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Mugabe endorsement "opportunity" for opposition
Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR)
Mike Nyoni (AR No. 148, 23-Dec-07)
December 23, 2007

The ruling ZANU-PF's endorsement of Robert Mugabe as its presidential candidate in next year's elections might present the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, MDC, with its best chance of gaining power - if it can present a united front.

All ten provinces controlled by ZANU-PF endorsed Zimbabwe's independence leader at its extraordinary congress in the capital Harare last week - an event attended by nearly 10,000 delegates, as well as representatives of ruling parties from ten Southern African Development Community, SADC, countries.

ZANU-PF chairman John Nkomo summed up the reasons for backing the octogenarian leader for re-election in the joint presidential and parliamentary ballot in March.

"Our president and first secretary, we salute him for the role he has contributed in shaping the lives of the oppressed in Africa and the world, for tenaciously defending our independence and sovereignty, for his courage to make decisions going it alone if need be, compassion to listen to others," he declared.

"He is a nationalist, non-regionalist, pan-African par excellence and solid internationalist."

Analysts in Harare said this view suggests the party is more concerned with past glory than it is with taking the nation forward. This, they said, presents a golden opportunity for the MDC to grasp power - if only it can mend its differences and put the interest of the nation ahead of individual egos.

"Mugabe's endorsement as the ruling party's presidential candidate next year is more a statement of [the party's] contempt for the opposition than it is to do with having confidence in Mugabe," suggested one political analyst.

"It is a daring decision which the MDC should see as a challenge to its capacity to fight ZANU-PF."

Mugabe has ruled Zimbabwe since it won independence from Britain in 1980, and has used his inflated role in the 1970s liberation war to suppress any challenge to his increasingly autocratic rule, both from within his own party and from outside.

Things began to come unstuck for the president when his government embarked on an unplanned land reform programme in 2000, seizing productive white-owned commercial farms for distribution largely to his cronies.

Independent analysts estimate that the economy has contracted by 45 per cent in the past eight years to 1953 levels. Inflation is soaring at an estimated 8,000 per cent while unemployment is close to 85 per cent.

It is estimated that between three and four million Zimbabweans have left the country in recent years.

People's anger at deteriorating conditions in the country has been channelled through the MDC since its formation in 1999.

In the greatest threat Mugabe has faced during his rule so far, the party narrowly lost parliamentary elections the following year, winning 57 seats against ZANU-PF's 61.

However, internal rivalries have since rocked the opposition, and in 2005, the MDC split into two factions - the larger part led by Morgan Tsvangirai, former secretary-general of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, and a breakaway faction headed by former academic Arthur Mutambara.

Tsvangirai has lost much support over a number of questionable decisions and many believe that he has shown that he is unable to hold the party together.

Observers say with a litany of disastrous policies by ZANU-PF, a better opposition leader could propel the MDC to victory in the March elections.

"There is nothing to stand in the way of a united opposition. They are currently their own worst enemy and should they lose next year, the MDC should consider an alternative leader," said the political analyst.

According to him, when Mugabe first hinted that he wanted to run for re-election most people assumed he was bluffing. He said he believed the current president would spring a surprise on his party by announcing a possible successor at last week's extraordinary congress.

"As things stand, ZANU-PF has demonstrated over the years that it is incapable of turning around the spiralling economy," said the analyst.

Divisions in the ruling party also emerged last week between a group led by retired army commander General Solomon Mujuru, who wanted to challenge Mugabe, a group led by Rural Amenities Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa, Women's League chair Oppah Muchinguri and war veterans, who wanted him to stay.

"The collapsed economy has long been Mugabe's biggest nemesis and all the MDC needs to do is to unite and mobilise the people to vote next year," said another independent political observer.

He pointed out that everything remains in short supply in the country.

"Even as we approach Christmas, there are no basic commodities in the shops as promised by Reserve Bank Governor Gideon Gono in September. Health services have collapsed and there is no transport as people prepare to break for the holiday," he said.

"The current crippling cash crisis is the latest insult in a long catalogue of Mugabe's destructive policies," said the political observer. "What does he want to do at 84 that he couldn't do when he was younger and the economy was still robust?"

However, he points out that splintered state of the opposition is damaging its chances of capitalising on the situation. "The MDC now stands between itself and victory because of internal squabbles," he said.

* Mike Nyoni is the pseudonym of an IWPR journalist in Zimbabwe.

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