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Ageing politicians manifest leadership renewal failure

PICTURE this: Zimbabwe’s top three politicians, President Robert Mugabe and his two deputies Joice Mujuru and John Nkomo, have been in senior government posts for a combined total of 80 years.

Their average age is 72,3 years, meaning Zimbabwe’s leadership is one of the world’s most ageing.
Across the Limpopo, South African President Jacob Zuma and his deputy, Kgalema Motlanthe have an average age of 64,5 years.
In the United States, President Barak Obama, his deputy, Joe Biden and secretary of state Hillary Clinton have an average of 60 years.
Analysts say Zimbabwe’s ageing leadership shows how Zanu PF, in power since Independence in 1980, has failed to effectively deal with leadership renewal.
They say Mugabe’s pledge to run again for a fresh five–year term means it could be too late for Zanu PF to inject fresh blood. Mugabe’s decision to stay on — and his party’s failure to force him to step down — could result in Zanu PF failing to save itself from a fate similar to that of regional post-liberation parties that became extinct because of leadership renewal failures.
Mugabe, 86, was one of the key figures who founded Zanu PF in 1963. He took over the leadership of the party in 1976 before becoming the first leader of an independent Zimbabwe in 1980.
So much has happened since then and questions have arisen over Mugabe’s ability to adapt to the changing political, economic and social terrain that includes the advent of cyber-technology.
From an anti-imperialist party during the liberation war to a declared “socialist” party in the 1980s, a neo-liberal one in the 1990s, and of late a populist movement, Zanu PF has been under the tutelage of Mugabe.
As a result, the younger generation has accepted playing a peripheral role, and has had to contend with using its hanger-on links with the older generation to improve chances of making money. Some, such as Simba Makoni, have left the party to pursue political careers outside Zanu PF.
Makoni, who founded Mavambo/Kusile/Dawn (MKD) and stood but lost the 2008 presidential elections, says of Zanu PF: “There was no succession plan and there continues to be no plan.”
Ibbo Mandaza, an academic and publisher who served in government soon after Independence and was later involved in the formation of MKD, said the failure to renew leadership was “a disaster to say the least”.
“It has killed the party (Zanu PF),” said Mandaza this week. “As a result of this, when Mugabe goes, then it will be the end of Zanu PF. At the moment, it is all factions.”
Factionalism within Zanu PF, he said, should be viewed as a muffled attempt at leadership renewal. But the faction leaders, Solomon Mujuru, 61, and Emmerson Mnangagwa, 64, lacked enough clout to convince Mugabe to allow for succession.
Even if Mugabe were to leave now, the two, despite their relative young ages, could fail to connect with a breed of new voters from the younger generation who don’t find appeal in Zanu PF’s nationalist mantras, analysts say.
Scholars accuse liberation movements of often lacking the craft-literacy and craft-competency (the ability to come up with policies and be able to implement them) to take the countries they would have liberated beyond Independence to economic growth.
The pain of the transition from the bush to the office, if not managed well, could cause ruptures as the new administrators would make proclamations and damaging policies in the heat of the moment, according to scholars that have studied post-liberation politics.
They cite the case of Mozambique’s Front for Liberation of Mozambique (Frelimo) in the mid 1970s when its leader Samora Machel expelled white Portuguese nationals upon assuming power.
There was massive sabotage of facilities and at the same time the whites fled with their skills, leaving the newly independent country unable to cope with the expectations of the people.
Most liberation movements consider leadership renewal a taboo, clinging on to an old guard that may not have the energy or competence to adapt to the fast changing political, economic and technological environment, say the scholars.
In Zambia, Kenneth Kaunda led the United National Independence Party to its own destruction and that of the country, while in Malawi a similar situation unfolded when Hastings Kamuzu Banda led the Malawi Congress Party for about 30 years. The party collapsed together with Banda in 1994 when it was pressured by the international community to hold Malawi’s first truly democratic elections.
University of Zimbabwe Political Science Professor Eldred Masunungure said failing to renew leaders could lead to the “decay” of an organisation.
“The organisation would either die or atrophy,” said Masunungure. “This has a very negative effect on the organisation and if it is the ruling party, the rest of politics and the economy.”
Masunungure said there were instances where it was culturally acceptable not to change leaders, for example traditional leadership.
“However, it is anachronistic in modern organisations to have leaders serving for too long,” said Masunungure. “We have had instances where leaders declare themselves publicly as life presidents. While there are some who may not have had the confidence and courage to make such declarations, it remains a problem.”

Leonard Makombe

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