13 October 2017

Zimbabwe: What Happens After Mugabe?

Photo: New Zimbabwe
President Robert Mugabe, First Lady Grace Mugabe and Vice Presidents Emmerson Mnangagwa and Phelekezela Mphoko.

Harare — At the ripe old age of 93, Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe's long-serving president, has offered himself as the candidate to lead his ruling ZANU-PF party in elections next year.

In power since independence from Britain in 1980, Mugabe would be 99 should he win the 2018 election and complete a five-year term. He has boasted that he will live - and rule - until he is 100.

His wife Grace, a political power in her own right, has gone even further. Speaking at a rally organised by ZANU-PF's Youth League last year, the First Lady addressed her husband saying: "We want you to lead this country even from your grave."

Mugabe has always been respected and feared rather than loved. But his cabinet, stuffed with loyalists, relatives, and praise singers, is now outdoing itself in pushing his cult of personality into overdrive.

Behind the public scenes of loyalty and adulation is an intense power struggle, as Mugabe's physical frailty becomes evident. Factions are looking for his endorsement in the battle underway over his succession.

His public stumbles (fodder for an irreverent social media) and frequent absences from the country for medical attention, are all the more concerning for party apparatchiks as there is no obvious heir apparent.

"Mugabe wants to die in office and is not interested in seeing his successor," said Pedzisayi Ruhanya, the director of the Zimbabwe Democracy Institute. "He is not a student of democratic processes."

There are no threats to his rule from outside the party. He is accused of stealing elections (although he commands support in the rural areas), brutalising the electorate, and infiltrating the ranks of the opposition to sow confusion. Age is his only real challenger.

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