PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe, turning 91 in February, has a punishing workload in the New Year at home and on the continent as he assumes the chairship of the African Union in addition to heading Sadc and presiding over a crumbling economy.
Elias Mambo/Herbert Moyo
This has raised concerns over the ability of Mugabe, currently on a month-long vacation in the Far East, to cope given his advanced age and deteriorating health.
Not only will Mugabe return home in January to Zimbabwe’s stubborn economic meltdown that showed signs of quickening this year exacerbated by widening cracks in his deeply divided Zanu PF party, he will also have to summon every ounce of energy to deal with a hectic, energy-saping schedule.
After his return on January 15 Mugabe is scheduled to chair a Sadc troika on Politics, Defence and Security meeting on the political crisis in Lesotho. He will also attend an African Union (AU) summit in Addis Ababa on January 30 and 31 where he will assume the continental organ’s chair.
Currently, the chair is held by Mauritanian president Mohamed Abdel Aziz on a one-year rotational period. The position rotates among the five regions of the continent.
However, political analysts say given Mugabe’s age and declining health he might not have the stamina to tackle problems bedevilling the Sadc region as well as Africa as a whole, in addition to turning around Zimbabwe’s economy and managing affairs of a faction-riddled party.
Political analyst Maxwell Saungweme said: “Mugabe is facing quite a tough time at home trying to deal with succession and factionalism in his party, while the economy and service delivery in the country is not improving but in fact worsening,” he said.
“Sadc is also facing many challenges and one wonders how an ailing and old Mugabe will manage the affairs of the regional block when he has failed to manage succession in his own party, and failed to run the economy and other aspects of a small country like Zimbabwe.”
Sadc and the AU have serious challenges ranging from civil conflicts in far-flung member states like Libya, Egypt, the DRC, Nigeria and Somalia.
Recently, the AU has been seized with problems in the Sahel region focussing on piracy which has caused havoc on international shipping, the threat posed in Nigeria by the Islamist militant group Boko Haram and Lord’s Resistance in Uganda.
Added all this is the Ebola epidemic which has killed thousands of people resulting in a virtual shutdown of some West African countries like Liberia and Sierra Leone.
Apart from dealing with trouble spots within the region, Mugabe will have his hands full trying to promote regional economic integration within Sadc.
Already Mugabe is frustrated with South Africa and Namibia’s refusal to sign a trade protocol during August’s Sadc summit in Victoria Falls.
He told journalists after officially closing the summit that South Africa should help in the industrialisation of the region rather than turn other countries into mere consumers of its products.
“We appealed to South Africa, which is highly industrialised, to lead us in this (industrialisation) and work with us, and co-operate with us and not just regard the whole continent as an open market for products from South Africa,” Mugabe said.
“We want a reciprocal relationship where we sell to each other and not just receive products from one source.”
Studies show African countries, including those in Sadc, have less trade among themselves compared to business they do with countries in other continents.
World Trade Organisation deputy director-general Valentine Sendanyoye Rugwabiza in 2012 presented a paper at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, indicating that trade among African countries, including within Sadc, is still very low — showing low levels of integration among the continent’s economies.
“Africa remains the most fragmented continent in the world with 54 countries with numerous border crossings. Intra-trade among African countries is very low. Last year, it stood at 10%,” she said.
“Intra-trade among the EU’s 27-member states is around 70%, 52% for Asian countries, 50% for North American countries and 26% for South American countries.”
The assumption of the Sadc chairship in August by Mugabe was controversial. Those opposed to Mugabe’s chairship argued that he still has serious legitimacy issues arising from the manner in which Zimbabwe conducted its general elections in July 2013, which were tainted by allegations of systematic rigging and voter disenfranchisement.
Among the challenges facing the region is the ongoing civil strife in the Democratic Republic of Congo where rebel groups continue to act with near impunity.
In Mozambique, Renamo rebels are threatening not only the country’s peace and security but also that of the region after rejecting the results of general elections held in October which the rebels lost.
Mugabe also has to oversee the smooth rehabilitation of Madagascar into the Sadc bloc. The island nation was suspended for an unconstitutional change of government in 2009.
Mugabe will chair Sadc until August 2015.
In addition to the herculean task of dealing with Sadc and AU problems, Mugabe has to grapple with the multi-faceted socio-economic challenges engulfing Zimbabwe.
These include an on-going liquidity crunch that has resulted in government failing to attract funding for its ambitious ZimAsset economic blueprint, which seeks to turn the economy around and arrest a slump that has seen a high rate of company closures and alarming job losses.
Added to the mix is the vicious in-fighting within his Zanu PF party, which has not stopped with the firing of Vice-President Joice Mujuru along several cabinet ministers and party officials all accused of plotting Mugabe’s ouster and even assassination.