6 May 2011

Zimbabwe: Mugabe in a Fix

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PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe, plagued by serious health problems, old age and with his political plans collapsing around him, is sinking deeper into political trouble amid revelations that even those close to him - except his military diehards - think he has now reached a dead-end.

This comes as details obtained from high-level sources close to Mugabe's office show that he has been advised by a key top confidant to at least announce when he would be retiring and sort out his divisive succession issue.

A recent detailed "advisory note" to Mugabe from his close advisors has implored the president to take advantage of his history and incumbency to put his house in order and announce when he would be leaving, sources said.

The sources said Mugabe (87) is now in a quandary and his advisors were gravely concerned because of a series of circumstances which include his old age, health problems, Zanu PF infighting, the succession crisis, collapse of his election plans, growing impatience by Sadc leaders, events in North and West Africa and the hardening of international opinion against his 31-year rule.

The "advisory note", the sources said, was written against a backdrop of his deteriorating health and advanced age. Mugabe's wife Grace is also said to be ailing.

A few weeks ago one of Mugabe's key pillars of strength, CIO deputy director Mernard Muzariri, died of liver cancer. To make matters worse, another key Mugabe ally, the Zimbabwe Defence Forces Commander, General Constantine Chiwenga, going through a nasty divorce, was recently taken to China for urgent medical attention, apparently after suffering food poisoning.

Mugabe himself has of late been shuttling between Harare and Singapore in a bid to contain his health failure. Informed sources say Mugabe would have to import one of his Asian doctors to come to Harare during elections to keep him under constant medical observation due to his straining political activities.

What could probably help, sources said, if the elections are held in 2013, would be that he might not need to frequent Asian countries for checkups as the Chinese are building a huge military complex on the outskirts of Harare which would have VIP medical facilities.

The recent "advisory note" to Mugabe was reportedly informed by all these problems around him, sources said. Power struggles within Zanu PF which now threaten to unleash a wave of political instability and chaos if he unexpectedly retires or dies are a major factor. Mugabe himself has said, albeit for self-serving reasons, that Zanu PF would disintegrate if he goes. The party, fractured and weakened by protracted infighting, is likely to break up along its regional and ethnic fault lines.

"Pressure is mounting on the president to at least say when he is retiring and resolve his succession predicament. It would be better if he retires, at the very least he must start now the process of his succession or retirement," a senior official close to Mugabe's office said. "Even those surrounding him are getting increasingly jittery and impatient. Some are genuinely concerned and that's why they wrote an advisory note urging him to be pro-active and to timely resolve the situation."

Mugabe's position is seen by those close to him and in top Zanu PF echelons as vulnerable after his skirmishes with Sadc leaders following their decision at a recent summit in Livingstone to rein him in.

The sources said the only people remaining steadfast in support of Mugabe are state security service chiefs who are behind his strategy to go for early elections.

Grouped under the Joint Operations Command (JOC), which brings together army, police and intelligence chiefs, state security bosses are determined to retain Mugabe in office to secure his, and concomitantly their, future.

Insiders say this is why they took a crucial decision to deploy a top Air Force of Zimbabwe commander, Air Vice-Marshal Henry Muchena, who has supposedly "retired", to spearhead the Zanu PF election campaign. Muchena is working with former CIO director-internal Sydney Nyanhongo and other security agents to campaign for Mugabe and Zanu PF.

Top army commanders want Mugabe to stay for security of tenure and material comfort. Fearing Mugabe was going to be defeated during the 2008 elections, the commanders, including Chiwenga and several top generals, issued menacing remarks bordering on coup threats warning they would not allow their commander-in-chief to be removed even through democratic elections.

Prior to that, in the run-up to the hotly-disputed 2002 presidential election has also made similar remarks and helped to retain Mugabe. During that election senior army commander Brigadier-General Douglas Nyikayaramba was deployed to campaign for Mugabe amid misleading claims he had resigned.

A senior Zanu PF official said Mugabe's problems are getting worse because his election plans have now collapsed. Mugabe has been pushing for elections this year but has been thwarted by party political negotiators in the ongoing political dialogue.

Although he was chosen as the Zanu PF candidate in the next presidential elections at the party conference last December in Mutare, Mugabe is set to lobby for reconfirmation since elections are no longer going to be held this year. This means Mugabe has yet another gruelling task to convince his restless party in December to endorse him as the candidate. In 2007 an extraordinary Zanu PF congress had to be held to sort out Mugabe's disputed candidacy. This led politburo heavyweights Simba Makoni and Dumiso Dabengwa to quit in protest.

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