The politics of scale: Hard lessons from Gaza

By Richard Gandari

On 7 October 2023, the world woke up to the shocking news of a Hamas regional invasion of southern Israel. The shock for most people did not emanate from the wanton rampage and bloodletting, but the fear that Hamas was on a suicide mission.

In retaliation for the attacks, Israel has maintained relentless airstrikes in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, flattening entire neighbourhoods. Israel has also forced more than a million Palestinian civilians to evacuate en masse, to the south of the Gaza Strip, or risk being collateral damage in a consolidated ground war.

It is now a month since Hamas did the unthinkable, but the death toll of more than 10,000 Palestinians is a stunning reminder that there is no wisdom in bringing a spear to a gun battle. The Israeli ground operation has effectively divided the Gaza enclave into two. The Prime Minister of Israel, Mr Benjamin Netanyahu, has declared that there will be no ceasefire until all hostages taken by Hamas are released, and that after the war ends, Israel will take overall responsibility for security in the Gaza Strip. These are blood-chilling declarations from a man intent to walk the talk and restore his people’s faith in his dented state security apparatus. Hamas will have to either capitulate or resign to accept total annihilation.

Despite growing international condemnation for Israel’s scorched earth policy, there appears to be no relenting on the Israeli determination to wipe out all vestiges of Hamas from the face of the earth. For its part, Hamas is a wounded fox, hounded into any crevice available to hide and rue the day the ill-conceived invasion of Israel was hatched. Anyone who had the privileged chance of amassing conventional wisdom from herding cattle in rural Zimbabwe will readily tell you the demerits of stirring a hornet’s nest. Perhaps Hamas functionaries could have benefited from a cultural exchange program. Provoking Israel a month ago was a colossal mistake. The world is now witnessing the excesses of retaliation as Israel goes for broke.

As expected in all conflicts, past and present, the world is polarized into diametrically opposed camps. Those in support of Israel have no kind words for Hamas and see nothing wrong with all the steps taken by Israel to delete Hamas from existential memory. Those in support of Palestine but not necessarily in solidarity with Hamas, are appalled by Israel’s heavy-handed retribution for the October 7 provocation that sparked the ongoing conflict. Those in solidarity with Hamas have shied away from open support of what Israel and her Western allies bluntly describe as a terrorist organization. The UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres has despairingly said, “Gaza is becoming a graveyard for children.”

Looking at the conflict in Gaza from a Zimbabwean standpoint, one can draw parallels with our political war and its accompanying economic attrition. While the death toll in Gaza is empirically easier to measure and keep a tab on, the number of Zimbabweans killed from the direct effects of poor governance might be much higher, month on month, year in and year out. According to the World Health Organization’s 2023 World Health Statistics report, Zimbabwe has a 14.1 suicide rate per 100,000 population and is the 5th of the African continent’s countries with the highest suicide rate. The leading cause of such gloomy figures is mental health issues linked to economic woes at a micro level.

Zimbabweans struggle for nearly everything, great and small. Even a mundane thing like buying ice-cream on a hot day can be thwarted by a lack of change for a measly US 5-dollar note. Another attempt, hours later, armed with the elusive dollar, can still draw a blank. The problem this time? US dollar bill too soiled! These little mole hills add up and snowball into mountains. Unable to see any way forward, some Zimbabweans sink into despair. Others escape into flights of fancy, induced by drugs or wishful thinking. Living from one economic crisis to another, another group of Zimbabweans stoically succumbs to what psychologists describe as a delayed life syndrome.

Another hard lesson from Gaza is the danger of advancing into battle with no fallback position. No matter how confident one might be, it never hurts to have a contingency plan, just in case things do not fall into place. The opposition in Zimbabwe approached the elections in August, 2023 with too much confidence and a warped view of the incumbent’s capabilities. Like Israel crushing Hamas, the repressive regime in Harare is doing everything possible to destroy and eradicate the Citizens Coalition for Change, touted as Zimbabwe’s main opposition. Led by the affable Advocate Nelson Chamisa, the CCC is in a catch-22 position from which it will take nothing short of parting of the Red Sea to make it in one piece.

To sum it up, the biggest takeaway from the conflict in Gaza is that overreliance on regional solidarity is a strategic blunder. Hamas kicked a giant in the shins, ingenuously expecting an avalanche of open support from Arab states. In Zimbabwe, the CCC expected too much from SADC, the AU and the UN. Instead of building internal defences like a constitution –  a document found in boy scout associations and burial societies – the lawyer-infested opposition outfit chose to rest one foot on protest votes against ZANU PF and on regional solidarity with the other. Neither of these two positions proved strategic.

As the war in Gaza rages on, Zimbabweans are seized with prospects of their demise. However, there is a glimmer of hope should any man or woman take up the spear of real opposition against the bungling government of the day. Furthermore, challenging the status quo is no longer limited to the ruinous policies of ZANU PF but also calling out the glaring ineptitude of the CCC. Their respective roles as ruling and opposition party are now cast in concrete. Therefore, it is safe to surmise, that salvation for Zimbabweans now lies elsewhere.

Richard Gandari can be reached at

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