Mugabe 2010 Presidential Honeymoon May Backfire

Re: Zimbabwe - A Descent into Dictatorship

To the Editor:

It is with a profound sense of sadness and despair to note that the embattled Zimbabwean octogenarian leader, Robert Mugabe still wants to continue at the helm of the country’s top job until 2010 against the wishes of the people, including those of his own party. Although President Mugabe has not personally officially confirmed his perceived intentions to hold on to power, it is abundantly clear that the man desperately wants power. As usual he uses the alibi of the people allegedly having asked him to stay on; which people l do not know. However, it appears from the recent utterances by his senior charges that he wants the legislature to rubber stamp his desire to extend his power, and no-one is going to stop him from getting it.

As things stand now, it appears that only political changes of seismic proportions can stop the man from completing his mission. It is not surprising that those around the beleaguered president do not have the proper moral judgment, clear vision or sense of responsibility to the people of Zimbabwe. They cannot stop him. If anything, some of them — including Didimus Mutasa — are actually encouraging the idea of a "life presidency." What a shame. Their allegiance is to Mugabe, hence their willingness to maintain the personality cult that has characterized Mugabe’s leadership over the years. As for these hero worshippers, it is widely known that their political survival hinges on Mugabe’s continued hold on power. If he dropped dead today, they would not survive the current political environment, and thus their unquestionable support.

Unfortunately, for those in Zanu PF who hold any hopes of rising to the ascendancy have either been sidelined or silenced, Mnangagwa and Makoni included. Zanu PF will always use every opportunity to thwart any hopes or chances of those harboring presidential ambitions, albeit it being their constitutional right to do so. Mugabe’s reluctance to support the pursuance of comprehensive constitutional reforms is testimony of a man who wants to rule forever. He has no respect for the opposition, big as they are. Never mind the factionalism.

Mugabe and his seniors charges in Zanu PF think that theirs is a God-given right to misrule Zimbabwe forever, and in their minds nobody is allowed to challenge them. The virtues of tolerance and respect for divergence of opinion are not permissible in Zanu PF politics. It is either you are with them or against them. The entire Zanu PF constituency is clearly powerless to stop Mugabe madness judging by their absolute loyalty and sacrifice to keep the old man on the job even when it is clear that he is a monstrous liability in Zimbabwe. It is surprising that Mugabe’s advisers, some of whom are highly educated and learned, cannot read what has happened in other countries such as Nigeria, Zambia and Malawi where the leaders there tried to extend their terms of office by constitutional means but their efforts were categorically rejected by the electorate. While, the rest of Africa is moving forward, introducing sweeping democratic reforms electing new leadership, dumping the old guard, Zimbabwe is still stuck in old style politics where democracy is being replaced by Constitutional dictatorship. I am sure the fate of Saddam Hussein is clear testimony that no single leader or political figure is bigger that people power.

Only recently veteran politician and Mugabe’s co-escapee from Rhodesia during the war of liberation, Edgar ‘Two Boy’ Tekere, added weight to the voices of reason by criticizing Mugabe’s "handiende" syndrome during the recently ended party conference at Goromonzi. The fate of Tekere is unknown, he could be booted out of Zanu PF again for criticizing Mugabe’s eternal leadership ambitions. Mugabe is no messiah to our current problems, and if anything he is part of many of them and must not be allowed to impose his will on the people of Zimbabwe for two more painful years.

Mugabe is now officially the oldest sitting president not only in Africa but in the whole world. Even frail looking Fidel Castro is younger than Mugabe. Some have questioned what it is that Mugabe wants to achieve that he has not achieved in 26 years of his rule. On the positive side: education is still near the top in Africa at number three after Tunisia and Kenya; the literacy rate is the highest in Africa at 91 percent; and he gave people land although not many of them can produce effectively for the country, let alone for their own subsistence.

On the negative side: life expectancy is the lowest in Africa, at below 30 years; unemployment is at its record highest; the economy, at -2 percent, is the most shrinking in the world outside war zones; the inflation rate the is highest in the world; the country has the worst investment climate in the world; corruption levels are among the top 15 in Africa; over 2 million people are facing starvation in Zimbabwe in addition to another 3 million people living outside Zimbabwe; the country has some of the unhappiest citizens in the world according to a recent study and one of the worst human rights records in the world; lastly, the country is one of the least democratic states in the world, with has some of the most draconian press laws and poorest civil liberties in Africa. The above reasons have very little or nothing to do with imperialism, Tony Blair’s Britain or George Bush’s America as Zanu PF wants people to believe. The country is fast drifting towards a tyrannical nightmare which may be difficult to reverse if the Zanu PF ultra-loyalists choose to grant Mugabe the "life presidency" he desperately desires.

The Zanu PF leader says he wants to leave power when his party is not in shambles. However, in the words of MDC legislator David Coltart the party is already in shambles because of his reluctance to leave office in 2008, among other critical issues. If Mugabe refuses to go in 2008 and seeks another "mandate" to run again in 2010 at the age of 96, it would spell serious disaster for Zimbabwe. Interestingly, a few years back Margaret Dongo, then President of ZUD once called Mugabe’s close lieutenants his "wives" (vakadzi vaMugabe) because they never raise a finger when things are terribly going wrong in the country. I guess the veteran politician and freedom fighter Dongo was right. This is so because ever since she uttered her widely popular statement in Parliament nothing significant has happened to try and stop the President from amassing more power and extending his controversial tenancy at State House. Margaret Dongo will be remembered for her bravery in the annals of Zimbabwean history for saying the "un-sayable."

It seems all the Zanu PF bigwigs think about is money, political influence and diplomatic passports for the lucky few. Most of them use their influence to solicit unorthodox loans from emerging black-owned financial institutions. The bulk of the borrowed finance is never repaid; it just vanishes, thereby exposing these financial institutions to operational difficulties or even insolvency in some cases. Rumor has it that any successful business that refuse to fund Zanu PF may find it very difficult to operate in Zimbabwe.

Any attempts by Zanu PF to emend the constitution to extend Mugabe’s presidential term to 2010 would be calamitous for Zimbabwe. The worst scenario is that these overtures to gain power without people’s blessing may backfire in the future. In essence, the harmonization of presidential and parliamentary elections could still be done in 2008, and l am sure the sitting parliamentarians across the political divide would welcome the idea. It would be better for Parliament to vote for a new President for two years from 2008 to 2010 than to have Mugabe at the helm till 2010. The other alternative would be to consolidate the polls in 2010 as long as Mugabe is not a candidate.

The call for the early departure of Mr. Mugabe is partly the answer to our current problems. The international community will never support Mugabe even if he tries to implement the best economic turnaround policies in the world. Even Ben Bernanke, Chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve or Mervin King, Bank of England supremo, will never turn around the Zimbabwean economy if there is no major transformation in the politics of Zimbabwe. While it is appreciated that Mugabe brought us independence and other social benefits during the honeymoon days of our freedom, the same can not be said of his recent legacy. The earlier Mr. Mugabe and his advisors recognize that their continued hold on power is a monstrous liability to the country, the better. The writing is already on the wall.

The opposition should mobilize their constituencies and oppose the spirited Zanu PF machinations to introduce life presidency through the back door. Opposition leaders Tsvangirai and Mutambara alike should join hands with Zanu PF rebels, the NCA, Zimrights, Student Movements, ZCTU and other progressive forces to stop this madness. Opposition politics should now more than ever before concentrate their efforts on constitutional reform and force the government to adopt a new democratic constitution that has limits on presidential terms.

The neighboring countries, SADC and the U.N. should now formally consider Zimbabwe a threat to its citizens and intervene to save the millions who are suffering in silence. It is not a secret that Zimbabwe would recover should Mugabe decide to step down now. Every fair minded person in Zimbabwe cannot wait for the day the old man is going to say enough is enough and surrender the leadership of the country to a much younger and capable person. Zanu PF should decide now as to whether or not they want to be part of civil politics in Zimbabwe as the ruling party and possibly a responsible future opposition party or risk extinction, as has happened to most nationalist parties elsewhere in the Africa.

The only way for the Zanu PF loyalists to avoid a potential harsh judgment by the people of Zimbabwe in future is to stop the life presidency now. Failure to stop Mugabe’s power mongering overtures will demonstrably result in absolute archetypical dictatorship in Zimbabwe, and democracy will be relegated to a mere academic expression or paper exercise. The move to extend Mugabe’s tenancy at State House to 2010 is antithetical to our long-standing traditional belief that "Ushe Madzoro" or "Leadership rotates." Mugabe is better off relinquishing power sooner rather than later. Zimbabwe badly needs an ex-president, older statesman since President Banana passed away a few years back. The association of African elder statesman (ex-presidents) has been for a long time waiting for Mugabe’s membership, and perhaps he could lead it if he resigns now and this would be an honor for Zimbabwe.

Mugabe’s view that he would hand over power when the time comes is not very plausible. In the eyes of the majority of Zimbabweans the time to do so is now. There is no need of handing over power to a new captain when the boat is already sinking. Why not give the new captain the power to stop the boat from sinking? It does not take the brains of a Bishop to realize that things have fallen apart in Zimbabwe, and a new young and vibrant leadership is needed to bring in a fresh political dispensation. The new leadership would resuscitate the economy and save millions of the hungry, angry and disenfranchised people in Zimbabwe.

Those in the Diaspora are tired of being associated with Mugabe’s mess each time they introduce themselves as Zimbabweans. Instead of being identified as individual Zimbabweans they are addressed as subjects of a rogue, decaying and tyrannical state. They have lost all the respect they used to enjoy during the better days. Zimbabweans now belong to the axis of perpetual ridicule and pity. The only consolation there is, is the resilience of Zimbabweans back home who still have some semblance of hope in themselves and the politics of resistance.

Crisford Chogugudza
Hertfordshire, England

Crisford Chogugudza is a Zimbabwean political commentator, based in England. This opinion piece was first published on NewZimbabwe.com.