When Mugabe goes: Three scenarios for Zim

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WITH the dust slowly settling from the disputed July 2013 Zimbabwe election, attention shifts to what might happen if – indeed, when – Robert Mugabe departs. This is likely the next major political event on the beleaguered country’s calendar.
It is wishful thinking to believe anything other than economic stagnation if not outright decline face Zimbabweans under continued rule by Mugabe and Zanu PF. Central to Mugabe’s rule has been rent-seeking, patronage and poor governance allowing him to maintain allies despite the economy’s collapse. The stabilisation measures introduced by Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) ministers with the advent of the coalition government in 2009 were at best tolerated by Zanu PF and never enthusiastically endorsed. Now even those reforms may be reversed as Zanu PF has unfettered control over the government.
More than 33 years after he took over running Zimbabwe, Mugabe is not going to change his ways. In his recent September speech to the 68th UN General Assembly, he railed against his Western adversaries who had dared to place and now retain personal travel and financial sanctions on him and his key associates“Shame, shame, shame to the United States of America. Shame, shame, shame to Britain and its allies”, said the 89-year old, “Zimbabwe is for Zimbabweans, so are its resources. Please remove your illegal and filthy sanctions from my peaceful country”.
Equally, it is wishful thinking to anticipate that Mugabe, his election victory behind him, will be more accommodating to Western firms, not press ahead with plans to ‘indigenise’ existing foreign investors, and to be nice to his domestic critics. While it is comforting to believe Zanu PF will keep the US$ and the SA Rand as Zimbabwe’s currency, it will be tempting for Zanu PF to attempt to reassert sovereignty and offer the possibility for rewarding the party faithful by reintroducing the Zim dollar.
And if the economy does not soon improve, as it probably will not, whatever Zanu PF’s charm offensive and promise of a softer policy line, as things get tougher, politics will harden, probably with violent consequences. In the circumstances, the type of Investment that might come to Zimbabwe is likely not to be worried about governance niceties, and in fact interested in investing specifically because of the absence of good governance, in so doing reinforcing a vicious cycle of governance and development failure.Advertisement

It is rational thus only to imagine change when Mugabe goes. Even when that happens, things may get worse before they get much better, if ever they do. Change will be necessary because the team below Mugabe is the same group that devastated farm output, led the country to 6.5 sextillion percent hyperinflation by 2008 before the coalition government, chronic forex and fuel shortages, collapse of health-care and education systems, and forced an estimated three million over the border to seek succour in South Africa.
It is also the same bunch that has pilfered the proceeds from diamonds and apparently turned a blind eye to wholesale cigarette smuggling to South Africa, from which trades predominantly the party and not Zimbabwe’s people have profited.
Three post-Mugabe scenarios are now imaginable:
Zanu PF consolidates. This could occur either around Vice President Joyce Mujuru or Emmerson Mnangagwa, one-time guerrilla, long-time Mugabe understudy and currently Minister of Justice. If this scenario was to occur, expect more of the same politically and economically with little likelihood of positive policy shift. To the contrary, fractured relationships within Zanu PF over the leadership struggle could result in a deepening of patronage to keep key party players on-side, including the oft-mooted nationalisation of mines and banks among other producing assets, which would be financially ruinous.
Of course, one of these may surprisingly prove a FW De Klerk, like the apartheid cabinet minister, a closet reformer shrewdly and patiently biding their time. However, no one in Zanu PF has to date indicated that the time to make a deal is now and has the courage and sheer political will to bring their side along, a perspective and attributes that were critical to De Klerk’s successful participation in the SA transition.
A new coalition. Mujuru is Mugabe’s automatic successor, baring a revolt in Zanu PF. It is not impossible to imagine her cementing her power-base against her Zanu PF rivals by bringing the MDC into her government. This would grant her wider domestic support and international legitimacy – and, crucially, then money to keep the wheels turning. Co-option is attractive to some MDC elements, since it offers time at the trough. But while there may be a veneer of respectability to this option, there is a danger that this perpetuates the same old crony capitalist, statist policies which got the country into trouble in the first instance.
Wholesale change. This would have to involve new elections and a government elected on the basis of change, perhaps prompted by an outright economic collapse plus a failure of the post-Mugabe Zanu PF leadership to consolidate.  However, if the opposition MDC is to be the agent of change, it would have to get its act together in unprecedented fashion. Given its hapless showing in the last election, participating in a process it then cried foul over, competing successfully against Zanu PF in the future will in all likelihood require an injection of new leadership.  There may be no other way to regain international and domestic confidence in the party.
The latter two scenarios offer the prospect for fresh and positive economic direction. Indeed, as MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai put it after the flawed July poll, ‘you can’t rig an economy’. But the wholesale change scenario is unlikely, not least given Zanu PF is not obliged to go back to the polls in the event of Mugabe’s demise. And Zanu PF may face little other pressure to leave power after Mugabe given the muted criticism of the July process by a southern African region that is focussed mainly on ensuring stability in Zimbabwe in the short-term.
The prospects for immediate change after Mugabe – whenever that will be – are much more limited despite the belief of those who view him as the exclusive problem.
Jeffrey Herbst is President of Colgate University in the US; Greg Mills directs the Johannesburg-based Brenthurst Foundation. They are co-authors most recently of ‘Africa’s Third Liberation’.