News / Africa

Succession, Health Doubts Loom Over Mugabe Term

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe holds the bible during his inauguration, Harare, Aug. 22, 2013.
Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe holds the bible during his inauguration, Harare, Aug. 22, 2013.
Reuters
When Zimbabwe's veteran president Robert Mugabe suavely hosted journalists at State House on the eve of last month's election, there was only one question that caught him off guard.
 
Asked if the presence of Defense Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa by his side meant that he was his chosen successor, Mugabe paused awkwardly amid laughter and then delivered an unconvincing reply that Mnangagwa just dropped by to see him.
 
Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, left, and Defense Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa, at State House press conference, Harare, July, 30, 2013.Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, left, and Defense Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa, at State House press conference, Harare, July, 30, 2013.
x
Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, left, and Defense Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa, at State House press conference, Harare, July, 30, 2013.
Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, left, and Defense Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa, at State House press conference, Harare, July, 30, 2013.
Three weeks after Mugabe's re-election in a disputed vote called a fraud by his main rival but accepted by his African neighbors, there are no doubts Africa's oldest leader is holding firmly on to the presidency after 33 years in power.
 
But the question of whether, at 89, he can serve out all of his new five-year term — and who will succeed him if he steps down or dies — will hang uncomfortably over his re-installation as Zimbabwe's head of state on Thursday.
 
It will also be crucial for the future of the southern African nation, which is rich in platinum, gold and diamonds but still emerging from a decade-long recession brought on by political violence and government-backed land seizures.
 
Mugabe faces few immediate threats. Longtime rival Morgan Tsvangirai has been stunned by the enormity of his defeat in an election he says was rigged from start to finish; last week he dropped a challenge to Mugabe's re-election that his Movement for Democratic Change had filed in the Constitutional Court.
 
The court confirmed on Tuesday that Mugabe's win was "free, fair and credible" and had reflected the "will of the people."
 
Faced with a meek but broad endorsement of the result by African regional and continental bodies, Western governments must now decide whether to shun the man they have reviled as a ruthless dictator for years, or attempt a rapprochement in the interest of practical diplomacy.
 
Mugabe's non-committal answer on the succession is typical of a wily and inscrutable guerrilla politician who fought a liberation war leading to independence in 1980, crushed a revolt once in power, and outfoxed rivals within and outside his fractious ZANU-PF party.
 
Mugabe comes across as feisty and sprightly for his age. He has denied reports that he has prostate cancer and told reporters he intends to serve his full new term.
 
But his advanced years and the persistent questions about his health, compounded by successive medical check-up visits to Singapore, means that his endurance in office carries its own cloud of uncertainty for Zimbabwe's future.
 
"Mugabe and Tsvangirai have fought their last elections ... one way or another," said Stephen Chan, Professor of International Relations at London's School of Oriental and African Studies. "Whether it was stolen or not, this was a historic election that prefigures change."
 
The United States, a major critic of Mugabe, has made clear it does not believe his latest re-election was credible and that a loosening of U.S. sanctions on Zimbabwe "will occur only in the context of credible, transparent and peaceful reforms that reflect the will of the Zimbabwean people."
 
The European Union, which had eased some sanctions, is considering its own response after expressing concern about alleged irregularities and lack of transparency in the election.
 
Succession scramble?
 
Adding to Zimbabwe's uncertain outlook is the perception that another Mugabe term will intensify a succession battle within the ruling party. ZANU-PF has a history of feuds and splits dating back to its bush war against white minority rule in what was then Rhodesia.
 
"Vicious faction-fighting is in the DNA of ZANU-PF," said Stephen Ellis, a professor at the African Studies Centre in Leiden, the Netherlands.
 
Defense Minister Mnangagwa, a 66-year-old guerrilla war veteran and Mugabe's main security enforcer, is widely seen as a succession contender, along with Vice President Joice Mujuru and State Security Minister Sydney Sekeramayi.
 
Mnangagwa, known as "the Crocodile," earned a hardline reputation as security minister in the 1980s for his role in suppressing rebels in the western province of Matabeleland. Human rights groups say about 20,000 civilians were killed in the crackdown led by the army's North Korean-trained Fifth Brigade.
 
Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, left, celebrates with newly sworn-in vice presidents Joyce Mujuru, right, and Joseph Msika, center, State House, Harare, Oct. 2008 file photo.Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, left, celebrates with newly sworn-in vice presidents Joyce Mujuru, right, and Joseph Msika, center, State House, Harare, Oct. 2008 file photo.
x
Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, left, celebrates with newly sworn-in vice presidents Joyce Mujuru, right, and Joseph Msika, center, State House, Harare, Oct. 2008 file photo.
Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, left, celebrates with newly sworn-in vice presidents Joyce Mujuru, right, and Joseph Msika, center, State House, Harare, Oct. 2008 file photo.
Mnangagwa, Mujuru and Sekeramayi have been members of Mugabe's cabinet since 1980, and played a major role in ZANU-PF's re-election machine.
 
During campaigning, Mujuru addressed rallies, Mnangagwa acted as Mugabe's presidential election agent and Sekeramayi was the ruling party's point man for the legislative elections in which ZANU-PF was declared the overwhelming winner.
 
On the face of it, Mujuru, 58, another liberation war veteran whose nom de guerre was Teurai Ropa ("Spill the Blood") appears to hold an advantage in the succession stakes because as first party vice president she acts for Mugabe when he is away.
 
But under a new constitution adopted earlier this year, ZANU-PF would choose a new president if Mugabe stepped down or were to die before the end of his term. Many fear this could lead to a scramble for power among ambitious aspirants.
 
"For all Mugabe's problems, he has been able to keep the peace in ZANU-PF, and has commanded the authority to keep a potentially chaotic party organized," Zimbabwean political analyst Eldred Masunungure said.
 
"Mugabe's absence could lead to chaos because he has managed the party in such a manner that nobody else has his kind of unquestionable authority," he added.
 
Mnangagwa Vs. Mujuru
 
Some party insiders say Mugabe has skillfully played the Mujuru-Mnangagwa rivalry to strengthen his own position.
 
Nine years ago, when Mnangagwa appeared headed for election to the ZANU-PF vice presidency with the backing of six of the country's 10 provincial party structures, Mugabe stepped in to engineer Mujuru's appointment to the job.
 
There was speculation at the time that Mugabe penalized Mnangagwa for his leadership ambitions and that Mujuru's husband, ex-army commander Solomon Mujuru, had prevailed on the president to promote his wife.
 
This week, breaking with party tradition that individuals do not actively promote themselves for leadership, Mujuru attacked party rivals and presented herself as the moderate leader ZANU-PF needs after Mugabe, local media reported.
 
"We know that the president will soon be 90 and God might decide to call him ... I am best placed to succeed Mugabe if he departs whether by natural wastage or voluntary retirement," she told a private weekly newspaper in surprisingly frank comments.
 
ZANU-PF insiders say Mujuru may have been frustrated by Mugabe's statement that he plans to serve his full term to 2018.
 
Far from mellowing his anti-Western and nationalist rhetoric, Mugabe has told his critics since the election to "go hang" and promised to increase the pace of "indigenization" policies forcing foreign-owned firms to sell majority stakes to black Zimbabweans.
 
John Campbell, an Africa expert at the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations, said he saw Zimbabwe going into "a holding pattern," with little prospect of significant economic and political change until Mugabe disappears from the scene.
 
"I don't think anything will be settled until he's gone," said Tawana Shomwe, 35, who sells recharge cards for mobile phones on the streets of Harare.

You May Like

Obama: Alaskans Feel Signs of Climate Change

They're seeing bigger storm surges as sea ice melts, more wildfires, erosion of glaciers, shorelines More

Katrina Brought Enduring Changes to New Orleans

The city’s recovery is the result of the people and culture the city is famous for, as well as newcomers and start-up industries More

Magical Photo Slides Show Native Americans in Late 1800s

Walter McClintock spent 20 years photographing the Blackfoot Indians and their vanishing culture at the dawn of the modern age More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs