African dinosaur

With the Parliament in Zimbabwe having been dissolved last Friday ahead of the July 31 national elections, the country has been left to function with just two branches of the state, the executive and the judiciary. The latter is known to be wholly accountable to the former which, in effect, means that President Robert Mugabe, the country’s freedom fighter-turned dictator will rule by decree until elections are held, the results declared and Parliament restored.

Mr Mugabe is 89 and currently in his thirty-third year as ruler of his country. He is the world’s third longest serving head of government, behind only Eqatorial Guinea’s Teodora Obiang Nguema and Angola’s José Eduardo Dos Santos, both of whom, incidentally, have had issues raised about their lack of disposition to retirement.

Leaving ultimate power solely in the hands of Mr Mugabe is a serious risk. Even the presence of the Parliament has not been able to rein in his dictatorial rampage over the years. The coming July 31 poll follows two preceding ones, in 2002 and 2008. Both were widely believed to have been rigged.

What Mr Mugabe has done over the years is to place the country’s electoral machinery in the hands of various serving and retired army officers who benefit materially from his presidency and are therefore fiercely loyal to him.

In what must surely be the political irony of the twenty-first century Mr Mugabe’s most formidable political enemy is his Prime Minister, Morgan Tsvangirai who was pressed into a marriage of convenience with Mugabe following the 2008 elections which observers believe that Tsvangirai may have won outright at the first ballot. Post-elections violence forced the current Prime Minister to abandon the idea of competing in the subsequent presidential run-off.

Utilizing an odious piece of legislation known as the Presidential Powers Temporary Measures Act Mr Mugabe has unilaterally set the July 31 election date. Last week, after the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) had frowned upon the date set and suggested that more time be allowed to put key elections machinery in order an enraged Mugabe publicly dismissed South Africa’s SADC envoy Lindie Zulu as a “street woman” and threatened to pull Zimbabwe from the community which, incidentally, was responsible for brokering the current ruling coalition in Harare.

Mr Mugabe’s continual slide into political ignominy has been accelerated by his worsening intolerance of internal political opposition, his indifference to external criticism and his appropriation of lands belonging to whites as part of a land distribution programme.

External sanctions have considerably reduced the country’s once stable economy, particularly the controversial US-imposed Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act (ZIDERA) of 2001 which effectively restricts the country’s access to finance and credit facilities since it empowers Washington to use its voting rights and its clout as the major donor to the multilateral lending agencies – IMF, World Bank, African Development Bank et al – to veto applications from Harare for borrowing, loan rescheduling or international debt cancellation.

While Mr Mugabe has, at various times, said that he will retire at a time of his own choosing, his decision to further extend a tenure that now exceeds three decades has raised doubts about the seriousness of his assertion. His influence over the military apart, what is widely believed to be enabling him to remain comfortable in office is the fact that other key countries in the region, notably South Africa, Botswana and Zambia have not been known to place any real political pressure on the dictator to demit office.

The sudden elections call, attended by little time for either a measure of adjusting key elections rules coupled with little time for campaigning has already created uneasiness in the country which may well spill over into full-fledged violence if the polls are perceived to have been rigged. Then the possibility that even Mugabe’s supporters and allies, at home and abroad may decide his time has come, cannot be ruled out.

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