Zimbabwe’s president Robert Mugabe has been confirmed as the ruling Zanu-PF party’s presidential candidate for the next election due in 2018, when he will be 94 years old, and should he win, 99 by the end of his term.
The frail despot has ruled for 36 years, dominating Zimbabwe since independence from Britain in 1980. He has presided over economic mismanagement, corruption and human rights violations. Mr Mugabe has remained leader of the southern African nation through the ruthless suppression of dissent and his political guile, playing off one faction in the ruling party against another.
Mr Mugabe has wrecked the economy and impoverished his people. Zimbabwe’s economy was pushed into chaos when Mr Mugabe implemented a land reform programme around 2000, which seized white-owned commercial farms and gave them to cronies. The confiscation of farms has devastated farming output, though the government argues that it was redressing colonial wrongs.
Public finances are in a parlous state. Zimbabwe abandoned its own currency in 2009 after a period of hyperinflation, when price rises were measured in the sextillions (sextillion is 1 followed by 21 zeros) and introduced a multi-currency system (transactions involving the US dollar rose from 49 per cent in 2009 to more than 90 per cent in 2015; the second most widely used currency is the South African rand). The currency bottomed out with a 100 trillion Zimbabwe dollar note. Dumping the worthless Zimbabwe dollar and moving to the fully-dollarised economy was an emergency solution to hyperinflation. Bank balanced were converted at an exchange rate of 1 US dollar for 35 quadrillion Zimbabwe dollars (quadrillion in 1 followed by 15 zeros). Dollarisation has effectively ended the central bank’s ability to affect the monetary policy.
About 90 per cent of Zimbabweans work in the informal economy. Civil servants are the biggest workforce in the formal economy. The public sector wage bill accounts for 90 per cent of the budget. The government, therefore, has no fiscal space. Remittances account for 14 per cent of GDP. The International Monetary Fund predicts that Zimbabwe’s economy will shrink 2.5 per cent this year after a 0.3 per cent contraction last year.
The state is running out of dollars. The government has no money to import food and pay civil servants on time. It has imposed restrictions on imports of a range of household goods to prevent dollars from leaving the country. In November, the central bank began issuing a surrogate currency backed by a loan from the African Export-Import Bank. The so-called bond notes aimed at getting money flowing in the economy. They have an official exchange rate 1-1 with the US dollar and are available to companies, which are earning dollars via exports.
Infighting has swept through Mr Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party, because Mr Mugabe has never groomed a successor. The vicious factional battle has pitted the current first vice-president Emmerson Mnangagwa, a guerrilla veteran who once led security services, and Mr Mugabe’s second wife, Grace, who is known as Gucci Grace for her compulsive overseas shopping sprees. Mrs Mugabe entered the political scene in late 2014, becoming the head of Zanu-PF’s women’s league, which gave her the seat in the party’s decision-making Politburo. There is little enthusiasm for Mr Mnangagwa, who is feared not loved. Increasingly powerful Grace has the support of younger-generation Zanu-PF officials, known as the G-40 faction, short for generation 40, but she needs the army and policemen on her side to succeed her husband and retain power. It is far from clear at present where security forces will stand.
Zimbabwe’s opposition is fragmented. Morgan Tsvangirai – leader of the main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) – has lost credibility by serving as prime minister between 2009 and 2013 in the government of national unity (Zanu-PF and MDC). Mr Tsvangirai has challenged Mr Mugabe three times at the ballot box. In 2008, he managed to win the first round of presidential poll, but was forced to bow out before the final round of voting after his supporters were subjected to a campaign of intimidation. MDC has splintered into bickering factions, following a crushing defeat in the 2013 election. As a result of that, Mr Tsvangirai’s party doesn’t represent a serious threat to Zanu-PF.
Former vice-president Joice Mujuru, a heroine of the struggle for independence from Britain, formally launched last year her own party, People First, to challenge Mr Mugabe. She was Mr Mugabe’s vice-president for a decade and was seen as a frontrunner to succeed him. Mrs Mujuru, however, was dismissed in late 2014 after she became a target of vicious political attacks led by Mrs Mugabe, who accused her of seeking to oust the despot as well as corruption and witchcraft. Mrs Mujuru was replaced by Mr Mnangagwa, who was considered to be her arch rival in the ruling party.