Making sense of Mugabe’s re-election in Zimbabwe

August 13, 2013 8:54 am0 comments by:

Robert Mugabe has outfoxed his biggest political rival, Morgan Tsvangirai to win his seventh term as president of Zimbabwe. His victory didn’t surprise many, but the margin with which he clinched the presidency.

Mugabe is the only ruler Zimbabweans have known since their political independence, and ZANU-PF the only ruling political party.

As the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) made a rare admission of nearly 305,000 voters being turned away, and another 207,000 voters being “assisted” to vote in a country the UN says has the highest literacy level in Africa, Mugabe termed his victory as a “a blow to the enemy”, and dismissed criticisms about the polls.

This election wasn’t marred by widespread violence against opposition members like the one in 2008. Back then, after a defeat in the first round, ZANU-PF unleashed terror to opposition supporters, forcing MDC’s Tsvangirai to pull out of the presidential race, automatically handing the presidency to Mugabe, who went on to win un opposed.

In a country that has been deeply politically polarised, Mugabe declared that as long as he lives, he will never allow Tsvangirai to rule Zimbabwe. So, did Zimbabweans re-elect Mugabe out of fear? That their votes wouldn’t count for much if they were cast for the opposition?

There are those who sighed with relief that the former hero of liberation struggle stays in power. But at 89-and his health failing, it is almost certain that this was Mugabe’s last election. He has vowed to stay on, and that he will take part in the next elections slated for 2018, when he will be 94 then. Be that as it may, he is not known to possess an elixir for immortality, and he certainly is no vampire-creatures of folklore famed for their immortality, among other things.

In the end, Zimbabweans know, Mugabe will exit the stage, and wanted the process to be natural one. There are those of the opinion that things will improve in a post-Mugabe Zimbabwe. For all his faults, Mugabe’s mere presence has kept many forces at bay or in check.

For starters, there is an ongoing bitter struggle to succeed him in his party, ZANU-PF with two leading factions. One faction led by the country’s Vice president, Joyce Mujuru, whose husband, Solomon Mujuru, a veteran of the liberation struggles, died in a mysterious fire which burnt down his house and him in it, and the other faction led by Defence minister Emmerson Mnangagwa-who is seen to have an edge in the race of succession politics. He is seen as more “radical” than Mujuru, and has the support of the security forces which were accused of assisting his faction rigging the primaries within the party in his favour.

Mugabe’s victory has raised the stakes for these competing factions, and the cloak and dagger politics for the control of the party’s politburo just got more complicated.

The role of security forces in Mugabe’s Zimbabwe is very critical. In many ways, ZANU-PF and Zimbabwe Defence Force still view themselves as forces of liberation and haven’t undergone required and necessary reforms to bring them into the fold of civilian rule even in case where Mugabe or ZANU-PF are no longer in power. The chiefs of security forces, especially the army and the police have explicitly showed that they are deeply partisan.

Even when Mugabe goes, it is unlikely things will improve for the opposition, especially the MDC with its factions. In declaring victory, Mugabe said the enemy isn’t Tsvangirai, but those behind him, the British and her allies. The security forces being “tools for liberation” are unlikely to support anyone who they consider as a Trojan horse for the subversive interests of the “enemy”.

Mugabe’s absence might also bring the soldiers out of the barracks. “Baba Jukwa”-a Facebook character(s) privy to the inner workings of ZANU-PF claimed that during the just concluded elections, Mugabe was rushed back and hospitalised in Harare with the army on stand-by for a coup in case of death. It is such information which has rattled some feathers in ZANU-PF, and Mugabe is reportedly to have offered $ 300,000 to anyone who can help reveal the true identity of “Baba Jukwa”, and is said to have registered help from the Chinese to assist in the search of the “traitor”.

Constantine Chiwenga, Commander of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces and a veteran of the liberation struggles is said to harbour political ambitions. Much of everything will be up for grabs in the absence of “the old man”.

There is also a possibility of the tensions between Shona and Ndebele ethnicities to resurface. The infamous Gukurahundi, which resulted in the deaths of estimated 20,000 civilians, in mainly Ndebele speaking regions who were executed by Zimbabwe’s 5th Brigade. It is history, though not ancient one and it could rear its ugly side once again.

Plainly put, in all likelihood, Zimbabweans opted to hold on to the heroes of a bygone era, just for as long as they could for such choice gives them a breathing space until when the inevitable happens. They chose to hang on to the “normalcy” they know, the future can wait. They’ll cross that bridge when they reach there.

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