HARARE — Christmas is almost a month away and Zimbabweans better enjoy this one to the hilt.
Next year’s might not be very good.
Remember the miserable 2008 Christmas “stolen” by election-induced political and economic turmoil?
Well, elections are on again.
A plebiscite — a constitutional reforms referendum followed by a general election — are set for 2011.
The main coalition government partners, President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, have all but confirmed this is the only way out of their fragile arrangement, which they both describe as uncomfortable.
They agree, also, that the 2011 poll should be a decider and that it must produce a clear, outright winner because they cannot imagine ever working together again.
Don’t hold your breath.
This is like watching a delayed soccer match on television.
Nothing quite new there.
Another violent election, another negotiated settlement is what we will get, eventually.
The signs for a bruising general election and its aftermaths are emerging: police banning Tsvangirai meetings, violence in rural areas and top Zanu PF officials proclaiming they will never relinquish power.
And that gets Zimbabwe’s increasingly fat population sweating.
Zimbabweans spent the better part of 2008 on the run when a resounding vote against Mugabe attracted a fatal backlash.
Violence swept across the country after Mugabe and his Zanu PF party lost their parliamentary majority for the first time since independence in 1980.
Fortunately for Mugabe, Tsvangirai failed to garner a majority big enough to avoid a second round knock-out stage, giving the octogenarian leader another chance to fight.
The military, youth militia and war veterans still loyal to Mugabe unleashed an incredibly violent campaign on behalf of the former guerilla leader in a bid to overturn Tsvangirai’s first round win.
Tsvangirai says 200 of his supporters died in the violence, forcing him to pull out of the presidential election runoff and compelling regional countries to push for the negotiated government Zimbabwe has to endure today.
Happy days followed.
Once the coalition government was in place, violence subsided and the economy, energised by confidence in the coalition government, boomed but only for the first 10 months of the administration.
Once empty supermarkets were soon stocked up, a multi-currency system and replaced the collapsed Zimbabwe dollar allowing for higher spending, particularly in cities and towns.
Unlike the rural folk condemned to perpetual economic inactivity and constant political harassment, urbanites here have been picking tons of weight following those short boom days.
Beer manufacturer Delta Beverages’ sales rose dramatically as Zimbabweans, getting too comfortable too soon, popped to their new lease of life.
But this is Zimbabwe.
The more things change, the more they remain the same.
The season of debilitating bickering is back, suffocating industry’s viability and heightening political tension that has resulted in increased cases of violence flaring up.
The coalition, as admitted by its own principals, has become dysfunctional and has become the single biggest threat to Zimbabwe’s potential to re-establish with the international world to grow its economy.
Time to wind up has come, maybe too early for Tsvangirai though.
He has failed in the 20 months of the coalition to use his presence in government to win the hearts of Mugabe’s levers of power — the military and security commanders who still refuse to acknowledge him as an official leader of government.
The future for him is uncertain and the choices are hard.
Does he stay in a government that has nothing more to deliver?
Or does he risk an election in an environment still riddled by the poisoned atmosphere that characterised the 2008 elections?
He has obviously chosen the latter, judging by his recent statements psyching up supporters for elections.
Much has been made about the violence that could characterise these elections, but will Zimbabwe ever be ready for an ideal credible election?
Since independence, Mugabe’s party has thrived on violence. Youth militia is not anything new.
The Youth Brigades of the 1980s marshalled Mugabe’s campaign in much a similar fashion as the current crop of youth militia does.
And indeed the marauding Zanu PF militia is back, ready to strike at anyone opposed to their dear 86-year-old president.
Civic society and Tsvangirai’s own party are reporting increased coercive activity, including violence in rural areas by youth militia, war veterans still loyal to Mugabe and security agents as election talk increases.
Military and security commanders who have previously said they would never acknowledge Tsvangirai as president of the country even if he won elections are still very much around, powered by vast tracts of diamond fields they are controlling in the eastern Marange district.
Still, Tsvangirai reckons he can win the election, the strategy being to push for minimum conditions that he hopes would reduce chances of rigging.
With the number of sympathetic young voters likely to increase, chances are high that Tsvangirai and his party will win the election.
But will he be able to win an election and take power on the basis of votes alone?
What is the likelihood of Mugabe and his military cronies allowing a popularly elected Tsvangirai and his band to run the country’s political and economic affairs, including administration of the diamond fields that are being discovered?
Outside a negotiated settlement, Tsvangirai stands little possibility of ousting Mugabe’s entrenched regime, even with the votes firmly behind him.
Without the support of his country’s military, maybe it is understandable that Tsvangirai is asking for Sadc peacekeepers, before and after the election as a key pre-condition.
A coup by Mugabe’s junta in the event of an MDC victory is what Tsvangirai really wants those peacekeepers for.
It is about transfer of power and he needs the military on his side, even a regional one, to take over power.
Will he get that kind of regional military support?
Another fat chance!
So it is going to be 2011 the election year, much like 2008: violence, elections, violence and then negotiations again, just like the old days.
But, for now, the shops are brightening in Harare with early Christmas decorations.
Let’s enjoy the party while it lasts.
Very soon, the only decorations on show will be scars marked on bodies of political rivals.
Haven’t we seen or heard about this before?
Farai Mutsaka is a Zimbabwean journalist based in Harare.