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Inflation is soaring – but opposition planning is slumped

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I left Zimbabwe in July 2006 with $20 million in my bank account and $20 million in cash. I knew that inflation would be a problem, but I thought I had set aside enough to last me awhile when I got back in December.

I accepted that six months later my $40 million would be able to purchase a fraction of what it had in July. But I wasn’t expecting my currency to stop existing altogether.

I’m not the only one whose money went from hero to zero when the government “restructured” the economy and binned the old bucks. I’m hoping to donate my $20 million (in a thousand $20,000 notes) to an art school looking for innovative wall-or toilet-papering solutions. As for my $20 million bank balance that is now a sorry $14,000 (Operation Sunrise + Bank Fees)? That’s anyone’s guess.

Of course when I got back, I couldn’t stop adding three zeroes back onto all the prices to make more sense of things. And I kept asking myself – would I really have spent $2 million on that coffee? $1 million on that newspaper? $700,000 for that bus ride? And of course I wouldn’t have. Six months ago. But six months is an eternity in 1200% inflation. And head spinning price increases are just part of the routine. It was hard to shake off the feeling that they just chopped off those zeroes so they could keep raising prices – and psychologically people wouldn’t catch on quite so quickly.

Which makes me think maybe the ruling party has a plan. Unlike the opposition.

Earlier this month, the Save Zimbabwe Campaign, a coalition of NGOs and individuals in the pro-democracy movement, announced its next campaign. Its 2007 demand? “We want to vote in elections in 2008.”

But as one person in the audience pointed out, it’s not enough to call for elections any more. If the next Zimbabwean elections are as rigged, or as unfree and unfair as the ones in 2000, 2002 or 2005, they really won’t make much of a difference. So as an afterthought, the Save Zimbabwe Campaign amended its demand to read: “We want to vote in elections in 2008 under a new Constitution.”

As a slogan it doesn’t exactly trip off the tongue. But more importantly, as a strategic campaign platform, it misses the point.

The current regime’s interest in the Constitution is to make it more repressive, not less. Its idea of a People’s Constitution is one in which the people agree to sign over even more power to the ruling party than it has already stolen. Short of that, Zanu PF isn’t interested in reforming the Constitution, or rushing its plans. And until the Save Zimbabwe Coalition develops a carefully thought out, well coordinated, spirit-lifting campaign that mobilizes a significant amount of popular support, the ruling party has no reason to listen to it.

The MDC is facing similar difficulties. It has watched the ruling party rig parliamentary and presidential elections three times in the past seven years. And it has failed to take advantage of popular discontent over these stolen elections each time.

Now, the MDC has announced its support for the Save Zimbabwe Campaign, and is joining the chorus calling for elections in 2008. This despite the fact that the party is under funded, under staffed and lacks capacity to take on any national issue, much less a national election.

And a national election which everyone knows will be rigged demands even more resources and better organization. The parallel tabulation systems, the independent vote counters, support for post-election demonstrations to demand an honest tally of the ballots all require substantial funding and preparation. Unfortunately, if MDC President Morgan Tsvangirai’s prevarication on SW Radio Africa’s Hot Seat this week is anything to go by, the opposition is far from prepared for this.

Zimbabwean pro-democracy activists need to harness some speed from the inflation rate and become faster thinking and more adaptable. And they need to learn some lessons from the ruling party, not in vote rigging, patronage or authoritarianism. But in strategy development, campaign planning and organization.

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