The Godfather and the African Mafia Part II
Dr Alex T. Magaisa
This contribution considers the behaviour of African leaders towards Mugabe, applying the image of the Mafia, as outlined in Part I of this series.
For us to understand why the African leaders behaved the way they did in Dar Es Salaam in March, it is necessary to extend the Mafia analogy to the African platform. It can also assist in forecasting the aims and modalities of the Mbeki-led mediation process.
Against this background, I fear that predictions of a “Zimbabwe after Mugabe” may be too presumptuous, given that the devil is in the system.
The task of removing the Capo di tutti Capi (the Boss of all Bosses) is an arduous and daunting one, given the extent of his power and influence and the support that he commands from his peers. The Dar es Salaam meeting was akin to the emergency meetings of the bosses in the typical Mafia Family. When these bosses meet, they do so not to publicly humiliate one of their own, but to find ways of helping their peer.
“There is a stone in my shoe”, is how Mugabe might have presented his case to his fellow colleagues, pointing to the West and the MDC as the stones causing him discomfort. Their purpose was, therefore, to remove the stone in Mugabe’s shoe. The reality is that they all realise that the stone in Mugabe’s shoe could one day become the stone in their respective shoes.
Don Mbeki representing the ANC Family, knows that the labour movement causing discomfort for Mugabe could well become an irritating stone in his own shoe. There are precedents, in Zambia, where the Labour movement became a very uncomfortable stone in Kaunda’s shoe.
A lot has been expected against little delivery from Mbeki. He wields control over a rich territory, but in reality, he does not occupy the same position as Mugabe in the hierarchy of the African Family. Like the Mafia, there is a distinct hierarchy in this Family. Mbeki is probably no more than an Underboss. Similarly President Hipukinye Pohamba of Namibia is also an Underboss, with former President Sam Nujoma retaining the position of Capo di tutti Capo in the Namibian Family.
Likewise, President Armando Guebuza of Mozambique is an Underboss in Frelimo, with former President Joachim Chissano retaining the ultimate position. The host President Jakaya Kikwete remains in the shadow of the elders in the Chama Cha Mapinduzi family in Tanzania. In fact, when they met in Dar es Salaam, Mugabe was probably sitting there as the Capo di tutti Capi. The others being effectively, his Underbosses, coming to help him out rather than crucify him.
But the Dons that gathered in Dar es Salaam would have also told Mugabe, respectfully but very strongly that his activities were posing a threat to their own interests. Don Mbeki might have pointed to the 2010 Football World Cup and the murmurs coming from rivals in the West, that it might have to be staged elsewhere on security grounds. He knows the Zimbabwe question hangs dangerously like a dagger. This would have influenced the decision to have elections in 2008 rather than in 2010, as Mugabe had envisaged. But ever the willy-fox, Capo Mugabe may well have calculated his earlier 2010 proposal as a bargaining point with his colleague Mbeki.
Despite the veneer of democracy in all these countries, many of them, in reality, run their affairs on a Mafia-type Family system. The SADC system will assist transition in Zimbabwe, but only in so far as that transition retains power within the Family, membership of which is based almost exclusively on liberation struggle credentials. The approach of the SADC leaders is to remove the stone in Mugabe’s shoe and in the process seek to open a way for his “graceful” departure, but ensuring that a member of the Family takes over. There are two ways: either voluntary retirement or the Hand of Nature.
“I can’t do it anymore”, remarks a tired and resigned Don Michael Corleone, as The Godfather Part III concludes. As he leaves the room, members of the Corleone family proceed to kiss the ring on the hand of Vinny Mancini, Don Michael Corleane’s nephew, to whom power has been handed down, saluting him as the new Don Corleone. When Mwalimu Julius Nyerere realised that he was tired and could not do it anymore, he took the Don Corleaone way and handed over to Ali Hassan Mwinyi and the process has been in motion ever since. Mbeki himself is a product of a similar system of succession in SA, as is Guebuza in Mozambique, Pohamba in Namibia, Kikwete in Tanzania, Kabila in the DRC, etc. Even the relatively quiet Botswana has followed a similar Mafia-type succession path.
The other way of course is if the Hand of Nature strikes. In The Godfather Trilogy, Don Michael Corleone himself had succeeded his father, Don Vito Corleoni, after his death. Likewise, Chissano rose to the leadership in Mozambique following the death of Samora Machel in 1986. When Laurent Kabila, the Don of the DRC, was assassinated, the same system ensured that his son, Jeseph Kabila, became the new Don. This is just the way things are.
Either way, voluntary retirement or the Hand of Nature, everything revolves around the person of the ultimate Boss.
There is a danger of creating great but erroneous expectations in next year’s elections. The mechanisms that tilt power in the ruling party’s favour have become deeply woven into the social fabric. Like the Mafia, it is a way of life. If the Zanu PF Family agrees to have elections, it is because they know that the system is created in such a way that they will triumph. And sadly, they will as they have done before receive ample recognition from the fellow African Mafia because it is not in their interests to promote what is otherwise considered a stone in a colleagues’ shoe.
The SADC process could therefore be no more than a Mafia-type approach to legitimise the selection of the next Don in Zimbabwe. The spirit-sapping part, of course, is that whatever happens, Mugabe would remain the Capo di tittu Capi, forever pulling the strings in the shadows.
All this might sound ominous and pessimistic. But there is a lesson to be drawn from attempts to make in-roads into the Mafia, a tactic that could assist in the Mbeki-led negotiations. Pentito - he who has repented, is a term often used to designate former members of the Mafia who have abandoned it to collaborate with the authorities. The plural is Pentiti. Pentiti receive the protection of the law, shorter prison terms, sometimes complete freedom, new identities, even employment, in exchange for information they provide about the Mafia.
The question, therefore, is whether one could make Pentiti out of some leading members of the Zanu PF Family, in the broader sense of willingness to cooperate and assist the pro-democracy movement, because clearly, in order to stand a chance in breaking the compromised electoral system, this movement needs those with insider knowledge and influence in the system. Indeed, justifying the use of Pentiti, a former President of the Italian Antimafia Commission, Luciano Violante, remarked, “We do not find information about the Mafia among nuns." There are many people that feel strongly against Zanu PF leaders but arguably, the opposition needs the cooperation of Pentiti to neutralise the institutionalised electoral rigging process.
But the problem is that becoming a Pentito is very risky – it puts one’s personal family at risk, which is often why the family publicly disowns the Pentito for disgracing the family. This means that the incentive for abandoning the Family must be greater for one to become a Pentito. Indeed, to extend the definition of Pentito in the political context, it is about giving incentives to the key figures in the Zanu PF Family to retire in return for their own protection against retribution. Indeed, the question must be whether or not in the negotiation itself, Mugabe can be persuaded to become a Pentito?
This is where the idea of immunity from prosecution, suggested more recently by leading Zimbabwean publisher, Trevor Ncube among others, assumes relevance. Perhaps Mugabe’s biggest personal fear is the spectre of prosecution when he loses the protection of the presidential immunity once he leaves power. The question therefore is, as part of the Mbeki mediation process, whether or not Zimbabweans are prepared to privilege pragmatism over principle, and offer the immunity in exchange for the Capo di tutti Capi’s departure? There is understandable pain, visible anger and a voracious appetite for retribution but is there not a high price to pay to secure a fresh start for the country?
When law enforcement authorities grant privileges to Pentiti in exchange for information, they are criticised because the system has risks but it is a system that has in some cases has enabled authorities to make considerable in-roads against the Mafia. Granting a safe harbour to Mugabe in exchange for a fresh start might have its own limitations, but it is certainly a pragmatic option to consider in the Mbeki-led mediation process. Anything to arrest the current decline is necessary. But are Zimbabweans ready to allow the Capo di tutti Capi to become a Pentito?
Dr Magaisa can
be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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