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Sadc polls: Zim stuck in time warp

FOLLOWING the recent general elections in South Africa won by the ruling African National Congress (ANC) with a comfortable despite declining majority, President Jacob Zuma will soon start his second and last term as the fourth leader in the post-apartheid era.

Herbert Moyo

The legendary Nelson Mandela, Thabo Mbeki and Kgalema Motlanthe were Zuma’s predecessors. After Zuma, ANC deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa is likely to ascend to power in 2019 as the fifth president of a free South Africa.

After Zimbabwe’s controversial elections last July, won by President Robert Mugabe and his ruling Zanu PF, and recent polls in South Africa, millions of people in southern Africa will be going to the polls to elect new governments amid hopes and aspirations of renewal and progress.

After South Africa, Malawi, Mozambique, Botswana and Namibia will hold national elections this year. Arguably the most peaceful region on the continent, the attention of the international community will be on Sadc to see how the region handles its national electoral processes and whether new leaders emerge where incumbents have finished their terms.

While South Africa, Malawi, Mozambique, Botswana and Namibia as well as other countries in the region are going through political and leadership changes, Zimbabwe is not.

Mugabe has been in power for 34 years and prospects of him leaving are remote as he is expected to use his party’s elective congress in December to cling on to power.

Yet in other countries in the region, change appears to be the only constant.

Malawi marks its 50th anniversary in July, just a month after polls in which Sadc’s only female president, Joyce Banda, is likely to win her first term in office after coming in following the death of her predecessor Bingu wa Mutharika. She also served as the country’s first female vice-president.

Whoever wins, Malawi will be moving forward in terms of leadership change and trying to embrace new ideas and progress.

Botswana, the only country in sub-Saharan Africa built in the post-colonial era almost from scratch and now widely seen as the epitome of stability, will go to the polls in October, just a month after the country’s 48th independence anniversary.

President Ian Khama, a pilot and soldier, is expected to win and serve another five-year term after taking office in 2008 when he succeeded Festus Mogae. Like the ANC, Khama’s party, the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP), is expected to win to stretch its uninterrupted rule’s since the country gained independence in 1966.

In Mozambique, President Armando Guebuza is expected to quit when his second term expires in October when elections are due. Defence minister Filipe Nyussi is likely to take over. Since the death of Samora Machel in a plane crash in 1986, Mozambique, which became independent in 1975, has had Joaquim Chissano and Guebuza as leaders, and now Nyussi is shoo-in to become the next president.

Namibian elections are due in November and President Hifikepunye Pohamba, who in November will complete his second and final term in office, has already passed on Swapo’s baton to vice-president Dr Hage Geingob.

While changes are happening in other Sadc countries, Zimbabwe remains stuck with Mugabe.

The winds of change that blew across sub-Saharan Africa from the early 1990s sweeping out of office the first generation of Independence leaders like Kenneth Kaunda (Zambia) and Hastings Kamuzu Banda (Malawi) circumvented Zimbabwe, which was still a young nation then after attaining independence in 1980, but now Mugabe, at 90, has been under sustained pressure for over a decade now for him to quit due to socio-economic and political problems buffeting the country.

Ironically, Mugabe has confessed that he remains the odd one out in the region.

“They are gone (his contemporaries) and those who remain, you look down upon them because they are young. They have not had the same experience, the same length of life and, therefore, the same advantage of gathering as much knowledge and experience as yourself,” Mugabe said in an interview with state broadcaster ZBC to mark his 89th birthday last year adding, “and so you can’t discuss with them things that happened in the 1930s or even 1950s.

They will not know. There is that limitation.”

He went further: “You take my cabinet as it is, there is no one I can talk to about how we used to approach girls or we would go to this and that place, riding bicycles. There is no one. There are others like (Presidential Affairs minister Didymus) Mutasa (79).

He comes close, but others are just children, the likes of (Technology minister Webster) Shamu, Chamisa. You feel that loneliness. You have lost others and sometimes you think of it and it makes you very lonely.”

It is more than a year since that confession and the expectation would have been that Mugabe’s Zanu PF party would use its December congress to make history for itself by electing a new leader while gracefully retiring Mugabe who is no longer the spring chicken that fired the imagination of an expectant Zimbabwean populace and the world at large with progressive rhetoric about reconciliation and nation-building ahead of Independence in 1980.

Indications are that the historical moment will be missed and Mugabe will be re-elected in December to accomplish some mysterious “unfinished business”. After being in power for 34 long years, it boggles the mind what he still wants to accomplish other than further undoing his already eroded legacy.

The consequences of his stay are however likely to be ghastly, especially for the moribund economy suffocating from a chronic liquidity crunch, company closures and unemployment in excess of 80%.

“Despite having presidential ambitions, none of the leaders in Zanu PF are bold enough to challenge Mugabe,” said Godwin Phiri, a Bulawayo-based political commentator adding, “Zimbabwe is crying out for a new group of leaders who can take the country beyond the liberation psychology and implement meaningful policies to attract economic investment.”

Phiri further noted: “There is need for someone with the Midas touch of turning the economy into gold because everything Mugabe touches now turns to dross!”

This certainly appears the case as under 34 years of Mugabe rule, Zimbabwe has moved from being one of the highly-industrialised and viable economies in sub-Saharan Africa to being one of the basket cases. The country’s current paltry budget of US$4,1 billion, part of which is unfunded — which is smaller than the turnover of some supermarkets or companies in South Africa — shows how much the country has regressed during his rule.

Even China, Zimbabwe’s so-called all-weather friend, has so far baulked at the prospect of giving Harare a rescue package and lending any meaningful assistance to support ZimAsset, the economic blueprint which is supposed to set the tone for recovery and growth of the country’s limping economy.

ZimAsset needs US$27 billion in the next five years and government remains clueless as to where the funds will come from. The Chinese have raised Mugabe succession issues with Zanu PF officials as part of the problem.

With no chance of normalising relations with the West, Zimbabwe is likely to remain in the doldrums and Mugabe’s re-election can only worsen the situation.

EU ambassador to Zimbabwe Aldo Del’Ariccia has indicated nothing will change as long as Mugabe remains in charge.

Economic analyst John Robertson said the economic cost of Mugabe’s continued reign will be serious.

“The re-election of Mugabe will not be helpful,” he said. “Failing to change the leadership will only accelerate the country’s downhill descent in terms of the economy. The economy will not benefit from him staying on. Right now they are proposing minor amendments to the indigenisation policy.

“They are talking about negotiating with specific investors but that will not help when you still have the law in place which demands that investors hand over 51% stake in their companies.

There is need for dramatic changes right now but that is not likely to happen when you still have the same people that promoted the legislation in the first place.”

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