By Kingsley Osadolor
I spent some weeks in Zimbabwe in August/September of 1996. Against the background of my lived experience many years earlier, I captured my impressions and prognoses of the country in a special report that was the magazine cover story of Lagos-based The Guardian on Sunday, which I edited at the time. Titled, “Back To Harare: Memoirs Of A Recent Visit,” the report was published on September 15, 1996.
With the dramatic events in Zimbabwe, which culminated in the resignation of the country’s ossified ruler, President Robert Mugabe, on November 21, 2017, I share with you below, the concluding paragraphs of the special report published 21 years ago.
Some things and people–-after a while–-hardly change. Like the peripatetic President Robert Mugabe who is perhaps one of Africa’s most widely travelled heads of state. At 72, there is no let-up to his global junkets on which he is, in any case, a travelling salesman for his country. During my visit last month, Mugabe was off to South Africa for his honeymoon, and thence to Lesotho for a summit of SADC heads of state. Amid the strike by civil servants, Mugabe took off for three days to Kenya. Last week, he was in Jamaica. His itinerary is open-ended.
So, too, is the answer to the question: Who next after Mugabe? Or, what happens after Mugabe? Unlike Mandela who has announced his retirement effective 1999, speculation still trails the political future of Mugabe. After 16 years on the seat (first as Prime Minister: 1980-1987, and executive President since December 1987) and with another electoral mandate (at 30 per cent voter turn-out) just a few months ago, Mugabe possesses all the trappings of a sit-tight ruler enamoured of a paternalism that is already stagnating the country.
The country is politically sterile but stable. There is no viable opposition. Even the eccentric Edgar Tekere who launched the Zimbabwe Unity Movement (ZUM) in 1989 is retracing his prodigal steps to the ruling ZANU-PF party. Tekere kept up a good-boy image at Mugabe’s wedding, an appearance that could brighten his chances of re-absorption into the hierarchy of ZANU-PF. The only opposition to ZANU-PF is ZANU-PF itself. It is not just a battleground for the majority Shona and minority Ndebele; it is also a battle field for the various Shona clans whose parapoism is gaining in crescendo with the steep rise in economic adversities.
There are two Vice Presidents: Simon Muzenda and Joshua Nkomo. Nkomo has been so ill lately, and was recently in Egypt for medical attention, that he is effectively out of contention; plus his old age. Grace Mugabe, the new First Lady, said she was almost moved to tears when she saw Nkomo saunter into the Kutama chapel for Mugabe’s wedding. Nkomo left before the service was over. His political ambitions are also, quite clearly, over. So, too, are the hopes of Muzenda who, at 76, is fit for retirement. He cannot stand a ghost of a chance in an era where his mentor, Mugabe, is off-stage.
There is a line of possibles, including the articulate Eddison Zvobgo, one of the architects of Zimbabwe’s independence constitution. He was recently involved in an accident – and trust Harare’s rumour mill; stories went round that it was a freak accident meant to eliminate him, since he was a potent challenge to sit-tight Mugabe. But the incident he was involved in was an accident, purely so. Yet, politically, Zvobgo has a liability as a chieftain of Masvingo, the former Midlands Province; his national appeal remains suspect. Just as Home Affairs Minister Dumiso Dabengwa and Joseph Msika and John Nkomo are seen first as minority Ndebeles with roots in the defunct ZAPU. However, two securocrats, Emmerson M’nangagwa, now Justice and Parliamentary Affairs Minister, and Sydney Sekeremayi, now National Security Minister, are front-runners in any eventuality.
One can conceive of a worst-case scenario for Mugabe, should he choose not to quit voluntarily, to play the elder statesman. As the economic difficulties multiply, he will more and more be seen as representative of the problems, notwithstanding that he enjoys tremendous respect among members of his party and government. And if he fails to vacate, internal dissension might lead to intra-party revolt that seizes advantage of any incident, much like the National Party in South Africa took advantage of the stroke suffered by then President P.W. Botha to oust him and usher in De Klerk who became one of the makers of the new South Africa.
Whether Mugabe, brilliant and intelligent as he is, would allow himself to become another Botha remains to be seen. Mugabe remains in good health, although the health of his county is declining. Armed with a stubborn will and ever-ready to rationalize Zimbabwe’s problems, Mugabe may well be tempted to soldier on for as long as he believes he can. Except that after 16 years, knowing no profession than politics and occupation than head of state/government, Mugabe may yet realize that Africa’s worst problems have arisen largely because of the inability of its leaders to separate the state from themselves and to step aside to allow for a badly-needed virility in an increasingly demanding job and environment.
Kingsley Osadolor is currently co-Host of NTA’s Good Morning Nigeria.