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Mugabe plans to leave only in a hearse
Benedict Unendoro, Institute of War & Peace Reporting (IWPR)
January 17, 2007

ZIMBABWEAN President Robert Mugabe's attempt to extend his hold on power until 2010 has sent shock waves through Zimbabwean industry and commerce and, more significantly, galvanised opponents within his party.

At Mugabe's ruling Zanu (PF) party conference on December 16-17 the president tried to arm-twist his party into endorsing a motion that would have seen him renege on his promise to step down from power at the end of his current tenure next year.

In recent interviews with both local and international media, Mugabe explained that he wished to continue as the country's head of state and government because it would be imprudent of him to step down while his party was in what he described as a "shambles".

Although the majority of delegates supported his move to remain at the helm for at least another three years, meaning he would have been in power for 30 years, he did not get the overwhelming endorsement he sought. Only six out of 10 provinces supported the extension of his rule.

Instead of Mugabe being crowned at the conference as state president until 2010, the motion was referred back to the provinces for a decision later.

Ruling party sources said there was intense behind-the-scenes manoeuvring to stop Mugabe's extended power bid, with panic evident among captains of industry and commerce as the drama unfolded.

The country representative of a multinational auditing firm said many companies had decided to scale down on their operations as a consequence of Mugabe's declared ambitions. "It doesn't matter that no resolution was made at the conference to extend Mugabe's term," he said. "The mere attempt itself was shocking."

He said no multinational company would be happy to keep pouring human and financial energy into an economy facing more battering than ever before. "We are scaling down our operations here and so will many companies," he said. "The idea is just to keep a token presence in anticipation of better days."

He said many companies were approaching his organisation for due diligence audits to facilitate their partial exits from the country.

The giant London-based Anglo American mining consortium, once the owner of 40% of Zimbabwe's private sector, has almost totally liquidated its holdings. Mobil and BP oil companies are removing their signs from petrol stations throughout the country in what looks like preparation for their planned exits.

"We're dead," said Juliet Masiya, a Harare travel consultant. "He's old and has nothing new to offer except continued disintegration."

Many industries in Zimbabwe are working at only 30% capacity while thousands of others have shut down completely. "We're going to see huge disinvestments from Zimbabwe," said the auditing company representative.

"Maybe only the mining sector will survive, but even then only the big companies that have poured in huge amounts of money into infrastructure and other developments. Otherwise, the small miners are also going to pack up."

But it is at the political level that the drama is most riveting. "Mugabe's promise that he would not leave office because Zanu (PF) is in a shambles is shocking, to say the least," one senior party official, a Mugabe-appointed provincial governor, said. "It means Mugabe values the party ahead of the country. Everyone, including in Zanu (PF), knows that Mugabe is at the epicentre of the political crisis."

The main opposition political party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), is in disarray and has yet to make a powerful response to events at the ruling party conference.

Powerful Zanu (PF) politburo member and former commander of the army Solomon Mujuru is spearheading the fight against Mugabe's continued stay in power beyond next year.

Mujuru's tentacles spread across industry and commerce in one of the biggest business empires ever built in Zimbabwe. To protect the empire, Mujuru — leader of Mugabe's pre-independence exiled liberation army under the war name Rex Nhongo — wants his wife, Vice-President Joyce Mujuru, to succeed Mugabe. But the possibility of this happening would be diminished if Mugabe does not step down next year.

In a rare show of a common stance, the other faction in Zanu (PF), led by the wily former head of intelligence, Emmerson Mnangagwa, has also come out strongly, though somewhat more subtly, against Mugabe.

Sources say the factions are clandestinely going for rapprochement. They are agreed on the steps that have to be taken first before taking Mugabe head-on.

The first step, the sources say, would be to remove George Charamba, the powerful public service secretary for information and Mugabe's spokesman. Charamba single-handedly controls the state press. It is he, say the Mujuru and Mnangagwa factions, who has to be disabled because he is entirely responsible for whatever the dominant state-owned newspapers, radio and television say about the political crisis.

The factions also want to see the exit of the head of the much-feared Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO), Happyton Bonyongwe. Not only does the CIO control a newspaper group, Mirror Newspapers, but Mugabe has also militarised the spy agency so that he, as commander-in-chief of the national army, has immense control over Bonyongwe, a former military officer.

The third step would be to remove the ambitious Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe governor Gideon Gono, who has emerged as Mugabe's most important lieutenant in the fight to remain in power. Gono has been ordered to print inflationary money to finance his master's extended-power project.

Mugabe's plan is to "harmonise" the 2008 presidential election and the 2010 parliamentary election into one single poll in 2010, arguing that this would be simpler and cheaper. Few disagree with the superficial logic. But key Zanu (PF) politicians argue that Mugabe is trying to become president for life via the back door of a term extension, finally leaving office only in a hearse.

Diplomats say that the events at the party conference have opened an even darker chapter for the people of Zimbabwe, who have already suffered enormously since the country began its precipitous decline at the end of the last decade of the 20th century.

They say that soon the diplomatic community and the few states that still co-operate with Zimbabwe will have no choice but to abandon the country.

Many commentators fear Mugabe may be faced with a violent exit and the country subsequently left in enormous turmoil.

These comments are based on widespread discontent in the uniformed forces. Lower ranks in the army and the police are among the poorest Zimbabweans. Many have left the employ of the state but many, especially those who live among civilians, have begun to openly voice their disillusionment.

The long-awaited trigger may just be the levels of unashamed corruption among Mugabe's lieutenants. Uncertain themselves about their future, government and parastatal officials have increased their corrupt activities.

Recently, there has been an upsurge in farm evictions in which senior government officials are taking over the holdings of "new farmers" — black peasants for whom once white-owned land was earmarked.

*Unendoro writes for International War and Peace Reporting, a nonprofit media organisation, from Harare

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