Mugabe now the major stumbling block to Zimbabwe’s recovery

President Robert Mugabe has now become the biggest stumbling block to
Zimbabwe's economic recovery programme. The country which seemed on track for rapid recovery with main architect central bank governor Gideon Gono revising his targets has been on the slide since the beginning of this year.

President Robert Mugabe has now become the biggest stumbling block to
Zimbabwe's economic recovery programme.

The country which seemed on track for rapid recovery with main architect
central bank governor Gideon Gono revising his targets has been on the
slide since the beginning of this
year.

Things got worse after the March general elections. Fuel that had been in
abundant supply for almost the entire 2004 suddenly dried up. Basic
commodities such as maize meal, sugar and cooking oil disappeared from
supermarket shelves. Inflation, which had been on the decline began to
rise again. The speculative behaviour that had almost brought down the
country to its knees in 2003 resurfaced.

Though Mugabe won 78 out of the 120 elected seats giving him a comfortable
two-thirds majority, things went haywire clearly indicating that the people
did not have any confidence that his government could turn around the
country's economic fortunes.

Mugabe's increasing unpopularity and his obstinacy could drag down ZANU-PF
with him. Though a vibrant party with strong rural, and to some extent
urban, support Mugabe could cost the party its support base because in
trying get rid of him, people might ditch the party as well.

The same thing has happened in neighbouring countries where leaders have
stayed too long in power and have had to be kicked out together with the
party. It happened in Zambia where the founding party, the United National
Independence Party (UNIP) went down with founding President Kenneth Kaunda,
in Malawi where the Malawi Congress Party went down with Hastings Kamuzu
Banda, and in Kenya where Daniel Arap Moi sunk with the Kenya African
Union.

Founding parties have, however survived, where there have been normal
transitions like in Tanzania where Chama Cha Mapinduzi continues to rule
the roost though founding President Julius Nyerere had almost brought the
country down to its knees but stepped down to give way to Ali Hassan
Mwinyi, in Botswana where there has been at least three presidents but all
from the same party, in Mozambique where Frelimo remains in power, and in
Namibia where Sam Nunjoma almost spoiled the broth when he went for a third
term but stepped down after that.

Mugabe's clinging on to power has led people to look for salvation in a
third force since the Movement for Democratic Change, which came on with a
bang in 1999 seems to be fizzling out. Though the party won 57 seats at its
first attempt, it was down to 41 in March. Though there are claims of
rigging, the party has also failed to identify with the electorate, banking
more on Mugabe's unpopularity than on its own programmes for the people.

Former MDC legislator Roy Bennett has even admitted that the opposition has
been infiltrated by opportunists but party leader Morgan Tsvangirai has
denied this. But that there are rifts within the MDC was demonstrated by
the fact that Tsvangirai had to do away with shadow ministers modelled
along the Whitehall system to come up with parliamentary portfolio
spokespersons.

Former ZANU-PF politburo member Welshman Mabhena who was kicked out of
Mugabe's government because of his open criticism of the ruling party says
the MDC has lost its grip because it has been heavily infiltrated by the
ruling ZANU-PF. There are strong suspicions that some of its senior
members, including Members of Parliament, are either on the ruling party
payroll or belong to the intelligence service.

But observers say ZANU-PF itself is its own worst enemy and Mugabe has
become the party's biggest liability. While Mugabe apologists have in the
past blamed the party's decline on bad advice to Mugabe by his lieutenants,
it is now becoming apparent that Mugabe is acting on his own and is not
listening to anyone, including his so-called advisers.

Observers say in the past, he had at times listened to Simon Muzenda and
Joshua Nkomo, both seen as voices of reason. Since their deaths, he had put
his trust in disgraced former Information Minister Jonathan Moyo, who most
people believed was his clone, but he has no one since Moyo decided enough
was enough.

Observers say Mugabe's obstinacy has been demonstrated by the following
actions.

He insisted that the government should not increase the price of fuel until
the country ran dry. Now the price has been increased by 178 percent, but
the country is still dry. The government has no solution and has now
allowed private importers to bring in fuel at a time when central bank
governor Gideon Gono was complaining that there were too many players in
the oil industry. Petrol which should be selling for Z$10 000 a litre
(US$1) is going for as much as Z$100 000 a litre (US$10).

He went ahead with the controversial Operation Murambatsvina though it is
now apparent that he was advised by senior army, police and intelligence
officers that Local Government Minister Ignatius Chombo had exceeded his
authority since the clean-up was initially confined to illegal vendors.
Chombo now claims that it is Home Affairs Minister Kembo Mohadi who
overstepped his authority because police had gone on to demolish building
that had been approved by local authorities or by the government.

Mugabe has blindly defended the operation claiming it was planned way
before the March elections but was only held back because he was afraid
people might think he was trying to get rid of MDC supporters in urban
areas. Finance Minister Herbert Murerwa has contradicted this saying the
Operation was not planned and was not budgeted for. Coupled with the
drought, the operation is likely to worsen the country's budget deficit.

Even one of his right hand men Pearson Mbalekwa was forced to resign from
the party because of the inhuman behaviour of the party. Mugabe still
insists it was the right thing to do. His nephew Phillip Chiyangwa has also
stepped down, though he has remained in the party. Observers say Chiyangwa
decided to stay in the party to protect his interests after realising the
party's vindictiveness of Mbalekwa whose farm was raided after his
resignation.

United Nations special envoy, Anna Tibaijuka was not amused either because
Zimbabwe was one of the best countries in terms of slums. She said the slum rate prevalence for Africa as a whole was 72 percent while that for
Zimbabwe was a mere 3.4 percent.

Mugabe has also clearly demonstrated that he does not tolerate anyone whom
he considers a threat to his throne. Homes of war veterans who propped him
to power in 2000 were not spared clearly indicating that they had served
their purpose and could now be discarded.

Mugabe also dragged his way through on domestic workers' wages. He
unilaterally pegged the wages at $1.2 million way above the minimum wage in
commerce and industry which stood at $800 000. Unions were pushing for a
minimum wage of $2.4 million which was the poverty datum line in February.
According to the Consumer Council of Zimbabwe a family of six ( father,
mother and four children, considered to be the average family in Zimbabwe)
required a minimum of $4.2 million a month in June for its basic
requirements. Food alone accounted for $1.6 million while rent accounted
for $1.4 million.

With manufacturing down 30 percent in the first quarter, employers would be
wielding the retrenchment axe if workers demand high wages. With the
informal sector wiped out, most Zimbabweans will have a rough winter.
Though the government had no option but to "restore order" because more
than 60 percent of the economy was now in the hands of the informal sector,
the brutality with which the clean-up was undertaken has led some people to
believe that there was more to it.

People believe that the government wanted to stamp its authority and cow
down the population ahead of the presidential elections which are less than
three years away. It showed that it would use any means, including its
military mighty. The fear it has instilled into the people, who were now
taking the government as a toothless bulldog which issued threats but did
not act, is likely to last for years just like the clampdown on dissidents
in Bulawayo has taken decades for the people of Matabeleland to stand up
for their rights.

A report by controversial Roman Catholic Church Archbishop of Bulawayo Pius
Ncube, Roger Bate of American Enterprise Institute and Richard Tren of
Africa Fighting Malaria even suggests that the clean-up was aimed at
removing competition to make way for Chinese businesses. The report said up
to 10 000 Chinese had moved into the country and were on farms and into
industry planning to produce enough tobacco for China's 300 million smokers
and to supply strategic minerals needed for China's growing economy.

But despite Mugabe's waning popularity, his appalling human rights record
and his inability to turn the economy around there seems to be no end in
sight to Mugabe's rule. The main obstacle is the country's constitution
which was crafted by the late Eddison Zvobgo, who obviously
wanted to leave the presidential race open to give him a chance to contest.
He drafted the constitution in such a way that Mugabe's deputies Joshua
Nkomo and Simon Muzenda, who stood in Zvobgo's way at the time, would not
automatically take over if Mugabe resigned, died or became incapacitated.

Under the present constitution, a person can only act as president for
three months ( 90 days) after which presidential elections should be held.

This means therefore, no one can succeed Mugabe, even his preferred
successor, unless that person is endorsed by the party and wins an election in his or her own
right. Mugabe will therefore have to use his two-thirds majority to amend
the constitution to allow one of his vice-presidents to take over from him.


The amendment would also have to be very clear, which vice-president takes
over, because as it is, it is so vague that the two vice-presidents could
fight it out, but the constitution provides that in this event the Speaker
can take over. But the priority seems to be on creating the senate than on
succession. Mugabe still thinks he can hang on and is even talking about
writing his memoirs when he eventually retires.

To make matters worse, party members disgruntled with his rule cannot cross
the floor. The constitution says if one is elected on a party ticket, one's
seat becomes vacant as soon as one leaves that party and a by-election
should be held.

Besides with Mugabe's 30 appointed seats more than 35 ZANU-PF MPs would
have to resignto create a crisis. This is presently unthinkable as everyone seems to be
making the most of what is on offer in case the party crumbles.

Cracks in the opposition MDC are not making things any easier. According to
the Independent MDC Leader Morgan Tsvangirai is said to have threatened to
suspend the party's constitution and take command of the party in martial
law style at a party meeting on June 25.

Though there is increasing talk of a third force, this can only materialise
if there are mass defections from both the MDC and ZANU-PF. But this is not
likely to solve the problem since Mugabe can still hang on to power as he
is an elected president and can use his 30 seats.

The only way forward is for members of Parliament of both the MDC and
ZANU-PF to work from within and stop changes Mugabe wants to implement. But
this is more of wishful thinking because those in Mugabe's government are
well looked after and get all the lucrative deals. They all believe it is
political suicide to oppose the ageing president.

The big question is, are they all prepared to sink with Mugabe and drag
the party down with them? It must be apparent to them by now that people
can take suffering to a certain limit after which they will rebel. When
things get out of hand, no one is safe, even their investments, which they
are so eager to protect will be affected.

But Mugabe has instilled so much fear into his lieutenants that no one is
prepared to raise his head. But it is clearly apparent that discontent is
now simmering within the people hard pressed to make ends meet. People are
now quite aware that it is not the economy that needs to be turned around,
but the politics.

Mugabe's maneuvres to maintain what is now termed Zezuru hegemony has not
gone down well with even his staunchest supporters. People are now talking
about popular Shona sayings such as "Ushe madzoro" meaning leadership
should be in turns and feel that the country 's leadership should go to
another regional grouping and not the Zezuru. Mugabe and his two
vice-presidents are all Zezuru. This has not gone down well with the
Karanga who are a demographic majority and can claim to have spearheaded
and masterminded the armed struggle and are numerically superior in all the
uniformed services.

Besides, though Mugabe now seems intent on ensuring that Joyce Mujuru
succeeds him, people are questioning whether his lieutenants will accept
this. She may be good as vice-president but are they prepared to allow her
to take the top post? After all, even her husband was not the topmost
military man during the struggle. Besides, is the nation ready for a woman
leader?

Most people argue that Mugabe used the women's quota to prop up Mujuru to
protect his own position from his lieutenants who were baying for his
blood. They argue that if Mugabe had been genuine about the women's quota,
he should have nominated more into his administration where there are only
eight women in his 62-member administration that includes two
vice-presidents, 31 ministers, 19 deputies and 10 provincial governors.

But while the people dither, the future of Zimbabwe is increasingly
becoming uncertain. The longer Mugabe lingers on the bleaker the future,
and the more likely chaos could erupt if he suddenly left the scene before
the issue of succession has been settled. Right now, the average Zimbabwean
believes anyone, including the much dreaded Emmerson Mnangagwa, is better
than Mugabe. And everyone believes that once he steps down, or even takes a
back seat, the country's fortunes will turn around.