Corruption Watch: Why Mnangagwa could be seeking a third term

 Current president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, was, ironically, the top beneficiary of the 2017 coup because he took over.

In 1990 to 1991 when Fredrick Chiluba was hot on a campaign for multi-party democracy that finally ushered him in as Zambian president to replace founding nationalist Kenneth Kaunda, he was so emphatic on the need to respect the constitution on presidential term limits.

Chiluba vowed that his initiative, the Movement for Multi-party Democracy, would never tinker with the constitution to allow for him to do a third term against the prevailing provisions of the supreme law that limited presidential tenure to a maximum of two.

But then, a year away from the end of his second term, on the eve of the new millennium, Chiluba changed tack dramatically.

On his admission, “power is sweet”.

Amidst fierce resistance even from his own top hierarchy, he staged a fake party symposium at which it was announced that the MMD was backing his third-term bid.

 Chiluba went on an angry campaign, purging his party and government structures of those that openly or covertly opposed his bid.

But the resistance from within his party was so intense, just as it was from outside, Chiluba abandoned the idea.

His top lieutenants successfully argued that manipulating the constitution to allow for a third term would bring unnecessary attention on Zambia from the international constitution and cause an avoidable political crisis within the country.

At that time, over 50% of the Zambian national budget was dependent on western support.

 But then, internal party divisions caused by the bid had reached boiling point.

Samuel Nujoma in Namibia was pretty luckier than Chiluba.

Because he had also found power to be particularly sweet after delivering Namibia from apartheid rule, he went on his own bid and managed to persuade parliament, a damp Swapo rubberstamp, to allow to serve a third term, mainly on the basis that he had to finish the projects he had started.

 A swarm of traditional leaders, particularly from Ovamboland also backed him religiously in his campaign.

We have seen a few other leaders in southern Africa going at a tangent in order to stretch their rule.

There was a time less than a decade ago when an opportunistic faction within the ruling Zanu PF in Zimbabwe vowed that the now late Robert Mugabe would rule not only from a wheelchair, but even from the grave.

Power had become very sweet for Mugabe and the 37 years he served was never going to be enough.

The rest is history, Mugabe’s own disciples used tanks and an angry parliament as well as an agitated citizenry to throw him out in late 2017 for overstaying.

 Current president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, was, ironically, the top beneficiary of the 2017 coup because he took over.

And, because power is so sweet, he has forgotten the actual factors that brought him to power and brought Mugabe down.

There are telling indicators now that Mnangagwa wants a third term, despite the constitution currently allowing for a maximum two five-year terms.

As we rattled towards the coup in 2017, the rallying slogan came from Masvingo.

One day, Mnangagwa was in the province and we heard him and his supporters chant “Kumagumo kunenyaya”, which means “it will not end well”—for Mugabe and his factional supporters.

Masvingo has done it again. Just last week, it was the same province that coined a new slogan: Mnangagwa will be there in 2030.

Rightly, people are disturbed by that. It was Masvingo that started the magumo coup slogan, and it is Masvingo again that’s starting the 2030 nonsense.

This means the campaign for a Mnangagwa third term has already started, early enough.

But that kind of thing was always coming.

In 2021, Mnangagwa changed the constitution through the second amendment, post-2013.

What he did with some of the amendments is really telling. He now has direct influence in the appointment of judges, thanks to the amendment.

And he did away with the running mate clause that would have made it difficult for him to choose who deputises him.

In other words, deleting the running mate clause from the constitution also gave him the direct and comfortable influence on who deputises him.

 This was a tactical move because, among other things, the constitution provides that the president can be succeeded by the last VP to have acted in the absence of the president, among other things.

Add to that the fact that, strategically,  Mnangagwa has been surrounding himself with all the people from the village, to the extent that you can hardly tell the difference between Zimbabwe and Karangaland.

Add to that the usual hangers-on, the money bags.

Next thing, you will be hearing, as in the case of Nujoma, that the president has key projects he needs to complete. In fact, that has already started.

The Mnangagwa government has this thing they call Vision 2030, which they say will transform Zimbabwe into a middle-class economy by then. And the slogan started in Masvingo is talking about 2030.

We all love the transformation of Zimbabwe, of course.

But when the Zanu PF musketeers are the ones that talk about it, you find it very difficult for you to have faith in it.

Forget it, Mangagwa doesn’t want himself to “be there” in 2030—and therefore beyond—because of Vision 30.

There must be other compelling reasons, and the question is, which ones?

Why, despite the all the odds, would Mnangagwa want a third term? The easy answer is that power is sweet and absolute power is absolutely sweet.

There comes this stage in the cycle of weak leaders whereby they feel they just have to be there for the sake of it.

Mnangagwa fought hard, very hard, to get into power. Now that he is there, he can’t let it go so easily. He sought power because he knew it was/is sweet.

That’s the trap into which people like Chiluba and Nujoma fell. They allowed the sweetness of power to be their opium.

Nujoma was sort of lucky because he hardly received meaningful condemnation, but that wasn’t the case with the likes of Chiluba, Mugabe etc.

The odds are so much against Mnangagwa in his seeming bid for a third term.

He will have to overcome strong constitutional hurdles to land a term extending beyond 2028 when his second and last one ends.

There is need to go to a referendum to change the constitution.

It doesn’t matter if the amendments necessary for that entail a deletion of some relevant constitutional provisions, additions to the current clauses or subtractions.

The point is, Mnangagwa will never win such a referendum, even if tries to rig.

His biggest opposition, just as in the case of Chiluba, will come from within his own party, Zanu PF. The military won’t take lightly to the bid.

Remember the main reason why it went for Mugabe in 2017, though not exactly publicly stated, was that the late leader had overstayed and was keeping the other hounds from the feeding trough.

So, the generals will remind him about that.

 If not directly, then through other means. Mugabe, if he were still alive, would have had a good day in the classroom with Mnangagwa on this one.

So, why would Mnangagwa still want to go ahead and press for a third term?

Sweet power, yes, but the best way to understand this is to go back to the real reasons why they did the coup in the first place.

Accumulation and preservation of power is the first and foremost. 

Number two, preservation of the involved players from possible punishment.

Without power, they are vulnerable, so they need to ensure that they use it to cushion themselves against possible prosecution and all sorts of other actions that they now powerless are normally confronted with. 

This could also be the reason why Mnangagwa would want a third term and, possibly, to die in office.

Number three, continued eating. Yes, they said the coup that they didn’t and still don’t want to be called a coup was meant to remove criminals surrounding Mugabe.

But the reality is that, with power in their pockets, they would have more opportunities to eat and eat very well. Mnangagwa was part of the coup.

If they took power from Mugabe in order to eat and he was one of them, there is nothing to convince you that Mnangagwa has suddenly lost the appetite to eat.

So an extended term would give him just about another long chance at the feeding pen.

*Tawanda Majoni writes in his personal capacity and can be contacted on [email protected]

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