36 years after Zimbabwe’s independence, the country faces these 4 big questions | Land Portal

By: Brooks Marmon

Date: April 28th 2016

Source: Washington Post


On April 18, Zimbabwe celebrated 36 years of independence. The hashtag #1980SoFarSoGood touted the accomplishments of ZANU-PF, the country’s governing party since 1980. Disgruntled citizens countered with the hashtag #1980SoFarFromGood, a digital protest against the ailing economy and political infighting dominating the country since the late 1990s.


The perspectives of ZANU-PF’s supporters and opponents vary widely, and there is little clarity on several important issues.


1. Who will succeed Mugabe?


President Robert Mugabe is 92 and the world’s oldest leader — and he has been in charge for all of Zimbabwe’s 36 years of independence. At a recent meeting with veterans of the country’s 1970s liberation struggle, Mugabe announced, “I am not dying. Shame on you.” In 2014, Mugabe declared that he would run for reelection in 2018. His wife, Grace, some 40 years his junior, recently announced that she would push her husband in a special wheelchair so that he could rule until he is 100.


At some point in the future, someone else will rule Zimbabwe, but there’s no clear successor at present. In late 2014, officials loyal to Vice President Joice Mujuru were purged from the government and the governing party. The government then expelled Mujuru, accusing her of witchcraft and plotting to kill Mugabe. Emmerson Mnangagwa, a longtime Mugabe confidant, became first vice president. Zimbabwe’s succession crisis seemed resolved — briefly.


Supporters of Mnangagwa are now battling Generation 40 (G40), a new faction whose goals are murky but which may be favoring Grace Mugabe or a younger candidate to become president.


In February 2016, the U.S.-educated war veterans minister, a Mnangagwa ally, accused the G40-aligned minister of higher education of pursuing a “regime change agenda,” — suggesting that the education minister acquired anti-ZANU-PF beliefs during his own graduate studies in the United States decades earlier. Indicative of strains within the governing party, the war veterans chief was fired weeks later — the same fate his predecessor met during the Mujuru purge.


Oxford scholar Blessing-Miles Tendi argues that the security forces appear to be directing the succession process. Tendi’s research found that Zimbabwe’s Military Intelligence group helped oust Mujuru, while a sympathetic faction in the Central Intelligence Organization acted against the Mnangagwa group. As long as Mugabe’s health holds, the intense ZANU-PF internal wrangling is not likely to subside.


2. What’s going on with indigenization?


Zimbabwe has been slow to implement its 2008 Indigenization and Empowerment Act, which requires foreign companies to surrender at least 51 percent of their shares to black Zimbabweans, as part of a push to eradicate colonial inequities. Minister of Indigenization and Economic Empowerment Patrick Zhuwao, a nephew of the president’s, threatened to shut down noncompliant companies before backtracking a few weeks later and admitting that he may have misinterpreted the law. Ironically, as the March 31 deadline for compliance approached, Mugabe was in Japan seeking to boost foreign investment.


Land reforms have also proved contentious. In 2000, the government began seizing land from some 4,000 white farmers. Mugabe noted: “If white settlers just took the land from us without paying for it, we can, in a similar way, just take it from them without paying for it.” However, Mugabe subsequently acknowledged that the land reforms have resulted in underutilized farmland and that dispossessed white farmers who had relocated to neighboring Zambia were feeding the country.


A number of observers, however, have argued that the land-reform process, while temporarily disruptive, was necessary to set a foundation for more equitable growth. Ian Scoones of the University of Sussex has suggested that even in the short term, the results of land reform are not uniformly negative; a large number of new working-class farmers have achieved impressive yields and are making significant investments in their new land.


In an effort to restore the country’s ties with international creditors, Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa has committed the government to compensating white farmers who lost farms during the fast-track land-reform process. In yet another mixed signal, Mugabe recently nominated as ambassador to the United Kingdom someone who has ignored legal rulings to vacate property seized from a white farmer.


While the European Union has removed many of the targeted sanctions imposed after the launch of the land-reform program, the economic-empowerment rhetoric has harmed Zimbabwe’s commercial ties with partners in the East as well. The government ordered Russian and Chinese mining firms to halt operations in February, with the government declaring that it will control all the diamond mines in the Marange area near Mozambique. In March, Mugabe appeared to accuse the Chinese of taking sides in the succession struggle; some theorize that the Chinese see Mnangagwa as more business-friendly than the enigmatic G40 leaders.


3. Where is the opposition?


In 2000, Zimbabwe’s economy was in tatters after the country’s armed intervention in the Democratic Republic of Congo and amid rapidly escalating inflation. The government suffered an unprecedented defeat in a constitutional referendum that year and in parliamentary elections in 2002.


In the 2008 elections, the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) secured a plurality of votes cast in the first round of the presidential contest. A few months later, after intense regional pressure and an aborted second round, the two parties formed a “government of national unity.”


In 2013, in the first elections to follow the adoption of a new constitution, Mugabe trounced his MDC opponent, Morgan Tsvangirai, by nearly 30 percent.  The constitution introduced presidential term limits and was expected to usher in a number of democratic reforms, although critics say it has achieved little in practice.


The size of the defeat left the MDC in disarray. Months later, a renegade faction tried to expel Tsvangirai. The attempt failed, and its instigators formed their own party, MDC-Renewal, later rebranded as the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) after its own internal split. Tendai Biti, a former minister of finance, currently leads the PDP.


There also has been a split in the governing party: Former vice president Mujuru recently formally launched her Zimbabwe People First Party. Alexander Noyes, an Oxford University PhD scholar, has said that “broad opposition coalitions greatly improve the chances of transition to democracy in authoritarian-leaning countries.” With the exception of Mujuru’s People First, most of the Zimbabwean opposition collaborated to issue a joint independence day statement condemning ZANU-PF’s rule. At the moment, however, the opposition has little momentum, and there is considerable ground to be bridged before a united front can emerge against ZANU-PF in 2018.


 


4. Are there parallels with other African regimes?


 


What is happening in Zimbabwe seems familiar. Several West African countries recently experienced transfers of political power. In Burkina Faso, the government of Blaise Compaore succumbed to popular protests in 2014, less than a year after three prominent defections from the governing party. In Nigeria in 2015, a diverse coalition of opposition parties booted the governing party out of power.


Ken Opalo, an assistant professor at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, predicted in the Monkey Cage that Compaore would withstand the popular protests. If Compaore’s swift fall was a surprise, a future leader of Zimbabwe from outside the ZANU-PF umbrella would be an even greater upset. Zimbabwean politicians outside of ZANU-PF may hope for a Nigerian-style succession, but it seems unlikely that they will manage to replicate it.


As Zimbabwe takes stock of 36 years of independence, #1980SoFarSoGood seems more of a placeholder. At the moment, Zimbabwe seems headed toward a post-Mugabe political conflagration — with few clues about how severe it will be, or who will emerge to lead the country next.


Brooks Marmon blogs on African politics and culture @AfricaInDC.


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