IF there is any consistent characteristic President Robert Mugabe has shown ever since he joined active politics it is his devious leadership style, coupled with a pragmatic and self-centred moral framework.
Editor’s Memo with Dumisani Muleya
His politics has over the years been about manipulating practically everybody — Machiavellian-style — for self-interest and over-arching political power, an unedifying trait.
Hardly does Mugabe put so much energy and passion into running the economy and development matters as in fighting for power and its trappings. If he did Zimbabwe would be one of the most successful countries in Africa, if not on earth. But it is virtually a failed state in many respects, with an economy and social fabric in tatters.
Millions of its citizens live in abject poverty at home and abroad.
All the social gains of the early years of Independence have been wiped out by greed, corruption and incompetence. The benefits of his land reforms pale in comparison to the damage his policies have inflicted on the economy and people’s lives.
To give the devil his due, though, one has to quickly acknowledge he manoeuvred his way from being Joshua Nkomo’s publicity secretary in the NDP to the top in 1980, where he has held the reins tightly for 34 years now. But along the way he has left many political casualties. He has walked over the corpses of fellow citizens to consolidate and retain power, sometimes for power’s sake.
There is no denying Mugabe has survived for so long because he is more cunning and ruthless than any other politician in Zimbabwe. To quote Christopher Dell, former US ambassador to Harare, “he is a brilliant tactician and has long thrived on his ability to abruptly change the rules of the game, radicalise the political dynamic and force everyone else to react to his agenda.”
This is what he is currently doing within the fractious Zanu PF battered by turmoil as rival camps led by Vice-President Joice Mujuru and Justice minister Emmerson Mnangagwa battle over his succession.
Mugabe recently radicalised the succession race by bringing in his wife Grace — which he tried to justify yesterday — and is set to change rules of the game through possible constitutional manipulation to oust Mujuru at congress in December. If he prevails, Mnangagwa is likely to come in apparently to serve his private and family interests. It has nothing to do with the welfare of the nation and its people. It’s all part of the master plan to maintain power and influence for self-preservation.
Duplicity and manipulation, as well as patronage, have been his instruments to control the levers of power. We are currently witnessing double standards as well as an unrestrained, selfish and uncivilised contest, belying varied hidden agendas.
At Independence in 1980, Mugabe did everything to hound hitherto fellow allies in the liberation movement, driving Nkomo into exile and arresting senior Zapu officials. Heroes of the struggle such as Lookout Masuku, Swazini Ndlovu, Tshaka Moyo, Gilbert Nkomo, Misheck Velaphi and Dumiso Dabengwa were arrested on false charges. Others escaped to neighbouring countries and overseas.
Over the years he showed the same ruthless streak in 2004 when he descended on Mnangagwa and his allies, ironically, to impose Mujuru. All along Mugabe has refused to make his position clear on succession. Up to this day he hasn’t as he refuses to go. By withholding his cards, he still has the ace in the hole even though he is losing control due to old age, health complications and belief in his own infallibility.
Now Mugabe is showing Mujuru and everybody his true colours — his leadership style is effectively tantamount with being a ruthless manipulator.
He has kept people off-balance and in the dark by never indicating his choice of successor, while guiding them far enough down the wrong path and enveloping them in smoke to hide his intentions. He uses other people as tools to retain power for self-interest. That’s the tragedy of Mugabe’s ugly Hobbesian politics.