In Zimbabwe, a day not a week seems like a long time in politics. It is difficult to get a sense of perspective when so much is happening, and so fast. Just scanning the daily compilations made by the amazing Zimbabwesituation.com (what a service this has supplied since 2000!) is overwhelming, and being immersed in the day-to-day means that it is difficult to separate wood from trees.
Recent Zimbabweland blogs reflected on the popular #This Flag movements and wider protests, which seemed to have come from nowhere. They can of course as easily disappear, in the foment that is Zimbabwean politics. In recent weeks, as the state feared opposition groups capitalising on discontent, there was an attempted two-week ban on protests. This was in turn overturned by the High Court, as the Attorney General’s office provided an inadequate case. Meanwhile, on the back of the dramatic rejection of the President by his strongest allies, the war veterans, fears in the party about its base continue. Former Vice President, and war veteran heroine, Joice Mujuru’s rally in Bindura was nearly blocked, to the outrage of People First activists. And in the ranks of the wider opposition, Morgan Tsvangirai and Tendai Biti seem to be talking again, with ‘olive branches’ being offered and talk of alliances being once again rekindled. And of course the backdrop is the continued speculation about President Mugabe’s health, with the tracking of Air Zimbabwe’s UM1 to various destinations becoming an obsession for some.
On the land front, the attempts to create a new land administration system are being hampered by dispute, contention and continued lawlessness. The now Cabinet-approved Land Commission Bill, emerging from the cross-party Constitutional Agreement, provides a framework for audit, compensation and oversight (more on this on the blog soon), as well as the payment of lease fees, under a revised 99 year lease arrangement. But, perhaps inevitably, things are not settled. With volatile politics, seeking a stable, technocratic solution, rooted in laws and regulations, is almost impossible.
So what to make of it all? There are as many views as commentators, but someone who speaks from a non-partisan position, and on the basis of both distance and long, intimate engagement in Zimbabwe is Professor Stephen Chan, from the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London. In January this year he offered his views to the New York Times. He made the case for tentative re-engagement by the West, and a focus on the players within ZANU-PF:
Unpalatable as it appears, there is much to be said for swallowing hard and re-engaging with the regime….Should there be conditions for re-engagement? The West probably won’t be able to resist making calls for less opaque financial and political dealings. But the land issue is settled: There is no politically viable force that would seek to restore farms to ousted whites….The world will one day soon see the end of Robert Mugabe. But his party will likely live on, and it is within that party that, like it or not, the West must now find people with whom it can work toward some kind of viable future….
Much has changed in the 8 months since then. In his mid-August interview with the Daily News (reproduced below), his core argument of the need to engage, and the expectation that change will emerge from within ZANU-PF persists, despite the influence of the #ThisFlag movement. Not everyone will agree with the analysis – and there are many in the original post’s comments section who don’t – but a hard look at the forces at play does help. I am sure, just as some of Professor Chan’s predictions from January turned out not to be true, so too with his prognosis here. But making sense of uncertainty is always a challenge. And the current situation is more than baffling to me at least. So, in the hope that it can shed light, here are the published extracts from the interview with Daily News Senior Assistant Editor, Guthrie Munyuki:
Q: We have seen ructions in Zanu PF over the unresolved succession issues, how are they likely to shape the future of Zanu PF?
A: Yes, these ructions will destroy Zanu PF as the party of liberation. The war veterans have lost faith in Mugabe. Joice Mujuru, a genuine war heroine, has been purged. Emerson Mnangagwa, a hero of the struggle, has been under sustained attack.
Those who will be left will have played no part in armed struggle. If that is the case, those who succeed Mugabe will need a successful policy programme, but all we see is struggle for succession and no policy programme.
If Mnangagwa also falls, then the Zanu PF of the 2018 elections will not be the same party of the 1980 independence elections.
Q: At 92, President Robert Mugabe is considered to lack the stamina and energy he once had in keeping Zanu PF intact, does his age underline the current squabbling in Zanu PF?
A: There is no major leader anywhere else in the world who is Mugabe’s age.
In China, which also venerates age, you cannot become a member of the Politburo or become President if you are over 60. You must have done that in your 50s and then the President only has two terms, so it is impossible to still be President in your 70s.
But I think there is a misunderstanding here about age: it is not just that someone lacks the stamina and vigour of youth; it is much more that one takes into age the habits and mental processes of one’s own youth.
But a man who was in his 20s 70 years ago will not be able to understand the aspirations, technological environment, and complex future imaginings of those who are in their 20s today.
In a way, it doesn’t matter how much Zanu PF squabbles, if the president and the entire party lose touch, at one and the same time, with its living liberation history and with the ability fully to understand the needs and aspirations of very young people.
It then loses its past and its future and has only its squabbling present.
Q: Is there any role left for him to play in keeping Zanu PF together when one considers that he is now being identified with the G40 faction yet previously he would, at least publicly, maintain a neutral role.
A: What is the G40? We in the West keep hearing of the G40, but we recognise not a single brilliant technocratic name; we recognise no one who has the intellectual capacity to rescue Zimbabwe.
Whether Mugabe will come down firmly on the side of the G40 or not, my worry is that the G40 will not bring successful policies to Zimbabwe.
Q: How significant is Mugabe’s fall-out with the war veterans and how do you see things shaping (up) in Zanu PF given the relationship that the ex combatants have with the military?
A: To lose the war veterans is a disaster for Mugabe. They fought. They sacrificed. Who else carries the mantle of the men and women who suffered in the field against huge odds?
I saw the Rhodesian war machine. It took huge courage to go up against that. Losing the veterans will mean, as I said, Zanu PF is no longer the party of liberation.
Q: For a long time Emmerson Mnangagwa was touted as the likely man to succeed Mugabe but there are doubts based on how he is being humiliated by juniors in the party while Mugabe’s watches on. What’s your take on that?
A: I cannot read crystal balls. Perhaps this is not yet over. We shall see. But it is extraordinary to see a vice president treated this way.
Q: What options are there for Mnangagwa and how does his relationship with the military and the war veterans help him in his bid in light of the current attacks by G40?
A: Mnangagwa retains close links with the military, past and present.
To alienate him may be to alienate very powerful other people. But a coup would be very bad for Zimbabwe.
Whoever is president of Zimbabwe should be something for Zimbabweans to decide, not men in uniform. But I do think Zimbabwe is entering a tense moment.
Q: The economy has remained in the doldrums, leading to strikes and protests as well as suggestions that Zimbabwe could have its own Arab Spring; Is Zimbabwe ready for this?
A: There will be no Arab Spring. Besides, the Arab Spring brought nothing to the people of north Africa and only untold suffering to the people of Libya and Syria.
People can wrap as many flags around themselves as they like. This battle will be fought in the great institutions of the country. Zanu PF is one such institution. The army is another. I hope the judiciary will be another. And, if the church is to be an active institution in all this, it will take more than just one single Pastor.
Q: Can the opposition political parties profit from this situation?
A: The opposition parties have nothing I recognise as viable policy platforms either.
Q: Is their grand coalition possible given that they seem to be hesitant and overly cautious in going towards this route?
A: There will be no grand coalition. The opposition leaders are content to be princelings in their own courts. They are afraid that one of them might indeed become king.
Q: Zimbabwe’s face of the opposition for 16 years, Morgan Tsvangirai, is suffering from the cancer of colon, how does this impact his party’s chances in future elections?
A: Tsvangirai will no longer be a force in Zimbabwean politics. He has made his mark in history. He was a very brave leader of the opposition, and a far from perfect prime minister.
Q: Do you see him having a role in the 2018 elections?
A: No powerful or decisive role whatsoever.