Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Spectator Democracy In Zimbabwe
September 26, 2016
Opinion & Analysis
Reason Wafawarova
Zimbabwe Herald

Evan Mawarire’s plot to demonstrate against President Mugabe in New York was spoiled by the counter-protest by some Zimbabweans based in the United States, backed by a larger crowd of members of the December 12 Movement (pictured), a US based anti-imperialist movement
Reason Wafawarova on Monday

It is difficult to determine the position of the common person in Zimbabwe when a group of supposedly disenchanted Zimbabweans travels to the United States to make a protest point against their own Government on the streets of New York. It even gets a lot more complicated when the said group is confronted with an even angrier group of largely African-American citizens, marching in solidarity with the very Government against whom a coterie of supposedly concerned Zimbabweans flew to New York to denounce.

The clash of the two protesting groups was certainly not a global attention event, but it generated a significant amount of interest among Zimbabwean social media patrons, and was keenly followed by US elites who reportedly sponsored the anti-government protesters, hoping to cause an internationally significant humiliation of President Mugabe at the annual UN General Assembly Summit. Agenda setting it is called.

The plot was spoiled by the counter-protest by some Zimbabweans based in the United States, backed by a larger crowd of members of the December 12 Movement, a US based anti-capitalist movement that has in the past stood resolutely with countries that have been sanctioned or isolated by Washington and the West, among them Cuba, Haiti and Venezuela.

The question to be answered is why the people who flew from Zimbabwe to New York thought the streets of New York would make a better platform for the democratic right to protest against their own Government. Evan Mawarire is a self-exiled lone campaigner for the “shutting down of Zimbabwe”. through his #This Flag social media “movement” and he was denounced as a “Green Card traitor” by angry members of the December 12 Movement. Essentially, the assertion is that the lone social media protester has abused the asylum privilege by creating a non-existent crisis in which he has postured as a hapless victim at the mercy of draconian regime — that way earning himself the right to stay permanently in the United States. The gimmick is treacherous and unacceptable, it is alleged.

The New York humiliation of the hired protesters was unexpected by its funders and organisers, and was certainly unexpected on the part of the Zimbabwean activists who embarked on the sponsored foreign mission. Something had to be done to minimise the damage the monumental flop had caused.

In came the Reuters interview with President Ian Khama of Botswana; the man credited with running the “beautiful example of democracy” in Southern Africa. Certainly the Botswana opposition must be infuriated by such accolades to a man they believe stifles democracy in the most cruel of manners, but that is a matter for another day.

Ian Khama is reported to have called for the departure of his elder counterpart in Zimbabwe, ostensibly on the basis of age and the economic situation in Zimbabwe.

The record of Ian Khama in the politics of Zimbabwe is unholy. He has often broken ranks with other regional leaders to pursue his solidarity with Britain and the United States over the land issue in Zimbabwe, and of course his cover has always been the pursuit for the democratisation of Zimbabwe, in the Western sense.

This week I will take a look at spectator democracy in Zimbabwe, a concept where the opinion of the masses is shaped by the preferences of the elite, and hopefully the analysis will detail how the propaganda framework helps to achieve this.

When Woodrow Wilson was elected to the presidency of the United States in 1916, his administration was committed to joining World War 1 at a time the US population was so pacifist that it saw no reason to get involved with a European war.

Wilson decided to establish a propaganda commission called the Creel Commission, which succeeded within an impressive six months to turn an apathetic and pacifist population into a hysterical war-mongering mass sworn to the marrow to the idea of destroying everything and anything German, avowed totally to the doctrine of tearing Germans to pieces limb from limb — in the process saving the world from the deadly threat that Germany had become.

In the aftermath of the war, the Creel Commission successfully used the acquired propaganda tactics to launch an attack on unionism in the United States, whipping up a hysterical Red Scare, and successfully destroying workers unions and eliminating such dangerous problems as freedom of the press and freedom of political thought.

The propaganda model was superbly supported by the media and business establishments, as well as by the intellectual community, especially the intellectuals of the John Dewey era — themselves overly proud of being the “more intelligent members of the community”.

In quite an impressive and indisputably successful way, this group was able to drive a reluctant population into a massive war by simply terrifying them to the point of eliciting jingoist fanaticism.

All it needed was a good deal of fabrication of atrocities by the other side, like making up stories of Belgian babies with torn off limbs, and all sorts of awful things against the Huns that one can easily read in history books today.

The Americans borrowed much of the fabrications from the British propaganda ministry, whose declared objective was “to direct the thought of most of the world”, roping in the process US intellectuals, who in turn passed on the concocted propaganda for facts, successfully converting a passive country to unprecedented wartime hysteria.

This experience shows that state propaganda can have a huge effect on democracy, especially when it bars deviation and when supported by the educated classes.

Hitler himself believed so much in this political doctrine, and the doctrine keeps Western democracies ticking to this day, just like it is used by totalitarian regimes across the world.

Liberal democratic theorists like Walter Lippmann got involved so much in the propaganda commissions of the time and immediately recognised how much could be achieved through them. The prominent journalist ended up arguing that “revolution in the art of democracy” could be positively used to “manufacture consent,” essentially to make the public agree with what they do not want. Not only did Lippmann think that using propaganda techniques to manufacture public consent was a brilliant idea, he also believed it was an absolutely necessary phenomenon.

His reasoning was impressively frank. He argued, “the common interests elude public opinion entirely”, and that such interests can only be understood and managed by a “specialised class” of “responsible men”, who are privileged to be the only ones smart enough to figure out life’s complex realities.

This theory that asserts that only a small elite can understand common interests has become part of Zimbabwe’s political culture across the political divide.

We have come to the point where the whole nation sometimes eagerly waits for the outcome of those long in the night Politburo meetings to know what will happen over many matters of national interest.

Equally the opposition supporters have been cultured to wait for leaders to determine where they must stand on national policy.

We saw the discord where land hungry supporters of the opposition risked being expelled from the MDC for applying for farms during the land acquisition era. One Sekai Makwavarara ended up crossing the floor to the ruling party, but I digress.

After the 2008 election crisis, the nation had to watch six people travel to and from South Africa negotiating our collective future for nine long months.

Spectator democracy then dictated that we all watched and waited as three lawyers, a diplomat, an accountant, and a female political activist shouldered the responsibility of determining our collective future, with South Africans playing the umpire.

Democracy had spoken to us through the 2008 election, and it had told us that Arthur Mutambara, Welshman Ncube and Priscilla Misihairambwi-Mushonga were losers. The GPA negotiations of spectator democracy gave them back to us as winners, one as the Deputy Prime Minister even. This is how elitism works. Someone with better brains must always correct the messy way the unthinking masses do things.

Now we have the so-called National Electoral Reform Agenda (NERA) being packaged as the national way forward towards elections. Were the masses not told that the equally elitist COPAC did a wonderful job coming up with a people created and endorsed Constitution? Why does this wonderful Constitution need a NERA so soon?

Interestingly the very intellectual and political protagonists who gave us the COPAC headaches are now giving us these NERA dramas.

Then we had to watch from the terraces as these know-alls battled it out to lecture us on the wonderful need to embrace gay rights, dual citizenry, age limits to the presidency, freedom of this and that, and so on and so forth. Now we have to watch NERA telling us how Election 2018 must happen, and we have to put up with NERA’s sidekicks, the likes of Tajamuka and Evan Mawarire’s disappearing #This Flag.

It looks like everyone with an ambition can now delude him or herself into playing hero to an imagined political gallery of the masses. We need real participation of the masses if we are going to develop a true democracy in Zimbabwe, not this spectator games where a few elites create an agenda and expect the masses to cheer along.

We have recently seen bickering personalities within ZANU-PF taking initiatives to gather people so they can spar openly at rallies, and the rallies are organised not to seek public opinion, but to manipulate it, to manufacture public consent in promotion of sinister succession motives. This is what we get when we promote spectator democracy.

The view that what all of us care about can only be explained and articulated well by a few elites is typically a Leninist one — that concept of vanguard revolutionary intellectuals taking power on the ride of popular revolutions, using people power as a force to gain power, and then skilfully drive the stupid masses toward a future they are too dumb and incompetent to comprehend.

The common ideological assumptions between liberal democrats and Marxism-Leninism are quite similar, just like the ideological assumptions of liberal democracies and dictatorships are essentially the same. That is why it is easy for liberal democrats to instantly switch to dictatorship, and also for dictators to instantly convert to liberal democracy.

All that needs to be done is to assess where power lies and say if power is in a popular revolution let that revolution put us into state power; or maybe we can rely on the power of business and corporations to get the same state power; or who cares if that power will come from the military, for as long as it takes us to state power. In the end we will just have to drive the stupid masses toward a world they are too dumb to comprehend.

We now accept it that if the means are in Western funding let us use those means to gain state power, if the means are in civic organisations, in war veterans, or in the youth let us just use those means; but purely on the same assumptions and objectives of accessing state power for power’s sake, never ever to share it with the unthinking masses, but to let it benefit us politicians and the power centres that thrusts us into political office.

After all the masses are like three-year-olds — you cannot reasonably entrust them with complex matters of life.

As Lippmann aptly argues, there are two classes of citizens in a democracy, the specialised class that always talks about what to do about and on behalf of those all others, and of course the class of “those all others,” — the bewildered herd whose function in a democracy is to be “spectators” in the complex action of the thinking elites, when they are not enjoying those moments they are allowed to lend their weight to one or the other member of the specialised class through programmed elections.

Precisely that is why incumbent politicians believe by merely looking at their action plans and adding to them their personal political aspirations they by definition become not only indispensable but also unreplaceable.

Morgan Tsvangirai has become to his brand of the MDC what President Robert Mugabe has become to ZANU-PF — hard to replace politicians in whose absence an election has become so hard to envisage.

Spectator democracy has given to the United States an election in which the masses will have to choose between dysentery and diarrhoea, between two ageing grannies, one a bigot of nonsensical proportions, and the other a pathological liar with a passion for dishonesty. One of the two will be ratified by the masses as the US president in November.

Zimbabwe we are one and together we will overcome. It is homeland or death.

Reason Wafawarova is a political writer based in SYDNEY, Australia.

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