New Zimbabwe (London)

22 January 2014

Zimbabwe: Looking Beyond Robert Mugabe

Photo: Newzimbabwe
President Robert Mugabe and his wife at Bridget's memorial.

analysis

"Perennial wisdom from divine revelation and human experience dictates that all earthly things great or small, beautiful or ugly, good or bad, sad or happy, foolish or wise must finally come to an end" - Jonathan Moyo

ONE question that will definitely stand out in history is "what stopped Robert Mugabe from retiring?" It is a genuinely difficult one, with varied opinion and contrasting analysis. The fight he has put up in making sure that he remains at the helm of power in Zimbabwe is suggestive of the view that something must be stopping him from relinquishing the same. Throughout his 50 year career in politics, 40 of which at the helm of ZANU, Mugabe survived everything from attempted coups, assassination attempts, collapsed economy, to contested elections. He is a survivor. But today, life after Robert Gabriel Mugabe has become an unavoidable subject. And surely, this is the time we should be talking of a Zimbabwe beyond Mugabe.

Mugabe is a clever, brave and shrewd politician, a 'wily old fox' as some put it. But that is not sufficient to run a country, let alone one troubled with a battered economy, socio-political problems and other problems of all sorts. Running a country such as ours requires an energetic person, a person with less to worry about - like health, brand issues and other issues that haunt Mugabe's character. It needs a more forward looking person, simply put. Mugabe is no longer that guy. He is turning 90 on 21 February 2014. He is old and frail. It dictates from reason and common sense that given his immense contribution to the status quo, he must simply step down.

But I have to declare my intentions. This argument must not be mischaracterised or misconstrued, in any way, as a case for Morgan Tsvangirai or the MDC. This is about Robert Mugabe and Zimbabwe. The purpose of this article is to dissect and question the reasons behind Mugabe's unyielding grip on power, and the complexity of the subject, in the wake of his election victory six months ago.

Mugabe's rise and rise - or fall?

Mugabe emerged as the leader of ZANU towards the end of the liberation struggle in 1975 after a series of events including the disposal of Reverend Ndabaningi Sithole and Joshua Nkomo, and the death of Herbert Chitepo. Despite initial constraints he however managed to harvest power to himself, becoming a powerful politician in the liberation war. He has led the party ever since. He was elected to an executive office as Prime Minister of an independent Zimbabwe in 1980. And he has ruled the country ever since. His political career has had its highs and lows, with the lows strikingly standing out.

Operation Gukurahundi is a one such striking low. What exactly happened remains a mystery, but between 6,000 to 20,000 civilians were killed in the massacre. The economic collapse under his watch that succeeded the land reform was another low. So were the human rights abuses that have given him a notorious brand in the international media. Corruption in his Zanu PF party is another disturbing low in Mugabe's rule. Under his watch, Zanu PF has probably become the most corrupt organisation in the world.

Still, he has had a fair share of successes, including leading Zimbabwe to independence in 1980 and the economic progress registered between 1980 and 1997. He made remarkable strides in improving education, health and economic opportunities of the black majority that had been systematically denied during the colonial settler regimes. Zimbabwe has Africa's leading education sector, reflected in the 98% literacy rate, a highly skilled labour market that is even better than many in developed economies. The land reform is arguably another Mugabe success, in a way. 350,000 black households were resettled onto land previously owned by a 6,000 white minority. Despites serious initial challenges, production of some commodities like tobacco, small grains and cotton has been picking up, to levels of the white farmers. The indigenization policy is another contentious policy, which if properly implemented with consistency and transparency could be a new high for the 90 year-old leader. Planning on a grand exit?

But the question remains about his legacy which will forever be debatable and divisive. Leaders only come in with a grand entrance but rarely go with a grand exit. Thabo Mbeki, Gordon Brown, Kwame Nkrumah, Muammur Gadhafi, John Banks, Saddam Hussein are a few of the many whose exit from power was not how they would have wanted it. Even celebrated leaders like Dr Kenneth Kaunda did not have grand exits. In 2013 we saw the death of three former significant political leaders - Hugo Chavez, Margaret Thatcher and Nelson Mandela. And the legacies of these three people were different - totally different. Mandela was celebrated by his people and the whole world. Margaret Thatcher was despised by her own people who celebrated her death with street parties, and her death was ignored by the world. Hugo Chavez was celebrated by his people and a good majority of the international community.

The way people marked these leaders' respective deaths, gave an indelible mark to their legacy, good or bad. Death in office does not guarantee a grand exit for Robert Mugabe. Neither will it help his legacy. It will be a blessing for his adversaries, who will take to television every day for six months, to make sure his name goes to the Mobutu, Idi Amin, and Adolf Hitler part of history. So if Mugabe is planning on a grand exit to secure his legacy, he better find a successor fast. In the run up to the July 31, 2013 elections, some analysts suggested that Mugabe was standing for President so that he could secure the presidency for Zanu PF and then retire at an appropriate time. Chances of that are real and a more relaxed approach to controversial indigenization policies could be sign of a man trying to heal the wounds of his image.

The only existing chances of a grand exit for Mugabe are him stepping down as early as possible and hand over to a new popular leader from Zanu's ranks which could help avert a foreseeable "post-Mugabe crisis" in the party and for the country as a whole. He can resign and use his influence to make sure alleged factions are disbanded and aligned to the new leadership. This will guarantee a good legacy for Mugabe and will be to Zanu PF's advantage in the 2018 elections. Fidel Castro did the same thing, almost, and the plan has worked remarkably well.

Mugabe can also salvage his reputation and legacy by leading an aggressive recovery of the economy. But with the signs we see at the moment that is far-fetched. The indigenization programme, if creatively and cleverly implemented could be a game-changer, but the lack of transparency, the militancy and the corruption associated with the policy implementation has not helped. And the fact that the government has no plans whatsoever on attracting foreign capital to stimulate growth will certainly hurt him in this regard. And it hurts young people like me that Zimbabwe remains stagnant whilst Africa is booming and emerging aggressively in terms of economic growth being led by countries like Ghana, Botswana, Tanzania, Nigeria, Zambia, Rwanda, and Namibia. These countries have one thing in common - new and fresh leaders with new and fresh ideas. So as Zimbabwe continues to lag behind, it is Mugabe's legacy that also goes down.

Organizational weakness

Surely, to ambitious ZANU members, Mugabe's longevity on the crown - together with his generation- of the 60s - has now become unbearable. Simba Makoni's patience ran out. Over the last 20 years, Zanu PF has been brewing a bomb. I think that bomb will explode in 2018, or even later. Zanu PF has a lost generation, or even generations. Its corridors of power are filled with senior citizens who, in the fullness of time, will be phased out in a whisker. The party will be left with a serious power vacuum, having failed to invest in future leadership. Such is just the current leadership's lack of foresight, a weakness for the organisation. Again, the party has a serious deficit of brains, experience and capacity in the ages of 20-50. Very few young people have been allowed to rise in the echelons of power in the party. The few that have being relatives and well-connected colleagues of the party's top leaders.

The fact that the few young people in ZANU's power corridors like Tabitha Kanengoni, Patrick Zhuwao, Muzenda Jr etc. are relatives of top ZANU chefs even raises questions about whether they were recruited them on merit. And other young folks in the party have turned out to be self-serving crooks and charlatans with nothing to offer. And Psychology Maziwisa? Sigh! ZANU's only hope is on people like Walter Mzembi and uh uh ... No, Walter Mzembi only. There will therefore be a serious crisis in Zanu PF very soon, probably in the next 5 to 10 years, if nothing is done.

This organizational weakness in Zanu PF has been a product of Mugabe's failure to relinquish power. Because he has led the party for 39 years, he has lost sense of time, and to some extent, reality. The reality is that "a perpetual motion machine is impossible", so is a perpetual time machine. Everything comes to an end, and we must prepare for that by investing in the future if we wish continuation of the ideas we believe in. The party was supposed to open new avenues for new generations with fresh ideas. And Mugabe, at 90, could not get ministers in their 40 and 50s. He carried his generation along.

Who will replace him?

Roy Agyemang, producer of the documentary Mugabe: Hero or Villain writes that "Mugabe is more than just a politician, he leads a cause, or as his militant supporters would say, he has become the cause itself". This is an interesting observation. Whereas the cause used to be liberation, and economic emancipation, in Zimbabwe this cause has become indistinguishable from the face of Mugabe. He has become an embodiment of the ideals that ZANU exists for. Analysts who feel that after election defeats - once for a parliamentary seat in Buhera, and three times for the Presidency - Tsvangirai should remain as MDC leader have a strikingly similar argument. They say Tsvangirai is the embodiment of the resistance and fight against Mugabe's "iron fist rule". Whereas "change" used to be the cause in opposition to Mugabe, that change has become indistinguishable from the face of Tsvangirai. And some will say Tsvangirai has become the cause itself.

But that argument, to me doesn't hold water! It is consent manufactured by politicians through propaganda and sustained hagiography of political leaders that they are irreplaceable and invincible. Even the greatest of leaders have been replaced. Despite the demi-god like worship Nelson Mandela received, he was replaced by Thabo Mbeki. Hu Jintao, the man who led China's remarkable growth, was replaced. But it becomes a sad feature when leaders lack the political will to groom future leaders so that they retain relevancy. Zanu PF has potential leaders. The problem remains containing power hungry, thieving and corrupt party members. Even Robert Mugabe failed to do that. There are rumours of factions in Zanu PF led by Emmerson Mnangagwa and Joyce Mujuru. I am not a fan of Mnangagwa for his lack of charisma, alleged heavy-handedness and other issues. Mai Mujuru, on the other hand, has some experience running a country. She can resonate well with the struggles of the women constituency, and seems to be a centrist. Be that as it may, Zimbabweans worry most about the economy. This only means we need new leadership with fresh ideas to take the country forward.

When asked by Dali Tambo, in an interview why he couldn't call it quits, Mugabe quickly turned to the British, sanctions and regime change saying: "The British call for regime change, that, I must go. That call mustn't come from the British. We are still under sanctions, under attack. What man is there, who when his own house is being attacked will run away from the house leaving his children and wife under attack. Its cowardice of him! My people still need me. I'm not a deserter." Mugabe's argument actually has gained credence in the wake of new information in relation to the extent of the "regime change agenda". Thabo Mbeki, in an Al Jazeera interview, revealed the pressure he received from Tony Blair to initiate a British sponsored military attack on Zimbabwe to dislodge Mugabe. Of course Tony Blair denied the claims. But is it possible that is a silly excuse on the part of Mugabe.

I'm 21 years old. The future is increasingly looking gloomy. We need solutions now. I disdain the MDC, its leader and its paper-thin policies. But supporting Zanu PF is such a pain, one that I have managed to live with. I am looking to the future - A Zimbabwe beyond Robert Mugabe.

The writer is a Harare based political commentator who writes in his own capacity. Twitter @ButlerZKapumha.

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