President Robert Mugabe with wife, Grace and daughter, Bona. (file photo).
By Deus Kibamba
Although birthday parties are supposed to be apolitical, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe’s have always been lavish, partisan and highly political commemorations.
Last week’s bash marking the veteran leader’s 93rd birth anniversary was no different and, not surprisingly, the party drew plenty of attention both locally and far beyond Zimbabwe’s borders.
Mr Mugabe was presented with a 93kg cake and later addressed the nation in his trademark eloquence. The ruling Zanu PF also organised an official function in Matobo, just outside Zimbabwe’s second largest city, Bulawayo.
Actually the celebrations were planned to be both political and partisan. The events were organised at Zanu PF headquarters at Jongwe House in Harare. There was even a birthday party organiser, one Kudzai Chipanga, a ruling party cadre whose responsibility was to ensure the nonagenarian leader was treated to yet another elaborate birthday fete.
The cake was reportedly shaped like the map of Africa due to the perceived love that Africans have for the man. It is estimated that hundreds of thousands of dollars were spent to keep Mugabe happy on his birthday.
Whenever Mugabe opens his mouth, you can rest assured that something colourful or controversial will spew out. His diehard supporters were not disappointed when Mugabe said he had no plans to retire from politics because “I don’t see a successor around me”. It was that particular phrase that inspired me to pen this piece. Crazy as it may seem, I tend to agree with Mugabe that there is no possible successor right now. Why? As Mugabe himself is wont to say, people in and outside Zanu PF are just not good enough. But is that true?
Having been to Zimbabwe for election monitoring and observation during every election since 2000, I have had enough insights to warrant this analytical piece.
I hold the opinion that it is Mugabe himself who is actually the cause of uncertainty as far as succession in Zimbabwe is concerned. This is hardly surprising given that he has worked hard to scuttle the ambitions of any potential successor within and beyond Zanu PF in the last two decades or so.
Since the time of Joshua Nkomo back in the 1980s to recent political greenhorns such as Simba Makoni, Mugabe has been in his element when it comes to clipping the wings of overly ambitious rivals.
In 2008 a pumped-up Makoni made the mistake of challenging Mugabe for nomination as Zanu PF’s presidential candidate. It was the ultimate sin and he was swiftly, effectively and conclusively dealt with. Consigned to political obscurity, Makoni now leads a small and inconsequential party called Mavambo-Kusile.
Mugabe’s former vice president, Joice Mujuru, has also fallen victim to the ruthless machinations of the veteran leader. Mujuru was thought to be having ideas about the presidency from within Zanu PF and was quickly contained along with her husband and fellow freedom fighter, General Solomon Mujuru. She now leads another fledgling party, which is nothing more than an irritant to Mugabe and his close allies.
The only party that was in recent years capable of giving Mugabe sleepless nights was the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), which has since been reduced to a pitiful outfit wracked by political infighting blamed on instigation by Zanu PF.
Politicians Welshman Ncube, Tendai Biti and Morgan Tsvangirai, who were once the bedrock of MDC and opposition in general, are now at each other’s throats. MDC has effectively been split into three splinter parties – UMDC led by Ncube, MDC-T (the “T” stands for Tsvangirai) and Biti’s People’s Democratic Party.
With all potential successors systematically reduced to political dwarfs, it is small wonder that Mugabe can confidently say that he sees no qualified successor around him.
It’s time African countries came up with clear presidential term and age limits in their constitutions. In a situation where term limits fail to remove a president from power, such as in the case of Mugabe and Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni, the age limit could help.
For those who are still unaware, the constitution of Uganda will bar Museveni from contesting the presidency in 2021 because he will have surpassed the age limit of 75 stipulated in Article 102 (b) of the Constitution of Uganda, 1995.
Deus Kibamba is trained in Political Science, International Politics and International Law