Why is Mugabe Still in Power?

Zoe Samudzi provides some excellent answers to the question of why President Robert Mugabe has had such staying power despite the many political and economic upheavals that have beset Zimbawe since the late 1990s.

Here is an excerpt:

Throughout the course of his thirty-six years in office, President Robert Mugabe has used coercion and violence to clear the Zimbabwean political arena of opposition and dissent and consolidate his political power. He has singularly blamed the deteriorating economy on western sanctions rather than responsibly attributing it also to his own inadequate planning, mismanagement of both capital and resources, his allowance of economic liberalisation and structural adjustment, and political corruption. Yet, contrary to the singularly critical narratives that tend to dominate, he enjoys some earnest support beyond what western reports about stolen elections indicate.

Also:

Most critically, the land issue – an issue of indigenous sovereignty, and perhaps the most unifying politic of Black resistance to colonial rule – went unaddressed. President Mugabe’s refusal to resign or allow regime change is justified, in part, by an idea that the revolution was stalled, and there must be consistent leadership in its continuity. It is no mistake that the ongoing process of land repossession and reform is characterised as the Third Chimurenga, and it is no accident that such vehement western critique has been levelled at state policy (genuine or otherwise) seeking to regain land sovereignty.

Remember that around independence in 1980 some 6,000 European immigrants, nearly all of whom defended the apartheid-lite (Southern) Rhodesian regime, owned 42% of Zimbabwe. Given the importance of land in an agrarian economy such as Zimbabwe’s, this was always going to be a politically untenable situation — regardless of the race of the landowners. Zimbabwe was on a path to significant land redistribution, one way or another.

So why didn’t Zimbabwe deal with the land question before independence in 1980?

Screen Shot 2017-02-10 at 7.45.33 AM.pngThe answer has to do with the the relative political power of the European settler community, especially after UDI. Since 1923 the group had enjoyed effective self-government with significant autonomy from London. And it is precisely because of their political power that Zimbabwe never had a “Swynnerton Plan” akin to what happened in Kenya in response to the Mau Mau anti-colonial insurgency.

Zimbabwe’s landowners failed to appreciate the need to make deals when they had the (political) upper hand. And by so doing set themselves up for very costly reforms/expropriations thirty years hence.

Why they made this choice is an interesting and open question.

Perhaps they trusted that Zimbabwe would continue to rely on Western aid in a manner that would have incentivized property rights protection by the government (under the threat of aid cuts and sanctions). They may have also thought that the government would not be crazy enough to jeopardize its commercial farming sector and risk total economic collapse. Another reason might have been the comfort of knowing that any land reform efforts in Zimbabwe would elicit reaction from South Africa (then under apartheid) in defense of property rights.

Apartheid, of course, ended in 1994. And the first two considerations did not stop President Robert Mugabe, at great cost to Zimbabweans of all stripes.

Given the complicated history of Zimbabwe and the wider anti-colonial struggle in eastern and southern Africa, I expect Mugabe’s legacy to be sanitized as soon as he passes on, especially outside of Zimbabwe.

 

 

On the upcoming elections in Zimbabwe

The latest ICG report says this about the General Elections in Zimbabwe tomorrow: 

A return to protracted political crisis, and possibly extensive violence, is likely, as Zimbabwe holds inadequately prepared presidential, parliamentary and local elections on 31 July. Conditions for a free and fair vote do not exist. Confidence in the process and institutions is low. The voters roll is a shambles, security forces unreformed and the media grossly imbalanced. The electoral commission is under-funded and lacked time to prepare. Concerns about rigging are pervasive, strongly disputed results highly likely. 

More on this here.

On a lighter note, check out this prank from 5 years ago:

[youtube.com/watch?v=ARZgzXv0pY0]

how much longer can Zimbabweans tolerate Mugabe?

A day after Zimbabwe’s March election there were already rumors that Robert Mugabe had lost and was trying to negotiate a graceful exit from power. But Rob was to have none of this. He ordered the electoral commission not to announce the results of the presidential election even though the opposition’s tallies confirmed their claim to victory. Meanwhile parliamentary results confirmed that Rob’s party, the ZANU-PF had lost its majority in Parliament to the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). In desperation, Rob ordered for a recount in several constituencies but even this did not overturn the original results.

With Mugabe having lost the election and his apparent resolve to stay in power come what may (evidenced by his failed attempt to purchase weapons from China) it remains to be seen just how much longer the people of Zimbabwe can put up with this crazy old man before all hell breaks loose and people pour into the streets. It has to happen at some point. Political Science theory says that revolutions happen just when things begin to get better and Rob may have initiated this process by allowing the MDC to win the elections. He could have simply rigged the vote to give himself a clear win – both for the presidency and parliament. But by allowing the MDC to win parliament and the presidency (although a run-off is in the offing) he has shown his people that he is indeed beatable and demystified himself.

The writing is on the wall for Rob and his cronies. But he still has support from a significant segment of the Zimbabwean population and thus any kind of uprising against him will almost inevitably be met with stiff opposition from his supporters. He may be a thug to most non-Zimbabweans but to his country people he is an independence hero who sacrificed a lot for his country. Because of this there is an increasing risk of conflict within the country.

As the international community continues to watch from a distance, (with South African president Mbeki makeing silly statements like this) Zimbabwe keeps moving even closer to the tipping point. I believe total collapse can be avoided by having Rob step down (forcefully if necessary) before it is too late. The alternative is to wait and send in peace keepers after the fact.

zimbabwe’s kenya-esque election

It all sounds too familiar. Elections are held, but the government fears that the wrong people might be winning. The election officials know the results but are not releasing them for some mysterious reason. All things then break loose, with disastrous consequences.

The credibility of the election process is tarnished and everyone is left guessing who really won the election.

I am not saying that this is how Zimbabwe will pan out but I am worried at how eerily familiar the situation there seems.

Right now, with 52 constituencies counted, the government has half the seats and the opposition the other half. Tsvangirai’s party has 25 and Mutambara’s 1. A couple of Mugabe’s ministers have lost their parliamentary seats. Other results are being delayed for some mysterious reason even as Tsvangirai’s party, the MDC, continues to claim that it has won 60% of the votes cast to Mugabe’s 30%. The MDC also claims that it has won 99 seats in parliament against ZANU-PF’s 96 while 15 went to other opposition groups.

The real results have been delayed by the electoral commission …….. no prizes for guessing why. The weird part about this is that even after uncle Bob showed the world what he is capable of over the last two decades, I was still kind of optimistic that he was going to hold a relatively acceptable election (please prove me right Mugabe, please…)

To future would be African “riggers of elections” : if you have to rig, please be tactful. Do it without delaying results simply because this creates suspicion. Do it without having voter turnout being higher than voter registration. And do it in a way that half the government ministers do not lose their parliamentary seats because if they do and you still win, even the dumbest among us will smell a rat.