ZIMBABWE is at a crossroads. The country’s population is facing a myriad of problems ranging from economic to social and political challenges. The challenges facing the nation require a young, energetic and able leader who has both the time and the ability to concentrate on what needs to be done.
President Robert Mugabe, who is the country’s leader, turned 90 in February. He is a man of advanced age, suffering from poor health and the constrictions of old age. Expecting Mugabe to take charge of the pressing needs of the nation in between his eye cataract treatment and rumoured cancer therapy is expecting too much from the old man. At 90, President Mugabe can no longer cope with the demands of a nation in turmoil.
Although he was re-elected last year for the umpteenth time, his election victory was greeted with wonder, scepticism and justified worry about the future of the country. His uncanny ability to survive one election after the other has come to characterise his presidency, however coming with direct costs to both the country and future generations.
A man overly reliant on both his trusted liberation comrades and a partisan security force to extend his grip on power, Mugabe’s final years in office are proving to be both challenging and a great disappointment to the nation. You name any category of leadership and the results pretty much range from disappointment to disaster.
Some may blame this analysis for typecasting Mugabe as ineffective but facts on the ground bear witness to that assertion. Looking at all economic and social data, the scientific fact which emerges is that his Zanu PF government is edging the country towards total ruin and destruction.
Mugabe can no longer cope with the pace of educated but corrupt and greedy crooks who are presiding over many of the country’s institutions both in the public and private sectors. There is abundant and shocking moral dereliction going unpunished. The situation is worsened by the country’s corrupt police force and an incompetent Prosecutor General who has thus far failed to successfully prosecute any high profile corruption case.
For years Mugabe has been packaged, commoditised and sold to the public as the country’s political messiah. But the truth is that Mugabe is no longer anything close to the able leader that his most avid promoters insist he is. His supporters appear to be living in factually different alternate universes.Advertisement
Only last year, Mugabe was reported to be enjoying a public restoration. Mugabe’s critics will be forgiven for arguing that last year’s voting pattern is testament to how quickly we forget the past. On the policy front, his government appears clueless. His cabinet ministers are mere spectators to the unfolding drama of economic decline.
Since Mugabe’s re-election, the situation on the ground has worsened. Instead of creating more than two million jobs as promised during the election campaign, the country’s industries are continuing to shed more jobs with thousands having lost their jobs in the last 10 months alone. Hordes of unemployed youths roam the streets aimlessly every day. Those who are fortunate enough to have jobs in the civil service are not sure of their next pay day. Treasury is struggling with the wage bill every month.
The majority of people are now informal traders, selling wares at every street corner. The country’s iconic First Street in Harare which used to be synonymous with the nation’s financial district has been turned into a tomato and vendors’ market. The country’s infrastructure is in a state of neglect. Potholes are everywhere. Urban councils are failing to provide the necessary services. The economy in general and the finance industry in particular is facing a debilitating liquidity crisis.
The agriculture sector is not spared either. State institutions such as the GMB and Cottco which are responsible for buying crops and cotton from farmers are almost broke, further worsening the plight of rural peasant farmers. The government is even failing to compensate victims of Tokwe Mukorsi, a disaster created by the administration’s poor planning. All these are signs of a country in serious trouble.
His government’s about-turn on the controversial indigenisation policy is indicative of the desperate situation his team is facing. His ‘look east’ policy has failed to attract the much needed foreign direct investment. Instead, his looking east has rewarded him with a sore and problematic eye. As expected, his government is beginning to look west particularly Europe, a block he has repeatedly mocked and chastised for its imperialist tendencies.
However, the departure of Mugabe must not be entirely without notice and due credit. As one of the beneficiaries of Mugabe’s benevolent educational policy in the early 80s, it takes an immense amount of courage and intellectual honesty to deal with the facts. His government has provided free education to millions of poor Zimbabweans immediately after the country’s independence.
Although criticised as a political gimmick characterised by partisan politics and nepotism, his government also distributed land to millions of landless blacks whose livelihoods depend solely on farming. There is abundant evidence to suggest that Zimbabwe’s intellectual scholarship is divided over the land issue.
But why does Mugabe want to die in office? Some argue that his contemptuous attitude towards retirement is influenced by his past. During his formative political career years, he spent more than a decade in detention reportedly for political activism. In the early 80s, he presided over a government fighting a civil war under which atrocious crimes were allegedly committed by his military. These experiences and commissions could have influenced his desire to die in office both due to a sense of eternal entitlement and fear of reprisals should he retire.
On the other hand however, Mugabe’s continued stay in power is partly due to the quality of opposition within our body politic. None of the current players is remotely qualified to lead a nation so bedevilled with problems. Our political theatre lacks a charismatic leader who is transformational, an organic thinker and astute strategist. Of the current players, Welshman Ncube is a selfish individual who keeps personal vendettas and has no qualities to lead a nation. Simba Makoni is an overrated fellow who jumps from one political friendship to the next with no clear vision.
Morgan Tsvangirai is politically blind and has failed to utilise his popularity to propel himself to the presidency. Tendai Biti, the new rebel kid on the block is proving to be a political novice and amateur with nothing to offer except his ‘Tsvangirai must go’ mantra. Arthur Mutambara did well to keep quiet after realising his student activism was different from national politics. Dumiso Dabengwa should simply retire from active politics for he is clueless about what needs to be done.
Within Zanu PF itself, the situation is no better. Those who are rumoured to be vying for Mugabe’s post are equally inept. His immediate junior, vice president Mujuru, has time and again provided worrying glimpses of her leadership qualities. She was recently filmed condoning corruption, a shocking portrait of leadership deficiencies. Her long-time nemesis Emmerson Mnangagwa is no different. Besides thinking that his friendship with the military top brass is a ticket to the presidency, he has done nothing to suggest that he is a capable leader. Zanu PF appears to have no immediate and credible alternative to stand as successor.
After 34 years in power, time has told a tale of friendships and perennial foes within Zanu PF. In his grand scheme of continuous survival, President Mugabe has surreptitiously promoted or, at the very least, turned a blind eye to factionalism within his party while openly ridiculing those with ambition to take over from him. That has been his hallmark stratagem for dying in office. For more than three decades, Mugabe has kept both his party and the nation guessing about his retirement plans if any.
But who will take over from Mugabe? Judging by the characters and calibre of possible successors both within and outside Zanu PF, the picture which emerges is not impressive. None of them can take Mugabe’s position and steer the country out of its problems. The solution lies in having these top politicians work together under a coalition government. The best way forward will be to form a government where Joyce Mujuru becomes the country’s President deputised by Morgan Tsvangirai. The arrangement that was obtaining during the GNU era where the country had a Prime Minister should be re-introduced. Simba Makoni becomes Prime Minister deputised by Simon Khaya Moyo.
If however the country wants to maintain the traditional setup of two vice Presidents, then Mujuru should become President deputised by Tsvangirai as first vice President while Simon Khaya Moyo becomes second vice President. Simba Makoni remains Prime Minister deputised by Mnangagwa. Painful to fathom as it may appear, ‘never’ is not a word to be used in the game of politics. The suggested arrangement is the only viable option that will provide the much needed political balance as all major political players will be included. The country needs true leaders who are ready and willing to compromise. The situation calls for genuine and concerted diplomatic activity towards the proposed end.
Mugabe has done his part. It is highly irresponsible for Zimbabweans in general and Zanu PF in particular to keep flogging and pushing Mugabe to continue with the race yet signs appear to show a limping man who is in no shape to keep going. The country needs to take steps to prepare for his inevitable departure and protect its future. The impending December Zanu PF congress may be the convenient platform to use as an opportunity for achieving an outcome that benefits both the nation and his party.
Our fears and compulsions are accounting for the economic mess we are in as a country. Whatever the case, the nation and in particular Zanu PF should put on the gauntlet and bite the bullet. That dreaded time for retiring Mugabe is now for the sake of the nation. In part, the legitimacy of his presidency must be derived from his ability to effectively carry out his executive duties, a role he is no longer able to play.
When change finally comes and people begin to compare, Mugabe’s final years in office will emerge as the most catastrophic ever. His legacy will be more disastrous for his party Zanu PF which will struggle to shake off the negative image created by his presidency.
Wezhira Marihwepi is a Zimbabwean writer. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org