As the legendary Jack Welch noted, “If the rate of change on the outside exceeds the rate of change on the inside, the end is near.” The same applies to the political life of Robert Mugabe.
When it comes to leadership, there is no point in arguing with success – it speaks for itself – loudly. It is equally pointless quarrelling with incompetence either, because it shouts very loudly for everyone to hear. Clearly, Robert Mugabe is a narcissistic wannabe-swashbuckling-pan-Africanist, but the fact is he has nothing to show for his thirty-six years in power – nothing, zilch! But as I argue here, his days are numbered. He is finished. He will not be President of Zimbabwe by the end of 2017 at the very least. In fact, he will be lucky to remain President beyond December 2016.
Here are the five reasons why – but before that, let’s look at the question – how did he get there in the first place?
The rise of Robert Mugabe to the pinnacle of a then fairly advanced Sub-Saharan country is a romanticized story. Amusing stories are related by some Zimbabweans of how medicine men, prophets or spirit media foresaw his rise to power – to give an aura that the heavens acquiesced to his rise. His contemporaries relate the story of a young demagogue returning to the country at the height of nationalist fervor. Gifted with soaring rhetoric and demagoguery, the then political activists confused rhetoric with visionary leadership competence to their long-run disappointment, and it has taken 36 years and a whole generation to disprove the hypothesis at incalculable cost to an entire generation.
How Mugabe ended up at the pinnacle of Zimbabwe’s leadership is a mix coincidence, political maneuvering, reading the air and palace intrigue; discernible from the memoirs of his contemporaries. Let’s drill deeper into this for a moment. I have a number of books – some of them sent to me by readers of my writings – whose tales help to connect those dots. Cephas Msipa in his biography insinuates that Mugabe left Ghana under unclear circumstances and did not wish to return. Perhaps the Ghanaians can help us to understand what exactly happened in Ghana. Msipa’s account is as follows:
“Mugabe supported the idea of a one-party state back then, but did not speak much about his personal experiences in Ghana. It was as if something had gone wrong while he was in Ghana, which he did not disclose.”
Msipa and housemate Peter Kutama had hosted Mugabe, who was homeless when he returned from Ghana.
One day in 1960…Mugabe joined us unannounced. Kutama and I were bachelors and Mugabe must have seen that he would be comfortable living with us… [in Highfields, Harare] … Mugabe was very simple in his ways… As chairman of RATA, I invited him to address members of our branch on life in Ghana, which we believed was a free country. It was his first public address since coming back to Rhodesia… in June 1960. Reaction to that speech spread like bush fire. Soon politicians and trade unions were fighting for him to address their meetings. Those who organized rallies were being asked, “Will Mugabe be speaking?”
And so it was that, based on Mugabe’s rhetoric, he was offered a senior publicity position in the nationalist party.
On another hand, Edgar Tekere in his book paints Mugabe as a reluctant leader of the struggle who was thrust at the top by accident of history. He argued that Mugabe only became leader by default following the death of two of his senior leaders – Takawira (who died in prison) and Chitepo (who was assassinated in Zambia) at a time when the President of ZANU – Sithole – was being toppled from leadership after internal struggles within exiled ZANU factions turned bloody. Sithole was toppled due to the general consensus that he had failed to assert leadership since he was released in prison in 1974. Tekere writes that;
“Ndabaningi Sithole had been sacked, Leopold Takawira the vice president had died in detention and the secretary general was Robert Mugabe. Thus it was that Mugabe went with me into exile. It was made clear that he was not going as president of the party, but he had the authority to speak on behalf of ZANU.”
Fay Chung writes that Sithole, who was not sympathetic to the military leaders that had been arrested in Zambia for the death of Herbert Chitepo,
“… immediately sought to impose politicians over military leaders at a time when the military was extremely suspicious of politicians… Sithole had made the monumental misjudgment in discounting the freedom fighters, whom he regarded as ‘mere gun-carriers’ whose views counted for little.”
Mugabe, who quickly understood the currents that removed Sithole from the leadership sided himself with the guerrillas, after having been ignored by Zambia leaders upon his release from prison. Chung says that Mugabe, played the populist, carefully choosing sides to align with;
“… Throughout the détente period… [Mugabe] had provided strong support for the imprisoned Zanu leaders in Zambian jails… It was this alliance with the militarists that now stood him in good stead… Already Mugabe had had a personal taste of the hostility of the commanders on the ground… While he had been placed in exile in Quelimani by the Mozambican government, he had sent one of his most trusted deputies to link up with the ZANLA guerrillas. The results were catastrophic, with the commanders… making public statements… that they were not sure they would accept [his] leadership if he were of the same mould.”
“[Mugabe] was prepared to listen to the views of all the different groups and personalities that formed ZANU. One characteristic of his personality was that, having listened carefully to everyone, he was able to keep his opinions to himself. It was not easy to tell what his real opinions were…”
Mugabe’s leadership however, was only cemented by the confirmation of the Mgagago Declaration by a meeting of the ZANU central committee in Mozambique in 1976 just before the Geneva Conference, according to Chung who asserts that “… the choice of Mugabe was made because of the desire of all to avoid a potentially damaging leadership struggle”. This is because there were several other very competent and capable leaders other than Mugabe. The Mgagao Declaration by Zimbabwe Freedom Fighters was published in November 1975 way before there was acceptance of Mugabe’s leadership. The relevant part of the declaration reads as follows:
“We wish to register our strong criticism over the way the ANC leadership has been exercising leadership over the revolution. These are (a) Bishop Abel Muzorewa, (b) Reverend Ndabaningi Sithole [and] (c) James Chikerema. … They cherish an insatiable lust for power… An executive member who has been outstanding is Robert Mugabe. He has demonstrated this by defying the rigors of guerrilla life in the jungles of Mozambique… he is the only person who can act as a middleman… We can only talk through Robert Mugabe to them.
What rises must fall. What goes up must come down. Robert Mugabe is finished. As I wrote here in January, he has nowhere to run [ http://bit.ly/1QsAZJm]. Politicians make a life out of reading people’s faces, hearts and minds. In politics as in gambling, as Kenny Rogers pointed out, the secret is knowing when to walk away, knowing when to run. As the legendary Jack Welch noted, “If the rate of change on the outside exceeds the rate of change on the inside, the end is near.”
The same applies to the political life of Robert Mugabe. At this point, he seems to think he can game his way into winning another election, but people around him now understand that their future can’t be held at ransom by the whims and caprices of one nonagenarian.
Here are five reasons why Robert Mugabe will not be President of Zimbabwe beyond December 2017.
Let’s dispense with this common cause very quickly. Mugabe is now a man of advanced age – very slow in both speech and mobility. As I said in my article here (http://bit.ly/21Ry4Nx) I would never trust a man of such age with running even a kiosk. It is very sad that when he travels, which he is very fond of doing – his hosts have to walk up to him instead of him walking up to his hosts (try watching the videos of his recent trip to Rwanda and what happened when he met with Kagame).
Doctors had to be flown in this last week from Asia to medically prop him up to enable him to stand the rigors of Zimbabwe’s long weekend which includes the Heroes day festivities. Except when he has pressing meetings, Mugabe now works 30 minutes a day, often coming to his office around 3pm and leaving half an hour or so afterwards to go home and sleep.
In spite of all this, his young wife, who now lives in a separate section of their mansion thinks he must rule even from the grave. It might sound stupid, surreal even, but it does seem so real to the Mugabes. Surrounded with bands of sycophants feeding off the crumbling carcass of what’s left of the Zimbabwean economy, the Mugabes believe the bootlicking. But as sure as the sun rises from the east and sets in the west, Mugabe won’t be president by the end of the next twelve months.
It’s the economy – stupid!!
It’s one of those Clintonisms from Bill Clinton’s campaign, but rings very true of Zimbabwe. In 2014, I was perplexed by the IMF and the World Bank’s projections of economic growth in Zimbabwe. At that time, Zimbabwe was projecting 6.1% economic growth while the World Bank made a 4.2% forecast. I could understand the Zimbabwean government’s sunny-side projection in the face of gloom but I expected the World Bank to be more realistic.
As it turned out, the IMF was forced to continuously revise its projections downwards. But that’s beside the point. I had projected very low growth rates for Zimbabwe – the catch in my projection model being how Zimbabwean government allocates resources to the productive sectors. You can see my critique on the issue here [ http://bit.ly/2b4SkYu] – where I made the following observation:
“Just looking at the $7 million allocation to Mr Bimha’s ministry (Ministry of Industry) compared with the ATI premium does not tell us much… devil is in the detail. If you drill further into Mr Chinamasa’s 2014 budget… Mr Mugabe’s own “office of the President and cabinet” was allocated a whopping $200 million. Yes, a cool $206 054 000. That is twenty-nine times the size of the ministry in charge of industry and commerce. Put differently, Mr. Mugabe’s office alone got a huge five percent (5%) of the total national budget. Clearly, a country does not need enemies, when it can do this to itself. No wonder companies are collapsing one after another, as if suffering from an epidemic!”
How badly Mugabe manages the Zimbabwean economy is a textbook case study of how not to run a country. According to Wikileaks, Dell, a former US Ambassador, in a cable aptly derided Mugabe’s economic management ignorance as follows; ‘his deep ignorance on economic issues – coupled with the belief that his 18 doctorates give him the authority to suspend the laws of economics.’
Without belaboring the point, Zimbabwe is technically insolvent. Its external debt is nearly $10 billion. This would not have been a big deal if the economy was big, and if the debt was not overdue. Nobody will lend to an irresponsible government notorious for not paying back – not even the Chinese. The IMF and World Bank will not provide any loans – not because of any sanctions, but because Zimbabwe has not paid back what it owes for over fifteen years.
The weight of Mugabe’s irresponsible decisions is weighing heavily on his 92-year-old shoulders. In 2015, I made a gloomy prognostication of the Zim economy and its coming to pass [ http://bit.ly/22Gyzvt ]. With a plunging economy, the capacity to appease and ingratiate all competing factions and constituents at the corruption feeding trough is severely weakened creating raptures from every corner.
The succession problem
I will adequately cover the factional problem besetting Robert Mugabe’s part in a future piece. The long and short of it is that contrary to Cephas Msipa’s view, by conduct rather than word, Mugabe still believes in a one party state. All instruments to crush all forms of opposition remain in place. Political parties only exist to give a veneer of plurality. This is why reforms designed to democratize Zimbabwe and create free and fair elections are anathema to him.
As noted above the feeding trough has shrunk so much that bit-by-bit, his former backers now realize that his leadership is a national cancer. Roughly 14,800 days after the Mgagao declaration, Zimbabwe’s war veterans disowned Mugabe via a very stinging communique. Mr. Mugabe is now resorting to frequently summoning his dwindling band of supporters to the capital to reaffirm his position as leader of the party and country.
When you are a national leader and the only arrow left in your quiver is to summon crowds – voluntarily or otherwise – to check if they still love you every four weeks, you are finished! As the economy gets worse and worse, more supporters will peel off Mugabe’s political onion much faster than ever before and his reign crumbles like a deck of cards. Yet the young ‘turks’ within the party are not oblivious to this reality. They smell blood and are circling around him like vulture. He is literally a sitting duck.
A pesky demographic problem
Last year, I wrote about the Dakota wisdom [ http://bit.ly/1UkoRJw ]. Wisdom of the Dakota Indians passed on from one generation to the next, is that when you discover that you are riding a dead horse, the best strategy is to dismount. Quit kicking the can down the road by arguing that you can buy a stronger whip, change riders, appoint a committee to study the horse, arrange to visit other countries to see how they ride dead horses, lower standards to include the dead horses, reclassify the dead horse to living-impaired, hire outside contractors to ride the dead horse, harness several dead horses together to increase speed, provide additional funding and training to increase the dead horse’s performance, do a productivity study to see if lighter riders would improve the dead horse’s performance, or even, rewriting the expected performance requirements for all dead horses.
I also used the John Snow metaphor [http://bit.ly/2awp795] to illustrate how Zimbabwe’s number one problem can be fixed. Following a major cholera outbreak in 1854 in Broad Street in London, Snow fixed the problem by removing the pump. I thus argued that;
“Zimbabweans have two options. They can either be content with the status quo, or reject it…. They can either leave the handle on the pump, and continue to drink from it, or just remove the pump and stop the leadership cholera in their nation.
Mugabe’s biggest political quagmire is demographical. The young generation under forty is in the majority. They are tech-savvy but very idle and jobless – at least the vast majority. Because of Mugabe’s rule, they are consumed by despair, have little hope for the future and don’t see a way out for their generation. The only light they see at the end of the tunnel is a train coming to crush them. Many of them have no work experience. They can’t move out of home to branch out on their own. Their only option is to either emigrate from their country of birth or stay on and resist the system.
Many of them are vendors. They line the streets selling all sorts of wares ranging from second-hand clothing, mobile phone credit, wild fruits, Chinese toys to flags and other trinkets. In moments of populist fervor, Mugabe’s wife encouraged vending to ingratiate herself with the jobless youths. Here is Mugabe’s quandary – the young generation cannot be fooled. They don’t care about land or freebies as much as they care for a secure future, jobs and enough space to be entrepreneurial. They realise that their life is wasting away at the mercy of a geriatric.
An Empty Pot – No Rewards
On the flip side is the generation of war-veterans Mugabe has largely relied on, consistently using rewards and punishment to keep them in check and entrench power. His biggest challenge is that he has given everything there is to give to retain allegiance, and now the bag is empty. Zimbabwe’s war veterans have been given land, cash largesse, monthly payments, and positions in the military, government and his party.
But land is finite and everything is else has shrunk owing to bad leadership. Now the war veterans have realized that every player has been changed except the coach. Their recent communique – issued with support from people in the military – is categorical in making it clear that they no longer have confidence in the captain of the ship. This factor is will provide the largest impetus to the demise of Mugabe’s leadership.
Smelling the end?
Mugabe has systematically steered Zimbabwe from a successful African story into a banana republic. The trouble with most bad leaders is that they never smell the end even when it’s around the corner. The Russian Tsar, Slobodan Milosevic, Mobutu Sese Seko, Kamuzu Banda, Blaise Compaore, Muammar Gaddafi, Hosni Mubarak and so on.
Contrast this with leaders like Julius Nyerere who passed on the baton to Ali Hassan Mwinyi admitting to his own limitations to lead Tanzania into the future. Mugabe does not realise that the glue that kept him in power has come unstuck. The constituents that kept him in the job are peeling off like an onion. Sooner rather than later, he will be forced to retire – peacefully if he is lucky! The end is nigh.
Ken Yamamoto is a research fellow on Africa at an Institute in Tokyo. He researches and travels frequently between Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda and Zimbabwe. Email your views to firstname.lastname@example.org
Post published in: Featured