be. Even within his own party, the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF,1 Mugabe has to juggle factions, to control thousands of guerrillas without seeming to dictate to them, to appear an arbiter rather than a boss.
Often he is silent. When some of his ministers denigrate Nkomo in public, Mugabe in public says nothing. Does he privately approve or not? One morning in early October, he gave a mellifluous speech to university students in praise of reconciliation. That afternoon he attended a country rally where one of his own guerrilla commanders, standing a few yards ahead, led the crowd in ritual denunciation of Mugabe’s veteran nationalist rival: “Pasi Nkomo! Down with Nkomo.” Mugabe sat impassive, inscrutable. He cannot afford to offend. He leads quietly, from behind. He does not yet feel strong.
Some of his tougher public statements are complaints against the West, for giving him too little aid. But, again, his private views are said to be gentler. The British argue that the $375 million already pledged after six months of independence is a healthy start toward the “Kissinger Billion,” the $1.2 billion spread over five years that was vaguely promised and eagerly awaited in Zimbabwe. Bankers say that at present not much more aid can immediately be absorbed by Zimbabwe’s vigorous but small economic machinery. The country’s economy as a whole, however, is among the best balanced in Africa and has proven remarkably resilient in the face of international sanctions. Granted political good will, the economic prospects for Zimbabwe are better than almost anywhere else in Africa.
Commercial loans and investment are certainly wanted, however. But Western firms are being cautious. Mugabe is a trap. He needs the money to bolster stability: but he will not get the money unless investors are convinced the country is going to be stable. The depth of his commitment to a partially capitalist economy is questioned. Investors know that rigorous socialist ideals are strong in the party: who can guarantee whether, once party power is consolidated, a more thorough socialism will not be instituted, as has sometimes happened elsewhere? There is no guarantee.
But on one matter Mugabe is steadfast. He wants no mass exodus of skilled whites, as occurred in neighboring Mozambique, which has yet to recover from the almost overnight mass departure in 1975 of a quarter of a million of them, roughly the same number as their Rhodesian counterparts. Mugabe has already gone some way toward assuaging the whites’ worst fears. In just one articulate speech delivered the day after the result of the election was announced in March, he showed he was not the villainous cut-throat that Ian Smith’s gross propaganda had led them foolishly to believe. Since then it is clear that whatever his future plans Mugabe wants enough whites for at least a few years to help keep the economy and civil administration in one piece while he ensures his own political position.
In keeping with this pragmatism, Mugabe’s foreign policy will in the immediate term be strictly nonaligned. There is no reason why he should not enjoy effective relations even with South Africa, as well as with Tory-governed Britain and with the US under Ronald Reagan.
But the party is already locked in debate over longer-term economic planning. Ministers have been taken aback by the overwhelming peasant hostility to collectivist plans for resettlement on former white land. Party confidence that the peasants can be “educated into socialism” has already been badly shaken, with some party officials remaining adamant that collectivism is best. Similarly, there is anxiety in some sectors of the party at the smoothness with which urbane black technocrats, often after years of exile in the West, are coming back into senior civil service positions, evidently with no dedication to socialist ideals.
There is likely to be a struggle between ideologues in the powerful party central committee and the considerable black bourgeois professional elite whose belief in a mixed economy is strong. Dr. Bernard Chidzero, the distinguished economist who has returned from abroad as minister for economic planning, lacks a political base and is not, for instance, a central committee member. In Western business circles it is hoped and believed that he will seek a model in which entrepreneurial Western-oriented business will flourish. But ZANU-PF officials put it this way: “He does what we tell him to do, and he does it well.”
Most party officials, it seems to me, regard the present gradual, reformist approach as distinctly transitional. A senior Mugabe politician says: “First came the nationalist phase, when we gathered all patriotic forces in the war against the oppressor. Now we are consolidating. Later the kulaks [a much-used word in party talk] will have to be reeducated or broken. Then we shall remove the impurities of the revolution.” Once again, it is impossible to guess what Mugabe feels. Perhaps he has not yet made up his mind, following the inevitable revision of ideas upon his return.
But while the party’s ideology rests for a while in limbo, Mugabe, by his management of the military and the bureaucracy, has effectively set about enforcing national stability. There is no likelihood now of a white coup. White military strength has evaporated with remarkable speed. Almost the entire lower and middle echelons of the white armed forces have disappeared en masse. Fewer than a hundred of the former Rhodesia Light Infantry (RLI), the hard core of Smith’s army, have stayed in the forces. The regiment itself was recently disbanded, months ahead of schedule. Likewise whites in the police, though demoralized and leaving in large numbers, have adapted to the new powers. White political and military power has been irreparably broken.
The guerrillas themselves have been remarkably patient. The occasional out-bursts of violence have been few in view of the total numbers of armed men—at least 32,000 and perhaps over 40,000—waiting to be absorbed into civilian life or into the new national army. But they remain a headache: Mugabe has to treat them warily. It was not till six months after the ceasefire that he actually visited a guerrilla assembly camp. Until the two guerrilla armies, as well as the rump of Smith’s black forces, are well merged under one command and until the rest of the guerrillas are disarmed, Mugabe cannot feel entirely at ease. But there is no sign that anyone else in ZANU-PF would be able to mobilize enough guerrilla support to threaten the leadership.
So far as public order is concerned, it is perhaps just as well that the party’s secretary-general, Edgar Tekere, who is also minister for manpower, has—by a legal technicality—been acquitted of charges of murdering an old white farmer. Tekere’s coarse populism is well received by many Zimbabweans, especially the young and the countless poor. Mugabe does indeed seem reluctant, perhaps frightened, to upbraid him in public or even to move him sideways. But it is unlikely that Tekere will be able to organize an effective party coup against the leader. Growing national respect for Mugabe and the kudos of his electoral triumph should keep him perched on the guerrilla tiger as securely as before.
The white-dominated civil service has also been more or less willing to accept its new masters. Most of Mugabe’s colleagues have fitted neatly into their new ministerial positions, with their white staffs agreeably surprised by the ease of the transition and the abilities of their new bosses. So the levers of official power, as well as the agents of law and order and defense, have all fallen quietly into Mugabe’s hands.
But the party wants to embrace more than just the old servants of state. Most of Mugabe’s colleagues evidently believe that unity and stability are better ensured within the compass of a one-party state. It is not just a question of coming to terms with the old establishment. The party wants to take it over and re-create it. It is startling how fast the country is moving in the one-party direction.
Most Zimbabweans, I am certain, favor the one-party system. Like most African countries, Zimbabwe is an artificial creation, a collection of peoples with no natural binding unity. That unity, it is often argued, is best imposed by a system which precludes the divisive party politicking that frequently deteriorates into tribal factionalism.
Thus, acknowledging their own political obliteration, many old supporters of Bishop Abel Muzorewa and the Rev. Ndabaningi Sithole have joined the bandwagon. Their parties and the sprinkling of smaller ones, all of them based on the Shona-speaking people who make up 75 percent of Zimbabwe’s population, are being fairly painlessly absorbed into the Mugabe fold. They have considered it prudent not to contest the recent rural district government elections. Some of their top men have made their peace and switched allegiance to Mugabe, who has given several of them national posts. The Shona have indeed unified themselves behind Mugabe. Tekere’s acquittal has put aside the risk of intra-Shona discord.
What is surprising is the quick pace and obliging manner of the one-party drift. In the civil service, whites are not being sacked, though a number are happy to bow out with a pension. In some ministries, appointments are being affected by party affiliation. Tekere has wanted all job applicants to furnish details of past political record. It is certainly an advantage to wave the right party card.
The police, particularly in the upper ranks and in the important “special branch,” are being carefully selected, with known party loyalties in mind. Many senior policemen are unhappy because many ZANU-PF party men see the police as “Nkomo’s men,” since he is home minister responsible for the police. The constant public criticism of the police by the ZANU-PF, even by the deputy home minister, is seen by many people as an indirect but deliberate undermining of Nkomo himself. The “special branch” charged with state security was rapidly removed from Nkomo’s direction and put under Mugabe’s own minister of state, Emmerson Munangagwa, now the country’s key intelligence man. Nkomo is bitter that most of his four hundred Russian-trained party police are still without jobs. Just two of his men, as a gesture, have been given senior jobs in the special branch. The security services are clearly soon to become synonymous with the ZANU-PF intelligence apparatus. The head of the party’s military intelligence is likely to come into the general police as deputy chief, and will probably soon slide into the top spot when the current white commissioner retires.
In a similar vein, a new trade union movement has been created under the close supervision of party faithfuls, including Mugabe’s own trade unionist brother. Hardened old trade unionists who do not happen to be Mugabe men complain that they are being thrown aside and that the labor movement will lose its independent muscle and become another arm of the party, as nearly always happens in one-party states.
The domestic press and foreign journalists are under severe pressure, with curbs from Smith’s day being reapplied. Radio and television are dominated by the party and transmit even cruder political programs than were ever seen or heard in the white era. Guerrilla songs are the mainstay of popular radio programs. The home press, some of it still South Africa owned, well practiced in years of self-censorship, is awkwardly trying to adjust from pro-Smith to pro-Mugabe. It is hardly possible to conceive now of an anti-Mugabe editorial ever being printed. Some of the reporting abroad has, doubtless, been unfair, but the new authorities are highly sensitive to any hint of criticism.
It is understandable that a society that has emerged victorious from years of oppression and a bloody civil war has no desire to adopt a liberal pluralism whose supposed benefits it has never known. Many parts of the country were for some years under de facto guerrilla control and are used to the tough ways of a semi-military regime. Today, especially in the countryside, there is still that simmering mixture of strong nationalist sympathy laced with fear that most Africans felt for “the boys,” as the guerrillas were known. People of no keen loyalty (it was impossible to be neutral) are still frightened; old scores are still occasionally being settled. Many black businessmen, for instance, are feverish to prove their new-found faith in the party. Some buy expensive advertisements which they place in the national newspapers, proudly announcing they have become members of the ZANU-PF. Most rural blacks genuinely support Mugabe, but there is still a feeling that it is worth watching your step.
If most people do want a one-party state, there is one fierce exception: the Ndebele minority, which backs Nkomo to the hilt, hates every sign of it. Just 14 percent of the population, with the related Kalanga adding another 7 percent, they feel embattled and ill-used. The whites know they have to put up with the party-tilted radio and television, but the Ndebele are angered by it. None of the guerrilla songs, they frequently point out, are sung by Nkomo guerrillas. Few of the programs are in the Ndebele tongue. “You wouldn’t think any of our sons ever died in the struggle,” is a typical complaint. Even the few Ndebele attracted by the ideology of Mugabe’s party have probably returned disillusioned to their ethnic base.
Can the Ndebele be absorbed, as the one-party state must demand? One tactic would be for ZANU-PF to lavish greater patronage on Nkomo’s colleagues, so that they might bring a sizable chunk of supporters across to Mugabe. But it was hard enough for Mugabe to grant even a handful of ministries to Nkomo’s men in the present frail coalition government: the militant Tekere and others were opposed to Nkomo’s inclusion at all. There is party talk of “isolating” Nkomo, proving to his people that it is not from him that the fruits of independence will be won. At present it is clear that any leading Ndebele who aligned himself with Mugabe would be instantly deserted by his fellows.
Ethnic polarization has sharpened since the political demise of Smith. It is perhaps ironic that the March election—the first ever truly democratic exercise among blacks since the colonial conquest—was largely responsible. For the results showed irrefutably, despite the previous claims of both leading parties, how ethnically determined the party bases are. Nkomo especially had taken great trouble over the years to ensure a pan-tribal leadership: eight of the top ten in his party executive are in fact Shona. But he received a derisory vote in Shona country. Similarly, Mugabe only just managed to defeat Muzorewa in Ndebele country. Both Shona politicians received very few votes there—under 10 percent—and most of that paltry support came from the large Shona immigrant community in the Ndebele capital, Bulawayo.
What is surprising—and further polarizes the tribes—is Mugabe’s failure to broaden the upper echelon of his party, to give greater Ndebele representation. Of twenty-eight ministers and deputy-ministers who hail from the ZANU-PF, only one—Finance Minister Enos Nkala, noted for his virulent hatred of Nkomo—is Ndebele. President Canaan Banana, whose position is titular, is also an Ndebele, but he himself defected just a few years ago from the Muzorewa camp. On the party’s thirty-strong central committee, all, except Nkala and Banana and Mugabe’s Ghanaian-born wife, are Shona. To the Ndebele, ZANU-PF is quite simply a Shona party. Until Mugabe dispenses wider patronage across ethnic lines, there can be little hope in the near future of peacefully absorbing the Ndebele into a single party.
Many Ndebele, meanwhile, talk wishfully and rashly of “the day”—the day when their well-equipped guerrilla army will rise up against the Shona. There is a strange readiness among Ndebele to conform to the image which the divide-and-rule colonialists were glad to bestow upon them: that of the “bellicose warrior people,” up against the more numerous but “devious and cowardly” Shona. It is foolish talk. The Ndebele need to accept that they are a distinct minority with little chance ever of turning the tables, militarily or politically.
But some of Mugabe’s more volatile colleagues are also heavily to blame for arousing passions by arrogant treatment of Nkomo. Some of Mugabe’s ideologues, completely missing the point that the real motivation of the rural people during the war was gut nationalism and not ideology, believe the Ndebele can be rapidly “educated” into accepting the benefits of ZANU-PF dominance. “If we’d had six more months we would have swept Matabeleland in the election,” a Mugabe parliamentarian told me. That seems ludicrously unrealistic. Yet it is true that the results of the local elections over the past few months suggest that the ZANU-PF government/party machine is indeed effectively rolling into Ndebele country. Perhaps people there will be forced, after all, to see that Mugabe will have his way. In the recent local contests, Nkomo has managed to win only one municipal election. The ZANU-PF party machine has swept him aside in all the “mixed” areas where he achieved some support in the February general election. Nkomo supporters have been protesting to no avail, and commentaries on the radio have gloated over their discomfiture.
If Nkomo’s party is to be absorbed, the key to the process is the new army. There can be no peaceful achievement of a one-party state until there is the core of a unified army. In fact the new joint force, rudimentarily trained by British instructors in conventional techniques, is growing fast and contentedly, after a slow start only in June. By the end of the year 1980, there were an estimated 12,000 trained troops in totally mixed units, drawn in strictly equal numbers from Mugabe and Nkomo guerrillas and including up to 3,000 blacks from the forces that served Smith. That actually adds up to a bigger army than the previous regular force in Smith’s era, though the problem of what to do with the remaining dangerously frustrated 30,000 or so guerrillas stays unsolved. (There are vague plans to turn them into a “productive army,” running farms and other enterprises of their own.) What is more encouraging, however, is that during the Bulawayo disturbances in mid-November, when over fifty people were killed in factional fighting, the new mixed units stuck well together and were an important cooling influence.
But when rival politicians insult each other in public—as Nkala and Tekere have abused Nkomo—the passions rapidly vibrate down the military rank and file and gravely threaten any nascent spirit of real unity, which at the best will take several years to nurture. The language of command is English, but after work the soldiers invariably talk in their mother tongues—Shona or Ndebele—and drink and relax among their own.
Relations at the top of the joint high command are easily strained, too. There is constant mistrust. Again, Nkomo’s guerrilla leaders are quick to sense second-class treatment. When, for example, one hundred ZANU-PF guerrillas went off on a training course in Nigeria, the Nkomo commanders were enraged that their men had not been included. The foundation of a strong, united army is the most vital task in Zimbabwe. Only then is it safe to force the pace toward a single-party state.
But the one-party state will probably emerge, by slow means or fast. The Zimbabwe majority wants it. But is it desirable? Most African states have it. To be sure, the division of political parties into ethnic blocs has often become a recipe for discord. The one-party state is generally much closer to pre-colonial tradition.
The constitution drawn up by the British in December 1979 already looks rather silly. Those who wrote it probably knew it was never meant to last even its prescribed seven years with sacrosanct entrenched clauses. It was simply a vehicle for transition. Its amiable pluralism, for a people that have known no pluralist tradition, will soon be discarded. The idea that it is good to maintain institutions independent of government—the university, the press, the judiciary, for example, all of them in any case bent by the Smith government—that might dilute or even challenge the absolutism of central authority is, to most Africans, absurd. The concept of a “loyal opposition” is crazy. Indeed, there is no real acceptance by either of the main parties—Nkomo’s and Mugabe’s—of the other’s right to exist.
The most striking conversation on my previous trip to Zimbabwe, in September, was with a dozen black teachers, most of them university graduates, at a well-known high school. It became clear that none of them saw merit in the secrecy of the ballot. “It is not African,” they said. In October and November there were nationwide rural district elections, nearly all held without a secret ballot. Voters line up behind their favored candidate or the election is conducted by a show of hands or candidates are voted in by general acclamation. Not surprisingly, Muzorewa and Sithole and the rest opted out of rural elections: as a party, Mugabe’s was virtually uncontested in Shona country, likewise Nkomo in parts of the west.
But surely, I argued, in those sensitive rural areas where both Nkomo and Mugabe have support it is fairer to allow a secret vote, for fear of reprisals and intimidation. “The people will decide on the method of election,” I was told with a smile by a Mugabe official. The people are becoming synonymous with the party. In those overlapping Mugabe/Nkomo areas, ZANU-PF made huge gains. In municipal elections, where the ballot has remained secret, all but one town in the entire country has gone to Mugabe. The poll in the cities of Salisbury and Bulawayo has been postponed. It is, however, axiomatic among ZANU-PF rank and file that Nkomo should be given no second chance. In the words of Tekere and Nkala, “he must be crushed.”
The attitudes that decry the value of a secret ballot spring from the precolonial traditions of village life, by whose norms 90 percent of the people, in Zimbabwe and indeed in most of sub-Saharan Africa, still live. In the old days the Shona consisted of a series of chieftainships, about 250 or so, more or less autonomous, with no overall secular authority, very loosely bound by ties of language and custom and by some widely recognized spirit mediums through whom the chiefs related to the people’s ancestors. Roughly similar systems prevailed in many parts of Africa. The immediate society in which people lived was self-contained, homogeneous, well-balanced, and often democratic in the sense that important decisions were taken by consensus among village elders, after discussion lasting sometimes for days and even weeks.
In the end, everyone would agree: if by chance someone did not, he would probably be chased out or might even form another chieftainship: land in those days, before the white man came, was not so scarce. A man’s family allegiance, his economic and social connections, were probably the major factor governing decisions: how could there ever be any secrecy about that? Everyone knew where everyone stood, who was related to whom, and eventually consensus would prevail. “The idea of a decision being made by fifty-one votes to forty-nine is not good for us Africans,” a black headmaster told me. People, families, wife with husband, vote together. “We vote as a community, not as individuals.”
And individuals can the more easily be submerged for the common good, “individual rights” sacrificed to the values of society as a whole. In Shona society, the chief is very much an arbiter, a reflector of popular feeling, not a dictator. He must pay heed both to his contemporaries and to the spirits. But after the necessary consultations, he must be obeyed. The ZANU-PF central committee has been likened to a typical Shona decision-making body, with Mugabe as the arbiter-chief.
So there is no easy acceptance of countervailing institutions, whose independence could be seen as disruptive and subversive. The party will be expected to control the labor unions, the police, the army, the press, the educational establishment, the law. Even church appointments will probably take political considerations into account.
Take the Tekere trial. Whatever the deliberations of the white judge bred in the traditions of dry Western legality, to most Zimbabweans what happened to Tekere would merely reflect how far the will of the new society, as interpreted by the party, would prevail over old white-dominated institutions. Many central committee members were angry that the trial was held at all. Whatever the outcome, most people were bound to view the court’s verdict as political. For them the issue was simple: were Mugabe and the party pro-Tekere or not?
Mugabe’s own feelings, once again, seemed mixed. One part of him likes the idea of an independent, Western-style judiciary. He himself appointed a white chief justice who, Mugabe knows, will not bend before a political wind. After Tekere’s acquittal, Mugabe stated that the judge (not the chief justice) who had argued for Tekere’s conviction was of “high professional standing and importance.” But another part of Mugabe warns him that it may be foolishly liberal to defer to capricious Western-style judicial niceties. During the liberation war, Mugabe’s party dissidents in Mozambique, the guerrilla haven, were incarcerated for months in underground earthen pits.
In the upshot of Tekere’s trial, the court’s decision neatly demonstrated the “new reality,” to use the current euphemism which denotes that some people are a little more equal before the law than others, just as (different) people were in Smith’s day. The judge ruled Tekere guilty, but the two court assessors, one black and the other of mixed race (and appointed, incidentally, during the Smith era), overruled the judge, although their main role is to advise on points of fact rather than on interpretation of law. (And everyone, including the accused, agreed that Tekere had indeed murdered the farmer.) But the two assessors insisted that an extremely loosely framed law invented by Smith to allow his ministers to circumvent existing laws should be invoked in Tekere’s favor. The successful and far-fetched use of a legal loophole, by inadvertent courtesy of Smith, splendidly illustrated the new order of the day, while still paying formal heed to the trappings of the old judiciary. Upon his release, Tekere roundly abused the judge, called for revolution, and announced: “Now I’m on the loose.” In any case, if Tekere had been found guilty it is very probable he would have received a presidential pardon.
The rural kangaroo courts to which the black villagers have grown accustomed over the years of the war are far better understood than white man’s justice, as they see it, far away in the towns. Trials of alleged witches also became more common in the war. People are judged for what they seem to represent, not for what they can be proved to have done. In short, people can be condemned if they are felt to be out of tune with the prevalent mood of society. It is “people’s justice.”
Such social values are necessarily conformist and authoritarian, as government, too, is expected to be. Another indicator is the readiness of the new authorities to invoke Smith’s old laws: to banish Lt. Gen. Peter Walls, for instance. The general’s remarks on British television—suggesting that Mugabe’s election results were unfair and that they should have been nullified—were outrageous in view of Walls’s position as head of the army directly responsible to Mugabe. He was certain to incur Mugbabe’s displeasure and to provoke dismissal. But he had, in fact, broken no law. Banishment from his country of birth, despite the amnesty that had been ordained for all participants in the war, was in ugly imitation of legal tactics used previously by Smith. Similarly, as in Smith’s day, the detention of political opponents in due course is to be expected: already some of Nkomo’s colleagues are behind bars. The death penalty for murder will be maintained. (In many African countries it is mandatory for armed robbery.)
The lack of rancor toward the person of Smith also fits the pattern: I often feel that many black Zimbabweans believe the white fox did only what is expected from the chief of a rival tribe: nothing wrong in that, perhaps something to be admired. His techniques are there for emulation. Contrary to what was often believed in the West, Smith was opposed by the blacks not, essentially, because he was illiberal and undemocratic, though blacks were naturally happy for diplomatic reasons to use Western liberal arguments against him. He was opposed because he personified a conquering, unsympathetic, alien culture. Zimbabwe (and most of Africa) is an unsentimental world where liberalism has little place. In the post-colonial age, the whites who tend to feel most at home are ruthless or cynical businessmen or fervent ideologues, both of whom find authoritarianism easy to accept.
In some respects these traditions are inimical to the egalitarianism expressed by Mugabe and his colleagues in exile. To be certain, there will be a genuine ideological debate in many fields—over the question of agricultural policy and land resettlement, for instance. But at the same time, the traditional need to preserve as wide a consensus as possible, to embrace as broad a spectrum of society, generally produces a system of jobbery: people get placed in high positions partly for family or clan affiliations.
Key men are thus endowed with rights of patronage. This is already visible in many of Zimbabwe’s ministries. Behind ministerial doors, there are already queues of petitioners, often friends of friends of the family, needing jobs and help. Ministerial privilege is accumulating, despite the egalitarian rhetoric. That is not necessarily reprehensible. Most ministers seem now to have smart cars and fine houses in the plushest former white suburbs—but some of their houses are permanently packed with guests. Ministers are expected to be generous. (Tom Mboya, the Kenyan politician, was paying the school fees of 300 children when he was assassinated.) People also expect ministers to address themselves to small problems: when four people were recently discharged in Bulawayo, it was apparently incumbent on the labor minister to fly down for the day to sort the problem out himself. People like the personal touch.
So the transition from village society to one-party state has some logic and merit. Authoritarian consensus government did not work badly in the village. Lack of technology and a predominantly subsistence agriculture made time no object. Political issues could be lengthily discussed. With the evolution into the modern state, the one-party system seems the best way for the “big man” to forge a consensus and dispense patronage and rough justice as fairly as possible across the tribe and—if he can—beyond it. Especially when a brutal civil war has only just ended, petty party politicking, Western-style, seems a divisive waste of time.
But of course the one-party system has disadvantages. The party itself, once people acknowledge its power, usually becomes moribund through lack of competition. Wholesome small-time village patronage and the recognition of family ties can, on a national scale, easily develop into vast corruption. The endless search for consensus often means the retention of incompetents in high position. The time spent by ministers attending to personal detail demanded by personal patronage brings inefficiency. Civil services often grow fast (especially when an array of para-governmental organizations spring up alongside), becoming constituencies of their own, soon to be enmeshed in a bureaucratic tangle.
Above all, “participatory one-party democracy,” to use the phrase of Kenneth Kaunda, president of the classic politically moribund one-party state of Zambia, invariably means that decisions are imposed from the top downward. If they are lucky, the people have a little say in the implementation of policy, but none in its formulation. There is no room for free-spirited dissenters, except in jail. Furthermore, the patronage gives rise to great sycophancy. People become exceedingly deferential to authority. The press is quick to flatter and self-censor. The national leader becomes untouchable. No African leader of a one-party state (or of a multi-party one, either) has ever been peacefully dismissed from office by the people.
An increasing number of African political thinkers, however, are seeing the one-party state as a post-colonial transitional phase and are trying to construct, instead, a model that allows greater freedoms without precipitating chaos or tribal free-for-alls. It is notable that there are now more multi-party states in Africa than there have been for a decade: ten today (eleven until a few weeks ago, when Upper Volta’s risky multi-party experiment ended in a military coup). Some, like Senegal, Morocco, and Egypt, are what I would call “closed” multi-party systems, strictly circumscribed by national leaders who brook little opposition in important matters and would certainly never be supplanted against their own will.2 (President Senghor of Senegal has recently announced his intention to retire.) Even in more open multi-party systems, it is hard ever to envisage a national leader allowing himself to be voted out. Being voted in is another matter. But what is surely healthy is that even a limited multi-party state tends to allow a much livelier discussion of national issues and greater freedom of expression.
It is also notable that after the failure of so many collectivist economic experiments, there is a trend in favor of economic liberalism in Africa, which in turn favors investment from the West; and it is significant that, while one-party states can tilt ideologically in any direction, all multi-party systems without exception are both pro-capitalist and politically fairly liberal by third world standards.
By far the most important political experiment in Africa is taking place today in Nigeria. It is still a patronage society, with gross inequalities, ingrained corruption, and fierce divisions along ethnic lines. There is not even a nationwide socialist party. Traditions of patronage are so well established that poor Yoruba invariably vote for rich Yoruba, poor Ibo for rich Ibo, and so on. Under a presidential system, the president also has powers of patronage and the mighty status of an African superchief.
But power at the center is checked by federal balances. There are many articulate, educated people; institutions outside government have lively traditions of independence; there is an exuberantly free press. The great Nigerian paradox is that, in order to hold power at the center of the federation, power must also be devolved to cater for ethnic and local loyalties: to form some consensus that may bind Nigerians together, much allowance for the expression of local allegiances is being given. Of nineteen Nigerian state governments within the federation, nine are hostile to the president. And, by a complex set of electoral rules, the president has to prove considerable support outside his home state in order to be elected in the first place.
The Nigerian experiment is the most imaginative attempt to date to reconcile the fact of ethnicity with the need for central direction. No one is sure it will work; no one can guarantee that the army will not one day return. But after a year in office, President Shehu Shagari is proceeding well. There is room for creative dissent. In theory there is room for individual rights.
Zimbabwe’s present constitution will not last. Nor did those who wrote it expect it to. The phase of one-party rule is nigh. The faster it comes the more the risk of violence and the heavier the authoritarianism needed to contain it. But political systems in Africa are changing. Zimbabwe, after all, is only just beginning its quest for peace and progress.
Nor would it be wise to expect Zimbabwe to be truly “non-racial.” The black people, molested by colonialism, are today remarkably tolerant toward their former white rulers. But whites neither understand nor accept the values of the new dominant political and social culture. Most will emigrate, once they can get their money out. A few will numb themselves to the new reality, hoping to enjoy the high standard of living and pleasant climate, but in spirit they will generally remain apart from their black compatriots. Even among liberal whites, grudgingly admitting their irrelevance, there is astonishingly little social contact with blacks beyond work.
Mugabe has shown skill and humanity: he has neither panicked nor censured the whites. He has won greater control over the guerrillas than I expected. Against my own dire predictions, he has come to power not just by the barrel of the gun but by the ballot box, before chaos engulfed the country. He is a clever man who means to do the best for his people. But he will not feel that he has the room to defer to democratic ideals as defined in the West.
—December 29, 1980
February 5, 1981
Party labels can be confusing. The Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) is so called to distinguish itself from the nearly defunct ZANU under the Rev. Ndabaningi Sithole, from whose leadership Mugabe split when they were both in prison. Nkomo’s party has for sixteen years been known as the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU) but changed its name to the Patriotic Front (PF) just before the February 1980 election. ↩
“Closed” party systems: Senegal, Morocco, Egypt. “Open” ones: Ghana, Nigeria, Gambia, Botswana, Mauritius, Zimbabwe, and Uganda. It is hard to see the last named maintaining a multiparty system for long after the elections. Chad has a plethora of political parties, but has not functioned as any kind of democracy since shortly after independence from France. There are fifty independent states in the Organization of African Unity. ↩