Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Post-Mugabe Quandary

There’s little consensus amongst analysts over who should lead the country once Mugabe finally goes.
By Benedict Unendoro
As the Zimbabwean crisis deepens, analysts are already exploring which political party would be best equipped to turn around the country’s fortunes in the post-Mugabe era.

Many observers, including outgoing United States ambassador to Zimbabwe, Christopher Dell, have predicted the demise of President Robert Mugabe’s regime in six months. Mugabe has no choice but to step down by September this year, for the good of himself, the country and his ruling Zanu-PF party, said ZANU-PF insider Ibbo Mandaza.

The Zimbabwean crisis has deepened in the last two weeks since Mugabe ordered a price slash on all goods and services, a populist move many see as the tipping point for his own fortunes. To wriggle out of the resulting chaos, Mugabe has no choice but to introduce subsidies, which economists and the IMF say will increase quasi-fiscal deficits that will in turn stoke hyper-inflation further. The IMF says the government will have no choice but to resort to printing more money in order to finance the subsidies. This, economists say, will trigger the further decline and the fall of the government.

Zimbabwe faces a combined presidential and parliamentary election early next year which many are pinning their hopes on to bring about much-needed change to the country. However, commentators say the poll may not in itself be the solution, even if it is held in a free and fair atmosphere.

It’s thought South African president Thabo Mbeki, who is currently seeking to mediate in the Zimbabwean political crisis, and Britain, the former colonial power, prefer a reformed ZANU-PF as the way forward.

But Arthur Mutambara, leader of one of the factions of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, MDC, said this option was unlikely to work.

“The international community, particularly western governments, have shown a keen interest in the jockeying for positions among ZANU-PF factions, which seems to imply that if any one of the factions were to successfully replace Mugabe they would consider normalising relations with Zimbabwe,” he wrote in an opinion piece for a Zimbabwean news site.

“The thinking seems to be that the problem is Robert Mugabe the person, and that anyone else will do just fine.”

In his piece, Mutambara argues that ZANU-PF as a political construct is beyond redemption and should not have a future in the new Zimbabwe, “First and foremost, the Zimbabwean crisis is bigger than the person of Robert Mugabe. There are institutional, structural and systemic dimensions to the challenges we are facing.

“Over the past 27 years, ZANU-PF has developed a distinct socio-politico-economic culture and value system rooted in political illegitimacy, poor country governance, economic mismanagement, bad policies, corruption, patronage, incompetence, and disrespect for the rule of law.

“Whilst Mugabe is the personification and cardinal symbol of this misrule, these traits are now deeply rooted within ZANU-PF, which is rotten to the core. Mugabe is the glue that keeps the rot together.”

Prominent Zimbabwean economist Tony Hawkins supported Mutambara’s views in a recent interview with the independent Zimbabwe radio station SW Radio, “I also don’t believe the people of Zimbabwe are willing to be governed by a reformed ZANU-PF because I think ZANU-PF has gone way beyond the point of no return in respect of re-branding and so on.

“When you have done as much harm as they have done it is very hard to believe that voters - if they are given a free and fair opportunity - would vote for a continuation of this party regardless of whom is leading it.”

At the same time, however, political observers do not see a weakened MDC as a viable alternative to ZANU-PF.

The MDC split in October 2005 over an issue that many saw as trivial - the newly introduced upper house of parliament, the senate.

The main faction of the party, led by founding president Morgan Tsvangirai, did not see the value of contesting elections for the senate, arguing that the results were a fait accompli because the playing field was so heavily tilted in favour of ZANU-PF. But the other MDC faction participated in the ballot - though won an insignificant number of seats. The latter group alleges that Tsvangirai triggered the MDC split with his “dictatorial tendencies” and his followers’ propensity for violence.

Many also see the chance of either MDC faction winning the elections next year as remote. “The MDC surprised everyone in the 2000 general election when they almost upset ZANU-PF. But people should remember that that was mainly a protest vote. Ever since that shocker, the MDC’s fortunes have been dwindling, as has been shown by the loss of several seats in subsequent polls. Now a divided MDC cannot be expected to fare any better,” said an independent journalist working in Harare.

Even if the MDC won the election, buoyed by the support of a disgruntled populace struggling under a collapsed economy, this would not signal the beginning of a new era, he said.

He cited the Zambian experience where the opposition Movement for Multiparty Democracy, MMD, swept to power on a protest vote but once in charge became guilty of the same misdemeanors that Kenneth Kaunda’s United National Independence Party, UNIP, was ousted for.

He pointed out that Frederick Chiluba’s party was in fact seen as more corrupt than its predecessor; and Chiluba himself is currently on trial for siphoning 500 million US dollars from state coffers.

Analysts also cite the Kenyan model where the Rainbow Alliance, a grouping of opposition politicians and ruling Kenya African National Union rebels, swept to power under Mwai Kibaki, pointing out that corruption and repression remain as all-pervasive as under Daniel arap Moi.

The journalist also said signs of corruption were already showing in the MDC as some of the party’s most senior cadres were benefiting from Mugabe’s largesse. Recently, several senior party officials took delivery of farming equipment including tractors from Mugabe’s farm mechanisation programme.

An opposition politician in the fringe Democratic Party, DP, said, “Even if the MDC somehow won the combined presidential and parliamentary polls the transition would be far from smooth. Mugabe has militarised all state institutions and generals have been quoted as saying they would not allow Tsvangirai to rule Zimbabwe.”

Indeed, in many areas of the public sector, including the judiciary and state-run companies, military men now hold key positions. On the eve of the 2002 presidential election, senior officers released a statement saying that the army would not support a president who lacked liberation war credentials - a clear reference to Tsvangirai.

Defence forces chief, General Constantine Chiwenga, reiterated this partisan stance in a speech made just before the March 2005 legislative polls.

“The period immediately after Mugabe’s fall should see the demilitarisation of state institutions and no one can do this except ZANU-PF itself, or its offshoot, because these military figures have no respect for the opposition,” said the DP politician.

But a reformed ZANU-PF option faces a major challenge in the person of Mugabe himself - especially if he decides to hang on until elections next year.

“Mugabe is not a Nyerere,” said the journalist, referring to the late founder of the Tanzanian nation, Julius Nyerere, who, on seeing the disastrous course his socialist policies were steering the country, stepped down from the presidency and played mid-wife to the reform of his own party, Chama Cha Mapinduzi, CCM. In 1985, Nyerere relinquished the national presidency but retained the chairmanship of the party to oversee its transformation.

Ever since Tanzania, one of the most stable nations in sub-Saharan Africa, has been ruled by successive CCM governments and its democratic system is seen by many as a model to emulate.

“Unfortunately, Mugabe lacks Nyerere’s integrity and wisdom. Mugabe, unlike Nyerere, won’t admit his mistakes, and won’t show flexibility and pragmatism. Instead, he would like to drag his country into the mud with him,” said the journalist.

But Simba Makoni, tipped by many observers as the one likely to lead a reformed ZANU-PF, said during a recent visit to South Africa that much was taking place inside ZANU-PF and a reformed party would soon emerge.

Benedict Unendoro is the pseudonym of an IWPR journalist in Zimbabwe.

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