Mugabe’s battered ego not the priority

NOTHING could be more calculated to prejudice Zimbabwe’s ailing economy than a two-year election campaign. President Mugabe announced last Thursday in Shur

ugwi that he was on the campaign trail.

“We should start preparing for the 2005 election now because 2005 is not far away,” he was quoted as saying.

In fact 2005 is a long way off. And the last thing this country needs is more disruption, political violence and uncertainty. Admittedly Mugabe urged war veterans and Zanu PF youths not to be lawless. But only days before in Nyanga, his inciteful remarks about Roy Bennett had been followed by Zanu PF supporters  — youths and war veterans — moving on to Bennett’s Ruwa Farm where they reportedly looted property worth close to $60 million. Cattle and sheep were slaughtered.

On Saturday shots were fired when CIO agents and police officers arrested workers at Bennett’s Charleswood Estate in Chimanimani despite a High Court order preventing interference there.

This month two editors at the ANZ stable were charged under Posa for publishing material that could engender hostility towards the president.

Quite clearly Mugabe intends to hide behind the cover of oppressive legislation that enables him to get away with saying what he likes, no matter how damaging to others, while preventing his critics from saying too much about his own record. At the same time his supporters, backed by state agents, will act with impunity in targeting political opponents, even where they are elected MPs enjoying the protection of the courts.

This is an election campaign Zimbabwe needs like a hole in the head. But it should be seen as Mugabe’s answer to the current diplomacy aimed at prodding him towards the negotiating table. He may now be prepared to go earlier than 2008. The year 2005 would appear to be an optimal date providing a presidential poll in tandem with parliamentary elections.

Any change to constitutional electoral provisions would require a two-thirds majority in parliament or opposition approval. A defeat for the MDC would be preferable, he no doubt reckons, to a transitional government. But that is not guaranteed, even with his persuasive means! Nor are by-elections which are likely to confirm existing patterns of support.

Resignation is out of the question, which removes the option of an automatic election within 90 days — Morgan Tsvangirai’s favoured route.

Constitutional amendments providing for a prime minister have been suggested as an option that would lift the 79-year-old president above the political fray while a new party leader takes the helm. Again, opposition support through the mechanism of a transitional government would make all this so much easier.

But “easy” is not Mugabe’s style. He may indeed be under unprecedented pressure — both from his neighbours and within the country — to bow out. President Thabo Mbeki appears to think something is about to give. But our suspicion is that before any of that happens Mugabe will want to wave his fists one more time.

What we are seeing now is probably less of an election tour, more an exercise in self-affirmation. He wants to shake off the “prisoner of State House” image created by months of self-imposed isolation as the political and economic crisis deepened and the MDC took the political initiative. Hence the turning of the tables on Tsvangirai as the opposition leader became the prisoner of the “State House” remand prison. And then it was back to the land — the only policy Mugabe has left.

Price controls, Nerp, trade ties with the East — all have fallen through as we knew they would because they were based on illusions. So it’s back to the land demagoguery all the way.

Mugabe wants to bond with his rural supporters because they provide a comfort zone against the looming power of the cities with their “disloyal” populations. Touring his rural bastions he can find solace in a liberation-war legacy that proved him right and others wrong. Zimbabwe’s revolution was not staged in the cities as Zapu had hoped but in the rural reaches where he had identified his support base. He will now go out the same door he came in basking in the contrived adulation of a semi-starving but artificially-stimulated electorate. That way he will prove — at least to himself — that he is still popular.

Meanwhile, the nation will suffer the consequences of his misrule. Inflation — the product of tax, borrow and spend delinquency — will hit people hard as everything becomes unaffordable. Herbert Murerwa was reported in this paper last week as admitting the failure of price controls. He said he plans to drop them. But we can guess the same people who are banning the carrying of fuel containers and banknotes will give him his marching orders.

The worst possible minds are now applying themselves to managing a siege economy. Those with any skill or intelligence have been marginalised. Ask Eddison Zvobgo or Simba Makoni!

Despite the pocket of carrots Mugabe was shown shouldering in Shurugwi, the land is barren. Agricultural production is down 70%. Irrigation machinery has been vandalised or stolen, wildlife and domestic stock poached.

Mugabe may like to pose for his rural audience as the great deliverer but really he is the great pretender. His legacy is one of desolation. It is not another election we need so the president can nurse his battered ego. It is a leader who can deliver recovery. He manifestly can’t.

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