Since independence in 1980, one iron rule has prevailed in Zimbabwe politics – no matter how much the odds are stacked against him, President Robert Mugabe always wins in the end.
By Tony Hawkins:
But aged 89, and responsible for bringing the once vibrant Zimbabwe economy to its knees, he must know that ultimately even iron rusts and decays.
After the past 15 years of economic and social failures, his Zanu-PF party has nothing to offer. For a decade, and still today, it has been unable to agree on a successor, and its policy platform for the forthcoming elections is deceptively simplistic: local ownership of land, mines, banks and industries. It has nothing else to present.
The adage that in economics, if something cannot continue, it will stop (of its own accord), is lost on Zanu-PF. The party hopes it can ride its luck in the exploitation of revenues from the extraordinarily opaque alluvial diamond sector while relying on the bureaucracy, the security forces and the legal system to see it over the line.
Moreover, even at 89, Mugabe has one crucial advantage. As a leader he stands head and shoulders above his political rivals. Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai falls seriously short in the leadership stakes. Like Zanu-PF, his Movement for Democratic Change is split on personalities and policy direction.
Most importantly, it lacks the ruthless killer instincts that have served the revolutionary party so well but the country and its people so badly. Even Tsvangirai’s supporters say he is a one-term leader and worry whether his four largely ineffectual years as prime minister in the coalition administration since 2009 have effectively ruled him out of the running.
That would be unfair. Many, though certainly not all, of the MDC’s failures have a lot to do with the party being prevented by Zanu-PF from doing its job and implementing its policies. Had the party not been part of a dysfunctional coalition administration, it would be in a far stronger position today than it is. It has managed a credible economic recovery – largely attributable to dollarisation in 2009 – something that eluded Mugabe in the decade to 2008.
When it went into the inclusive government with Zanu-PF and the tiny breakaway wing of the MDC now led by Welshman Ncube, the MDC was confident that the terms of the Global Political Agreement signed in September 2008 would deliver a new constitution and sweeping legal, electoral, security and media reforms that would ensure a reasonably level playing field for the 2013 polls.
Though a new constitution is in place, many of the back up reforms are not, and in demanding that the vote be held by the end of July, Mugabe and Zanu-PF are working furiously to ensure that the playing field remains as uneven as possible.They appeared to have won an important victory last month when the country’s new constitutional court instructed the president to call presidential and parliamentary elections by July 31.
The other parties cried foul, turning to the Southern African Development Community, the guarantor of the 2008 agreement, to demand that the polls be delayed until the necessary reforms are in place. The organisation called a summit last weekend in Maputo but then hastily postponed it without setting a fresh date.
Meanwhile, in Harare, a rash of articles and assessments, including one by deputy chief justice Luke Malaba, have been published decrying the court ruling and pointing to numerous practical reasons why the polls cannot be held so soon, such as the issue of voter registration. Tsvangirai himself has hinted at boycotting elections unless the agreed reforms are in place, leaving a sense of déj? vu – back to the 2008 stalemate.
Yet this is one outcome the country cannot afford. After a 10-year meltdown the economy rebounded about 25% in 2008-2012 but the post-dollarisation bounce is running out of steam. Finance minister Tendai Biti says GDP fell at an annualised rate of 3% in the first quarter of 2013, and blames political uncertainty for the downturn.
With per capita incomes lower than they were in the 1960s and formal employment outside agriculture down by a third since the late 1990s, Zimbabwe desperately needs a sustained period of strong economic growth, which will be achieved in a highly uncertain political environment.
For the economy’s sake, Zimbabwe needs reasonably free and fair elections resulting in a government with the necessary mandate and support to implement the tough and politically unpopular policies needed to sustain recovery. Zanu-PF populism – indigenisation – is simply not a viable strategy. It is fast unravelling. In a country bereft of savings and with a huge US$25bn-plus infrastructure investment bill to finance, not to mention new and replacement investment required across all sectors of the economy, the belief that Zimbabwe does not need foreign capital is nonsensical.
Even Mugabe supporters know this, but because their policy cupboard is bare, their chances of victory, as in 2000 and 2008, depend on manipulating the electoral system and the count. Given their past successes, no-one should underestimate their ability to do just that.