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Mugabe past his sell-by date

PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe’s nomination as Zanu PF’s candidate in the forthcoming general elections, given his old age, failing health and the way he is now out of touch with reality, is as preposterous as selecting a village headman to act as a rocket scientist leading a Mars exploration mission.

By William Muchayi

Since a typical village headman cannot match an astronautical engineer in terms of technical ability and capacity to run such a mission, the exploration would be doomed to fail, besides being a costly adventure for both the leader and his team.

Given that he is now struggling with old age complications, detached from current realities around him and unaware of what is actually happening and ought to be done to take Zimbabwe forward, Mugabe is certainly no longer suitable to lead Zanu PF into the next crucial elections. In short, he is now beyond his sell-by date and thus incapable of providing the required leadership in Zanu PF’s mission to win the next polls.

Ongoing attempts by the party to rebrand Mugabe’s battered image have reached new levels of desperation with the emergence of the “House of Gushungo” clothes brand which targets first-time voters and the urban electorate as these two groups would be crucial in the coming elections.

However, what Zanu PF fails to realise is that it is not the outward image of the party that matters most in luring voters, but what it stands for.

In 1980, Mugabe inherited a healthy and vibrant economy from the Rhodesians. The Rhodesian dollar was worth approximately the same as the British pound sterling.

Despite that the economy was coming from full United Nations sanctions, it was relatively strong.

Zimbabwe enjoyed gross domestic product  growth rates of 11% in 1980 and 10,7% in 1981, before it slumped to 1,4% in 1982 and declined by 4,2% in 1983 and 1984. There was a sharp growth of 9,3% in 1985 before another heavy retreat to 0,2% growth in 1986.

There was a general decade of recovery between 1986 and 1996 before the country embarked on an ill-advised intervention in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) war where the country spent an estimated US$1 billion.

Due to extended periods of economic mismanagement and decisions such the DRC war intervention, unbudgeted for war victims compensation, wasteful government expenditures, corruption and a series of misguided policies, the economy succumbed to the impact of structural problems and maladministration.

This was worsened by the badly executed land reform programme.

The Zimbabwean dollar took a deep plunge in 1997 and started its long journey to liquidation by 2009. This was after the unprecedented episodes of hyperinflation that ravaged the economy and lives of Zimbabweans. Few countries in the world have had that sort of an experience outside a war situation.

This record failure by Mugabe’s regime will go down in history as one of the most astonishing.

So, fielding such a candidate in a free and fair election would be a doomed mission.

No matter how Zanu PF tries to rebrand Mugabe, as long as Zimbabwe holds peaceful and credible elections in which voters are allowed to express themselves without undue hindrances, he will lose because his policies have been destructive.

The land reform policy was noble, but its execution was flawed. Genuine reforms need to be driven by the quest for justice and progress, not short-term political agendas.

When the MDC emerged in 1999 and Zanu PF resultantly lost support from discontented masses and the white community, Mugabe launched the chaotic and violent land reform programme to save his political career.

White farmers had to be targeted as retribution for dumping him and as a way of cutting the MDC’s financial lifeline. In the end, the land reform programme did very little to alleviate poverty among the masses as it largely advanced interests of a small political elite, while punishing those seen as sympathetic to the opposition.

Given all these failures, rebranding Mugabe and Zanu PF will not help much as it is like advertising an expired product.

The problem is, instead of rectifying his mistakes, Mugabe is always on the defensive blaming sanctions imposed by the West for the country’s economic demise.

Although sanctions have ended up having unintended consequences, it is economic mismanagement rather than sanctions that led to Zimbabwe’s economic collapse.

Rhodesian prime minister Ian Smith was slapped with sanctions through Resolution 253 of the United Nations Security Council in 1966 when he declared UDI, but he managed to keep the economy intact and running.

Sanctions on Smith’s colonial regime forbade the UN’s 122-member states from selling oil, arms, motor vehicles or aeroplanes to the regime. Despite all this, the Rhodesia economy grew between 1967 and 1972 amid sanctions busting measures.

Contrary to the Rhodesian situation, Zimbabwe still trades and does business with much of the world, including the support it gets from Sadc, Comesa, African Union and key economic regions like Asia, Latin America and Middle East, which include huge economies like China, India, Brazil and Russia. Western countries still give it humanitarian aid.

Cuba has been under American sanctions for more than 50 years, but has one of the best health care systems in the world. By contrast Zimbabwe’s health care system has all but collapsed. Mismanagement is one of the biggest problems destroying Zimbabwe.

Mugabe has presided over a corrupt regime for 33 years and its ineptitude has ruined the country. International corruption watchdog Transparency International in its corruption index for 2012 ranked Zimbabwe number 163 out of 174 most corrupt countries in the world. Within Sadc, Zimbabwe is ranked the most corrupt nation.

One wonders whether there would ever be any acknowledgement of failure by Mugabe and his Zanu PF loyalists. Even though they send their children to learn abroad after destroying Zimbabwe’s education, Zanu PF leaders are still in denial.

When they fall sick, they rush to seek treatment outside the country.

Look at the South African situation, despite continuing inequalities they have managed to maintain their infrastructure and when former president Nelson Mandela falls sick, he is not flown out of the country for medical attention.

Zimbabwe’s education sector has not been spared from the effects of mismanagement. That is why Mugabe and his Zanu PF officials send their children abroad instead of developing world-class local institutions.

This “House of Gushungo” brand designed to target first-time voters and the urbanites will not work if the approach is to mask dictatorship and failure.

How do people begin to see Mugabe and Zanu PF differently when perpetrators of the 2008 electoral atrocities are still roaming the streets? How do voters change their minds about Mugabe and Zanu PF when victims of the Gukurahundi massacres have not had an apology, let alone compensation from the state for those killings?

Repressive legislation curtailing political and civil liberties is still in place, so why would voters think the situation has changed?
At the age of 89, Mugabe should be enjoying his pension with his grandchildren and providing advice whenever required.

He does not have any track record and new ideas to be a credible candidate to run the country again. Seeking re-election is just a selfish attempt by his party and himself to protect narrow and personal interests at the expense of the nation.

Muchayi is a political analyst who can be contacted on wmuchayi@gmail.com

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