7 January 2014

Zimbabwe: Understanding the Zanu-PF Succession - Mugabe's Choice Likely to Be Decisive

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Guessing Game

Despite his announcement that the party will choose his successor, it is unlikely that Mugabe will gamble by leaving such an important decision to the whims of the voters.

To date, he has desisted from giving obvious clues of his preference, limiting his involvement to repeatedly warning warring factions that their infighting was hurting the country's interests. In other words, his state of mind is still unknown.

Superior Mnangagwa faction?

In this 'civil war' Mnangagwa also appears to have an upper hand as his group has some brilliant political boots on the ground - the most important being Jonathan Moyo and Patrick Chinamasa. This is a formidable team that has over the years delivered electoral victories for Mugabe.

Mujuru's faction is generally considered to be the weaker. The most conspicuous politician lining up behind her is Didymus Mutasa, a politburo member who many say constitutes no threat.

The same could be said about Rugare Gumbo, ZANU-PF spokesperson, who has been an outsider until recently. Without her husband, whose death is regarded as being the result of a messy and vicious power struggle, Mujuru is extremely vulnerable.

Dual leadership

However, regardless of whoever takes over, it is unlikely that a single person will dominate the party in the manner that Mugabe has done for almost fifty years.

In the unlikely event of Mujuru winning, she will struggle to exert full control over an extremely power-conscious rival faction of Mnangagwa.

She will also have to concede considerable power in order to secure the electoral experience of his faction, if she is to have a good shot at winning the 2018 general elections.

On the other hand, if Mnangagwa takes over, he will have to be generous to Mujuru in order to retain the support of the party's lower ranks, considered to be the vice president's power base. His faction will need their support in order to win elections at national level.

Thus, whichever group triumphs, it is unlikely that it will immediately drive the other into outer darkness. It is more likely that the two leaders will attempt to share power on a more or less equal basis, at least in the short-term, resulting in a 'dual power regime' within ZANU-PF, with the party leader role being largely nominal.

Mugabe has the final say

Vice president Mujuru might have come off very well in the provincial elections, but when other dimensions are factored in, the robustness of her position in the race appears superficial.

This not only shows that Mujuru's electoral victories can be a misleading clue to the character of ZANU-PF succession, but also that Mugabe's succession will not be straightforward.

Ultimately, to understand who will be the future ZANU-PF leader is by definition to guess Mugabe's intentions.

While paying lip service to the importance of internal democratic processes, Mugabe knows who will succeed him, and for now he has decided to make that information proprietary.

Simukai Tinhu is a political analyst based in London. Follow him @STinhu

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