PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe’s recent statements ostensibly initiating debate on his succession are unlikely to generate useful public discourse as long as a democratic framework for discussion is absent, analysts say.
They say Mu
gabe’s remarks have so far failed to stimulate serious debate, particularly within his party, largely because the issue has not been officially tabled for proper deliberation.
If the debate is to be meaningful, analysts say, Mugabe must first announce when he is leaving and then lay down the rules of engagement. There should be clear modalities of how people can articulate their opinions.
Political analyst Lovemore Madhuku said given Zanu PF’s Marxist command structure, in which the force amalgamating the people, party and state into one entity is Mugabe, there could be no effective debate on succession.
“It would be difficult to have open debate on Mugabe’s succession because some people don’t even think he is serious about it,” he said.
Madhuku said Mugabe just wanted to sound like a benevolent leader allowing his followers to tread on what was seen as scared ground.
Analysts say Zanu PF may introduce the issue formally during its December annual conference. Yet they also suspect Mugabe is trying to ward off pressure on his buffeted stewardship by pretending to be on a democratic reform path.
Although his remarks have also been taken by some to mean he is about to retire, others fear it is just part of his customary brinkmanship. They think he is trying to maintain his position on the edge of the current crisis.
As it is, instead of provoking thoughtful debate, Mugabe’s cagey remarks – which seem aimed at easing pressure on him over the increasingly pressing issue – have only managed to fuel speculation over his currently uncertain political future, analysts point out.
Mugabe first declared his succession debate – for years treated as a political taboo – open and encouraged people to openly discuss it in a recent interview with ZBC. He also indicated his retirement could be approaching.
Last week Mugabe followed that up with vague remarks in Mashonaland Central province.
Addressing a rally last Thursday in Mount Darwin, about 160 km north-east of Harare, Mugabe said people were free to openly discuss his succession, but warned his lieutenants against clandestine campaigns to take over from him.
“You must debate succession openly,” he told thousands of supporters. “We want to be true and open to each other and discuss as a united people, not cracking each other’s heads.”
Mugabe said he was aware that some of his party’s top leaders were seeking divine intervention to succeed him.
“I am aware of what is happening. Some top leaders are consulting ancestral spirits and traditional healers to enhance their political fortunes,” he said. “But it’s not about ancestral spirits, it’s about unity and people’s wishes.”
However, despite Mugabe’s statements, those harbouring presidential ambitions are still unable to overcome their fear and come out of the closet. They seem scared of sanctions associated with expressing interest in Mugabe’s job.
Iconoclasts often cite the precedent within Zanu PF to explain the issue.
Sidelined ruling party maverick, Eddison Zvobgo, once considered a potential future leader, was pushed to the periphery of the party for declaring his interest in Mugabe’s throne.
Others now seem afraid. Perceived potential Mugabe successors including Speaker of Parliament Emmerson Mnangagwa plead they have no interest in occupying the highest office in the land, despite engaging themselves in activities that suggest primary presidential campaigning.
Mnanangwa, who is also Zanu PF secretary for administration, two weeks ago claimed he had no interest in becoming president under cross-examination in a High Court case in which it was alleged he had unlawfully released prisoners while he was Justice Minister.
Others like Defence minister Sydney Sekeramayi, Special Affairs minister and Zanu PF chairman John Nkomo and former Finance minister Simba Makoni, who are also seen as possible presidential candidates, have actually remained mum on the issue.
As if to dramatise this deep-rooted culture of fear, Zanu PF spokesman Nathan Shamuyarira was quoted in the press saying the succession debate was not an issue at the moment despite discernible shifts and changes in the ruling party over the matter.
“That is not an issue at all,” Shamuyarira was quoted as saying. “Do you expect us to form an organisation to debate the succession of the President?” He reportedly said, in line with the party’s constitution, members would later select Mugabe’s successor during the ruling party’s congress next year.
Zanu PF has a deeply embedded political culture – the manner in which people in a society perceive the state and their role in it – of gullibility and apprehension.
Political analyst Ibbo Mandaza, who is seen as closely linked with Zanu PF, said Mugabe’s statements on his succession indicated that he was about to retire.
“I think basically, it’s confirmation that he is about to retire,” Mandaza said. “But it would be helpful if he as the leader of Zanu PF would launch the issue formally and put down modalities of how it should be managed within party structures.”
Mandaza said as long as there is no official debate on the issue, like through a party congress, “speculation, anxiety and even division will persist”.
While Mugabe is still in charge, Zanu PF political barons are already looking beyond his tenure of office and consolidating their positions for a take over when he finally retires.
There have been numerous reports that Mugabe’s lieutenants are fiercely intensifying their efforts to seize strategic positions in the escalating battle for political ascendancy.
The scramble for power in Zanu PF revolves around factions that have for sometime been slugging it out against each other.
Retired army General Solomon Mujuru, Mnangagwa, and Information minister Jonathan Moyo are seen as leading the groups fighting for Mugabe’s crown.
Critics say what is currently happening in the ruling Zanu PF is not unusual. Authoritarian regimes have been generally considered to be fragile in that they are unable to cope with adversity like economic crisis, resolve internal conflicts, respond to competing interests and demands, modernise themselves and, above all, ensure smooth succession.
They are also unable to institutionalise themselves because they rely on brute coercion to maintain their rule.
They often collapse when faced with civil disobedience and instability or military disaffection. History is replete with examples from Roman emperors to present-day despots.
Given the current growing social instability, it may be so with Zimbabwe although the situations are different in time and space.
While the contours of Mugabe’s regime are easy to draw, the substance of his power and authority as well as legitimacy are precariously shrinking. His power building blocks – the army, intelligence service, police, and the parasitic hangers-on in the patronage network – are also showing signs of fading allegiance.
With reports that the army and other security agencies are no longer irretrievably behind Mugabe, except top generals whose fates are inextricably linked with his, the volatile state of flux is a recipe for change. But the suppressed succession debate, unless allowed to flow within a well-defined and democratic political framework, could provide the catalyst for an unanticipated maelstrom.