Sam declines to ‘play it again’

nt-family: ‘Times New Roman’; mso-fareast-language: JA”>PRESIDENT Sam Nujoma’s announcement this week that he will not seek another term after 2005 is instructive. He has already had the constitution amended to allow him to serve the third term he is now completing. That move was opposed by Namibia’s emergent civil society which said no leader should consider himself indispensable. By announcing his determination to go in 2005 he has cleared the air and given Namibians a chance to plan their future.

Africa’s post-Independence history is littered with big men who failed to deliver — but still wouldn’t get out of the way to allow others a chance. Malawi’s Kamuzu Banda hung on for 30 years and Zaire’s Mobutu Sese Seko for 32 years. Gabon’s Omar Bongo has been in office since 1967 — the same time as Togo’s Gnassingbe Eyadema. Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi came to power in 1969 and Cameroon’s Paul Biya has been at the helm since 1982.

While Julius Nyerere and Kenneth Kaunda eventually relinquished the reins of office, it is arguable that both stayed on longer than their national usefulness required, Kaunda only going when he had to after 27 years.

Constitutional drafters in this country attempted to limit a future head of state to two terms but President Mugabe’s friends on the constitutional commission ensured that rule would not apply to him.

Mugabe claims he still has something to offer the people of Zimbabwe. But on closer inspection that appears to be more of the same — all the way through to 2008.

Nujoma’s remarks on Wednesday concerning his departure are particularly relevant. Some people were demanding that he stay on, he said referring to traditional leaders. But, he said, “I must give a chance to the young people to run the country. Age doesn’t wait for anybody.”

Nujoma will continue to preside over his party. But his example, coming on the heels of a similar decision by President Joaquim Chissano, reinforces a democratic consensus that, in the words of Eddison Zvobgo, provides the public with a clear indication of just how long somebody coming into office is likely to stay there. “On the day of their coming in, the public will know the day of their going out.”

Mugabe has served as prime minister for seven years and president for 16. He is currently serving his third elected term amidst record inflation, rising unemployment, state brutality, and fiscal delinquency. He manifestly doesn’t have answers to the country’s problems and continues to compound those problems by refusing to recognise their cause. Government’s incontinent tax-and-spend policies have fuelled inflation which in turn distorts the exchange rate. This isn’t a conspiracy; it’s basic economics, the same the world over.

It is true that international lenders won’t put their hands in their pockets for him. But that’s because his government has refused to produce a workable plan for economic recovery. The international community cannot be expected to throw good money after bad into the bottomless pit of Zimbabwe’s mismanaged economy.

Business leaders attending this week’s session of the National Economic Consultative Forum raised the issue of government’s non-compliance with previous undertakings which has blocked external assistance. But Mugabe, in a move that best reflects his attitude towards the non-governmental community, chose to snub the NECF’s deliberations by instead attending a ceremony at which computers were donated to a school.

With declining revenues from tobacco, minerals and tourism, all the result of his policies, and inflation escalating by the day, the forex crisis is set to deepen. The NECF recognises that, even though it has been slow to voice its concerns, and every economist in the country knows where it is leading.

But Mugabe and a coterie of ambitious advisors clinging to his coat-tails insist that they have the answers, none of which has worked to date. This is a case of the big man in politics not getting out of the way when all he can do is damage the country further. It has all to do with ego and pride and nothing to do with the national interest.

Sam Nujoma, a devoted disciple of our president, has at least recognised something Mugabe is blind to: the need to give others a chance. After all, they could hardly do any worse!

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