Is Autumn Finally Here For Robert Mugabe? | Independent Newspapers Limited
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Columnists, Scruples

Is Autumn Finally Here For Robert Mugabe?

Posted: Sep 1, 2015 at 4:10 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

Robert Mugabe, the 91-year old president of Zimbabwe , that beautiful country tucked away in the Southern part of the continent, has always managed to emerge colourful in his endless battle of wits with the West. He has over the years been able to retain the great admiration and support of a sizable percentage of his people (despite the biting economic hardship in his country) and remained the toast of quite a number African intellectuals.

Even his worst enemies would admit that he is very intelligent, well-informed and articulate. At 91, he is yet to show any convincing signs that age is eating into his well-cultivated intellect and psychological bearing. Always impeccably turned out in well-tailored suits, Mugabe remains many people’s pleasant idea of ageing gracefully. He is such a delight to watch at press conferences or interviews.

Although, the recent decision of the European Union (EU) to relax sanctions on his country might represent a grudging admission by the West that, perhaps, it is gradually losing the argument over Zimbabwe , it remains a glaring fact that Mugabe presides over a very sick country. The United Nation’s World Food Programme (WFP) said last week that 16% of Zimbabwe ’s population “are projected to be food insecure at the peak of the 2015-16 lean season, the period following harvest when food is especially scarce.” According to the WFP, this situation “represents a 164% increase in food insecurity compared to the previous season.” The Zimbabwean dollar is long dead and dressed for burial. A couple of years ago, a Zambian friend showed me a 40 billion Zimbabwean dollar bill which he said could not buy a loaf of bread. Mugabe has, therefore, hastened to adopt the US dollar for widespread use in his country.

Although, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) announced in November 2010 that Zimbabwe was “completing its second year of buoyant economic growth” and Mugabe has been telling anyone who cares to listen that the Zimbabwean economy was showing very encouraging signs of recovery, life in Zimbabwe is very painful and hellish and most of those who admire and applaud Mugabe from a safe distance have neither lived in Harare or Bulawayo nor would they wish to relocate there.  

In February Mugabe rolled out the drums to celebrate his 91st birthday with an expensive party at Elephant Hills, a choice hotel and resort which perches gently on a small hill in Victoria Falls overlooking the Zambezi River . Mugabe’s bash was said to have cost about US$1million.

The opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) accused him of organizing an “obscene jamboree” in a country where majority of the citizenry were starving horribly due to an unbearable economic hardship. In statement in Harare , MDC spokesman, Obert Chaurura Gutu, was unsparing of such insufferable profligacy:

“As the MDC, we are greatly perturbed to learn that instead of focusing on more serious and pressing national issues such as rehabilitating the country’s collapsed public health delivery system as well as the renovation of the nation’s dilapidated road and rail infrastructure, Zanu-PF has seen it fit to squeeze the sum of US$I million from the country’s ailing business sector in order to bankroll the nonagenarian’s birthday jamboree in the resort town of Victoria Falls…The majority of the people of Zimbabwe are living in penury, squalor and destitution, and thus, it would be grossly offensive for Robert Mugabe and a few of his hangers-on to wine and dine…on Saturday, February 28, 2015,”   

In other African countries where he used to be celebrated each time he visited, disaffection for Mugabe has begun to also grow. Late last year, for instance, when he was in neighboring Zambia for the funeral of the country’s late president, Michael Sata, Zambians cheered and celebrated him. But later in January when he returned to Lusaka to witness the inauguration of Edgar Lungu, the new Zambian President, demonstrators besieged the luxurious Radisson Blu Hotel in Lusaka where Mugabe had lodged demanding his retirement from office. And like they usually do each time they witness any incident they perceive as representing a setback for Mugabe, the Western media poured into the square to celebrate the booing and heckling of Mugabe by opposition MPs during his state of the nation address in Parliament in Harare last week.

But these may not be the main issues taking sleep away from Mugabe’s eyes. He must have realized by now that his sack last year of his deputy, Joice Mujuru whom he accused of trying to assassinate him was a very costly gamble. The widespread belief that Mugabe’s wife, Grace, engineered Mrs. Mujuru’s ouster because her rising profile was perceived as a threat to Mrs. Mugabe’s ambition to succeed her husband has not helped the image of the party. Since Mrs. Mujuru left the ruling ZANU-PF and began putting together an opposition political platform, several formerly loyal ZANU-PF members have defected to her camp. She may prove to be the formidable candidate Zimbabweans are waiting for to uproot Mugabe and his party in the 2018 elections.      

Already serious cracks developing in the ruling party are now proving very difficult to conceal. Now, highly factionalized, ZANU-PF may find it very difficult to present a strong, united front against the formidable opposition it is sure to face in 2018.   

The MDC which called on Zimbabweans last week to start looking beyond what it termed the “Mugabe Must Go” hype since Mugabe was already on his way out would need to reinvent itself, if it hopes to record an impressive outing in 2018. Maybe, it may have to find an alternative to its longtime leader and presidential candidate, Morgan Tvangirai, who appears to have been badly damaged by continuous defeat and the now widely held impression (fueled by Mugabe) that he is a Western stooge who might reverse the land redistribution exercise if he becomes president, to please his Western “masters.” Already, the meeting in London recently by MDC leaders with their UK/Ireland chapter has been widely portrayed by state-run media as a fund-raising drive and Mugabe’s spokesman, George Charamba, is threatening the scrapping of government’s funding for political parties if the MDC continues to be funded by the West.

Signs that Mugabe and his wife are deeply worried about the serious factionalism in ZANU-PF became very glaring last week when Grace Mugabe warned those clamouring for the end of Mugabe’s rule that they would sorely miss him when he leaves office.

“There will come a day when Mugabe will not be there and people will regret and miss his leadership… Not many people are able to make the sacrifices he makes. He puts his all to represent his people. He is someone who wants the best for the present and future generations,” Mrs. Mugabe told a gathering in Murombedzi Growth Point in Zvimba last week.         

But why is Mugabe bent on becoming Zimbabwe ’s president-for-life? The truth is that he is a man ruled and driven by immense fear – fear of tomorrow. Obviously, he trusts no one except himself and, maybe, his wife. Would he end up at The Hague and get the Charles Taylor treatment if he quits power? This fear often leads him into hasty suspicions and pushes him to deal ruthlessly with his real or imagined enemies. So far, he has been able to sustain a repressive regime, but it does seem that he would soon be faced with a fait accompli, not from the West this time, but from the Zimbabweans themselves.