By Cris Chogugudza
WHEN President Robert Mugabe first announced his intentions to retire in 2008 at the end of his current term, I and many others paused a little and wished 2008 was lik
e next year. It appears most Zimbabweans at home and in the diaspora cannot wait that long for the man to resign.
Mugabe has been at the helm of the country for 25 years and 10 of them have been wasted.
His announcement and subsequent re-announcements to retire in 2008 seem to have fallen on deaf ears, quite rightly because the plan does not address the immediate problems of the country which may be resolved if he announced that he is resigning within 12 to 18 months.
The complex nature of the country’s problems require a succession plan to be put in place sooner rather than later. Again, some people’s renewed interest in the Zanu PF succession plan stem from the “failure” of the once mighty opposition MDC party to unseat the increasingly unpopular but crafty Zanu PF leader through the polls.
Some have questioned the logic of having elections whose results do not reflect the popular will of the electorate. Mugabe can be succeeded by members of his own party or by the opposition through democratic elections or a bloodless popular uprising akin to the Orange Revolution in Ukraine.
Mugabe has committed a litany of errors which have made Zimbabweans sink deeper than countries such as Mozambique, the Central African Republic, Malawi and Tanzania in the UNDP development index. Mugabe does not seem convinced that his continued occupation of State House is increasingly becoming more of a liability than anything.
He is not at all concerned about the rapid death of the nation and the collapse of the economy. The man carefully talks about succession to soften people’s minds and divert their attention from matters important to their daily lives to only remotely important issues such as UN reform and his obsession with the Blair-Bush alliance in world politics.
Mugabe uses the succession debate so tactfully in the same way he talked about land reform to absolve himself from the obvious blame on the status quo which has made some of us, especially in the diaspora, lose our pride and respect among fellow Africans.
The Zanu PF elite does not seem to understand how crucial a properly planned succession could help in resolving our current problems at home.
In the UK, the ruling Labour Party is already openly discussing Tony Blair’s succession and the opposition Conservatives are doing the same. In France and other progressive democracies of the West and elsewhere, succession is more of a palatable topic than a taboo as in Zimbabwe. Closer to home in Botswana, Tanzania, Namibia, Zambia and South Africa, succession plans proved to be very effective and had a stabilising effect on the economies and politics of the countries, debatable though in the case of Tanzania and Zambia.
Early succession to Mugabe has never before been as important to Zimbabweans as it is now. The issue of succession will always help people, business and industry to plan ahead in a predictable fashion.
Analysts believe that Zanu PF’s lack of clarity on the succession issue could be a way of reinforcing its personality cult, or great leader concept on Mugabe. This has the effect of Zanu PF apportioning blame on the new leader for the problems created by Mugabe if there is chaos during the transition from Mugabe to whoever – whether Zanu PF, MDC or United People’s Movement.
It is manifestly true beyond any reasonable doubt that Mugabe’s hostile foreign policy against the West compounded by archaic and ineffective economic policies reminiscent of the banana republics of the 1970s and 80s have worsened Zimbabwe’s crisis and are largely responsible for the current state of affairs in Zimbabwe.
Conventional wisdom states that you do not fight the West, UK and US in particular, irrespective of how seemingly vindicated your course could be.
The result is that you will be ignored and condemned to starvation if you are a small country.
The MDC on its part has a responsibility to the people of Zimbabwe, especially the urban folk, to try and analyse its own policies and leadership style and possibly effect some changes at the top. This may be the only way the opposition can ever succeed in reclaiming the people’s stolen mandate.
If the MDC does not reflect very seriously on its leadership structures and style, it risks being thrown to the very fringes of national politics and could still remain in opposition for the next 20 years as what happened to President Abdulaye Wade of Senegal.
The MDC, like the Conservatives in the UK, may need rebranding or reinvigorating to be effective and be prepared to succeed Mugabe and his Zanu PF party in the ascendancy at any time. Essentially, the MDC needs to behave like a government-in-waiting. What this means is replacing the party president or the president replacing some of his rotten apples, which like their adversaries in Zanu PF are ineffective, and becoming increasingly irrelevant to the contemporary geo-politics of Zimbabwe.
The re-branding exercise may be painful but necessary and may result in losing some influential but lethargic and irrelevant figureheads. The problem of the opposition’s failure to reform accordingly may result in the MDC being relegated to a stay-way party or a mere debating society where people just meet to demonise the Zanu PF monster without challenging it.
The current bickering about the senate election is unnecessary and could have been avoided as a matter of principle. Some important decisions need not be referred to the democratic process all the times.
Rivalries, divisions, polarisation of ideas, personality clashes and disagreements are characteristics of powerful parties and the most important thing is the management of those issues to levels of sanity which may result in the party being stronger. In view of the aforementioned, I take the current “power struggles” in the MDC aristocracy as an inevitable passing phase.
If the differences become irreconcilable then factionalism becomes inevitable and the stronger faction should be allowed to prevail as long as it has the support of the majority of the people. Similar trends happened to the ANC giving birth to PAC and Zapu giving birth to Zanu.
However, if anything, a split in the MDC should be the last thing the people of Zimbabwe wish for now.
The Zanu PF succession plan may succeed if the MDC does not change its national leadership style and structure. If the leadership changes are delayed in the MDC, Zanu PF may decimate the opposition and become the only player in the succession game with its backbenchers being the de facto opposition.
The people of Zimbabwe may be seemingly docile, devoid of the vigour that characterised the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, but are still eager to invest their votes and political future in an MDC party that evolves and responds to the changing leadership demands of the 21st century politics. A rebranded MDC appears to be the only answer to a chaotic Zanu PF succession plan.
In fact, contrary to the overwhelming consensus of public opinion within the establishment, Zanu PF succession’s rhetoric could be a gimmick to either buy time or test the waters so that they can extend Mugabe’s term to 2010.
* Cris Chogugudza is a London-based Zimbabwean.