SENIOR STAFF WRITER
AS TURMOIL consumes the country’s opposition, renowned professor of World Politics at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London, Stephen Chan, has once again warned Nelson Chamisa, pictured, and the MDC Alliance that they risk losing political relevance ahead of the crucial 2023 polls.
Speaking to the Daily News in an exclusive interview last week, Chan — who received an Order of the British Empire (OBE) award for his “services to Africa and higher education” in 2010 — also noted that Chamisa and the MDC Alliance were running out of options.
This comes as MDC interim leader Thokozani Khupe and Chamisa have been involved in an ugly and suicidal hammer and tongs war for control of the country’s biggest opposition party, to the utter glee of the ruling Zanu PF.
Now, and amid the escalating brawling — which began since the MDC’s much-loved founding father Morgan Tsvangirai died on Valentine’s Day in 2018 — Chan said Chamisa was increasingly losing his grip on opposition politics ahead of the fast-approaching 2023 elections.
“It has been a master class in politics by Zanu PF, in spotting the opportunity to exploit the division between Khupe and Chamisa.
“But Chamisa has been bewilderingly stubborn in clinging to tactics that simply have not, and now will not work.
“And the problem for Western observers is a simple one, based on the observation that if Chamisa cannot negotiate with other opposition factions, how can he negotiate with Zanu PF, the South Africans and the IMF (International Monetary Fund)?
“It’s a question asked in both Whitehall (British government) and the (United States) State Department,” Chan told the Daily News in the exclusive interview.
The veteran politics expert also appeared to suggest that Chamisa’s support was on the wane, further intimating that the MDC Alliance leader had disappointed his many supporters who had rooted for him in the historic 2018 presidential poll.
“At this moment he (Chamisa) seems bereft of momentum. I think ED (President Emmerson Mnangagwa) and Zanu PF must be having very sweet dreams right now.
“Well, is he (Chamisa) still popular? I think a great many Zimbabweans are disillusioned with him and his lack of tactical awareness, inflexibility, and indeed lack of alternative policy planning.
“But, as unappetising as it must seem to him, he must come to an accommodation with Khupe.
“She will now be in the driving seat in any such negotiations, and it will be a case of how closely she wants to be identified with Zanu PF and how much with a sense of being genuinely oppositional.
“But, to an extent, she does need him. He might not be as popular as he once was, but she is not popular at all,” Chan told the Daily News further.
Among some of Chamisa’s failings, Chan said, was his failure to tackle Mnangagwa and his government decisively — especially when it came to street protests.
“However, the situation was put to me very precisely, and critically, by one of the ambassadors to Zimbabwe: ‘Chamisa expects the people to oppose and do the work of the opposition. He himself is not leading the opposition as a parliamentary party leader and official leader of the opposition’.
“That comment was made before the recall of his MPs. And it is true. Chamisa has not led the parliamentary opposition in any imaginative way. At every stage he has been simply totally predictable,” Chan told the Daily News.
“He imagines himself as decisive and firm. I regret that he seems to have reverted to his style as a student leader, which is great for protests on campus, but ineffectual in a national context.
“He seems to have learned nothing from Sudan, where the people rose up using the most modern means of electronic organisation.
“He also seems to have wasted the opening that ‘Zimbabwean Lives Matter’ could have afforded him. He shows no signs of being a young leader of the 21st century,” Chan added.
This comes as firebrand MDC Alliance deputy national chairman, Job “Wiwa” Sikhala, has advised Chamisa not to think that popularity will guarantee him to become Zimbabwe’s next leader.
Sikhala recently told Chamisa that history was replete with popular politicians who later failed to land the number one job in national politics — including Tsvangirai, who died in February 2018 without having led Zimbabwe.
Addressing mourners at the funeral of MDC Alliance MP Anna Muyambo in Chitungwiza, Sikhala told Chamisa that unpopular leaders often became State presidents because of their grit and decisiveness.
“We have lost several party stalwarts since we began this journey. We cannot all perish before we reach our destination … What I have noticed is that popularity alone is not the way to get State power.
“I remember Daniel arap Moi in Kenya when he grabbed power from Jomo Kenyatta and was supposed to be a transitional leader for just six months, but clung to power for 24 years,” Sikhala said amid clapping and ululation from the gathered crowd.
“I also remembered that Patrice Lumumba was the most popular leader of the liberation struggle in Africa, but an unpopular Mobutu Sese Seko took charge of Zaire (now DRC) for over 30 years.
“The late (former president) Robert Mugabe was probably the most unpopular leader since the history of mankind and Morgan Tsvangirai was the most popular leader since the advent of politics, yet he died before he took State power,” Sikhala further told party supporters and mourners.
He also said despite Chamisa and MDC Alliance commanding huge support in the country, State power remained a mirage for them.
“We have 2,6 million votes, meaning that our president and the party are the most popular brands in the politics of this country, but we are not in power.
“Mnangagwa cannot be voted for by a donkey, yet he is in charge. Khupe is hated by dogs and reptiles, yet she is in power.
“So, power is being controlled by the unpopular, while the popular ones are not in power. So, what is the formula, strategy and plan to translate our popularity into political power?
“If we do not find a strategy to unpack that equation, all the leaders — including President Chamisa and me — are also going to die popular, but without taking over power,” the lawyer-cum-politician warned.
“Let us think hard on how we are going to solve that equation. The time has been too long … let us finish this off,” Sikhala added.