WHILE strutting on the continental stage at the African Union (AU) Assembly of Heads of State and Government in South Africa last week, AU and Sadc chair President Robert Mugabe torched debate when he glibly suggested term-limits were unnecessary as people should choose how long their leaders stay in power.
Candid Comment with Stewart Chabwinja
Aside from the fact that African leaders of a despotic disposition trample their subjects’ right to make such a fundamental choice, Mugabe’s comments brim with irony. He has repeatedly been accused of habitual vote theft, effectively subverting the people’s will.
During the 2008 general elections campaigns, he warned war veterans — whom he appeared to agree with — had said “this country was won by the barrel of the gun and should we let it go at the stroke of a pen (read vote)? Should one just write an X and then the country goes just like that”?
And was it not after electoral shenanigans that the 2008 presidential run-off elections were declared a sham, resulting in a Sadc-brokered Government of National Unity?
The term-limit sentiments are also a bit rich coming from a leader who has increasingly come to rely on a security apparatus imbedded in his ruling Zanu PF party to prolong his incumbency.
Mugabe, in power since Independence in 1980, figures prominently in the overstaying debate not least because his long tenure is mostly blamed for the country’s waning fortunes, especially the sinking economy which bears tragic testimony to his legacy.
It was quite dissembling for Mugabe, who complained two-terms could feel as short as two weeks, to intone: “We (in Africa) put a rope around our own neck and say leaders must only have two terms. It is a democracy, if people want a leader to continue, let him continue.”
In Zimbabwe the debate over term-limits is actually only of academic interest; the country overwhelmingly supported a two-term limit in the new constitution overwhelmingly endorsed in a referendum in 2013, but only sparingly implemented thus far. People were of the view presidential term limits are the way to go given the tendency of power to corrupt.
In fact, as pointed out elsewhere in this issue by the MDC-T’s Douglas Mwonzora who was one of the Copac co-chairpersons, Zimbabweans did not want a president who had already served two terms to contest the 2013 elections, but Mugabe, then in his sixth term, was saved by political horse-trading.
However drafters “ensured that the process of amending the term-limits provisions was not only complex, onerous and cumbersome but we removed the incentive for incumbent leaders to amend … by ensuring that any move to change the term-limits provisions would not benefit an incumbent”.
But Mugabe’s term-limit intonation is hardly surprising. The issue of succession within his party remains taboo and continues to claim scalps in a vicious purge, most notably the recent ouster of former vice-president Joice Mujuru.
Mugabe is the recipient of frequent, superlative-laden praise from kowtowing beneficiaries of his patronage network, who have since endorsed him as “president for life”.