Mugabe’s soft landing, exit strategy

IF one had to land in Zimbabwe these days from outer space, particularly before President Robert Mugabe’s rather uninspiring inauguration yesterday, they would be thunderstruck by the hype — mostly in the state media — about the re-election of the country’s frail, nearly 90-year-old leader.

Editor’s Memo with Dumisani Muleya

The real surprise would not necessarily be about Mugabe’s re-election at 89, a potential entry in the Guinness World (Book of) Records, which on its own is absurd, but the hysteria among his fanatics which might suggest to a stranger that he had been elected to such high office for the first time.

So the question to those who know Mugabe has previously won elections many times before, albeit controversially so since 2000, and led Zimbabwe for 33 years while he started yet another five-year term yesterday which will possibly extend his rule to 38 years in office at 94 without a break is: what’s the fuss all about?

Although it might appear like much ado about nothing to some, there seems to be a method in the madness.

There is a lot about this victory beyond defeating former premier Morgan Tsvangirai and his MDC-T party, and by extension their Western allies and, if you stretch it using Zanu PF’s warped Cold War logic, neo-colonialism and imperialist forces behind them.

The real issue appears to be about Mugabe’s grand exit. It looks like there is a script behind all this. In fact, the whole chain of events, starting well before elections, seems to be choreographed to give Mugabe, after years of failure, sustained scathing criticism at home and abroad, and humiliation, a great send-off.

Of course, Mugabe still has five years to serve ahead and he claimed before the polls he will see them through, but the grand exit script looks written all over this.

While he might have wanted his last inauguration yesterday to be a grand historic occasion, it turned out to be a lacklustre affair.
However, the script remains intact. Its thrust appears to be winning the elections first — which Mugabe and his cronies never doubted and even said so in public, begging the question: why? — and then co-opt Tsvangirai and others, including perhaps Welshman Ncube, and run a new government based on elite cohesion.

There was a hint at that towards the tail-end of Mugabe’s speech yesterday.

That way Mugabe gets legitimacy, which he badly needs, and an opportunity to ensure political and economic stability and recovery. This will enable him to have a grand exit from politics, whenever he will go whether before or at the end of his new term, leaving behind a stable Zimbabwe while rescuing whatever remains of his tattered legacy.

After his controversial rule characterised by political repression, human rights abuses, including killings, and economic ruin, as well as isolation, such an end to his reign would be a major turnaround.

Besides, it also gives him an opportunity to resolve his party’s protracted succession issue to save Zanu PF from possible disintegration after his departure.

Obviously state media journalists, vociferously singing praises for Mugabe, are largely happy simply because his win helps them retain their jobs, not because of any serious ideological convictions or political imperatives beyond keeping their snouts in the feeding trough.

So their celebrations and hagiographical eulogies, quite apart from crude ethical and professional aberrations, are understandable.

But the bigger picture is Mugabe’s grand exit. Evidently there are so many hurdles ahead, but if he pulls it off, such a plan would at least close some parts of the horror-ridden chapters of his disastrous authoritarian rule in Zimbabwe.


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