HARARE – International Crisis Group senior consultant for southern Africa Piers Pigou says President Robert Mugabe’s advanced age and the country’s changing politics will not make it possible for him to be a presidential candidate in 2018. Here, he speaks to Senior Assistant Editor Guthrie Munyuki and below are the excerpts of the interview.
Q: How do you see President Robert Mugabe dealing with the current economic situation which has attracted so many protests in the last three months?
A. Mugabe’s government has been unable to implement a credible reform process as reflected in the ongoing delays to secure a debt arrears package and access new lines of credit. Economic reform and recovery if consolidated is unlikely to have any significant short or medium term positive effects for the majority of ordinary Zimbabweans.
Q: Zimbabwe has slipped back onto the international radar as the political unrest grows, what options are there for him to avoid going through another mediation route?
A: Avoiding mediation (between Zanu PF government and protesting opposition formations) remains a central if not preferred option for RGM (Robert Gabriel Mugabe) and Zanu PF government. Accepting mediation to address political instability requires acknowledgement that there is a problem which is roundly denied/avoided.
It would also be an implicit acknowledgment of illegitimacy/failure, something Zanu PF is unlikely to admit to. Another question on mediation is the question of internal mediation within Zanu PF which had been riddled with worsening factionalism over the last two years. Prospects of convergence amongst a critical mass of Zanu PF elements is moot and will be essential for future options and trajectories. There is considerable speculation of growing prospects of a meeting of minds between key elements within the ruling party.
Q: In what way does the police heavy-handedness in dealing with protestors make it difficult for him to remain legitimate in the eyes of the international community?
A: The police response to protest represents a spike in violations with ZRP, now the main recorded perpetrator of human rights violations. In spite of this, some believe the overall security response has been relatively measured in the circumstances.
Issues of relativity are obviously moot. Certainly, such violations compound RGM’S legitimacy challenges. I think the question contains a false premise regarding RGM’S legitimacy in the eyes of the international community in any case. RGM and Zanu PF government retain a major legitimacy/credibility deficit in many parts, both domestically and internationally.
Q: Is there anything that Mugabe can do differently but acceptable to his rivals and those calling for his resignation?
A: It is unlikely. RGM has guided Zanu PF into a political and economic cul de sac. He is now regarded by a cross section of interests, not only from opposition ranks, but also within Zanu PF as the primary obstacle to reform. Given the structural and political nature of current challenges however, obstacles to reform go way beyond Mugabe, the man.
Q: In the absence of a financial bailout and international support, how long can Mugabe remain in power?
A: RGM may already be gone. Government has few realistic options in the circumstances, but it is likely to play towards the “theatre of reform, essentially buying a lot more time by kicking the can down the road” rather than major tangible progress, referred to by many as “walking the talk”. Prerogatives of 2018 election victory are likely to overtake a number of key reform issues.
I think it is also worth mentioning that the reforms predicated on re-engagement with international financial institutions remains relatively limited in scope, and whilst important, are by no means the panacea to Zimbabwe’s problems.
Q: His advanced age has seen him making frequent visits to Singapore for what many speculate to be for medical reasons, at such an age, how difficult is it to remain fit and competent for a job such as his?
A: Clearly, RGM is no longer going to retain office; despite fanatical assertions of him being the Zanu PF candidate for the 2018 elections, this hasn’t been a feasible option for some time. His retention of power reflects a fundamental irresponsibility by himself and Zanu PF’s leadership.
Q: Zanu PF is fractured by infighting over succession, will Mugabe be forced to leave office before 2018 and appoint a successor who appeals to the international community?
A: RGM will not make it to 2018. In terms of succession, there have been numerous assertions that certain members of the international community favour Emmerson Mnangagwa to succeed. In current circumstances, and if RGM’S health status forces the appointment of a new president, Mnangagwa well be acting president for three months until Zanu PF can choose a successor.
How this is done remains unclear as official copy of Zanu-PF’s constitution, including all the 2014 amendments remains largely under wraps. Why Zanu-PF believes third should remain confidential is confounding.
Factional competition is managed in the circumstances and the role of the security sector in ‘‘kingmaking’’ remains unclear and contested terrain.
Q: In your view, why did Mugabe leave it late to address this succession issue?
A: Mugabe never made proper plans for succession; for some time there had been speculation that he would die in office, an outcome of combined wish of Mugabe himself, as well as key elements of Zanu PF’s leadership whose own positions and fortunes were contingent or strengthened on basis of his continued incumbency.
Q: Mugabe has complained of military interference in Zanu PF politics, can he successfully repel them and appoint a successor who may not be necessarily their preferred candidate?
A: Moot point at this juncture? But unlikely as security sector, especially military, whose endorsement of whoever succeeds is generally regarded as a unwritten conditionality for many, but still leaves open some questions about what this means for G40 aspirations given RGM had appeared in his June 7 address to Zanu PF central committee to push his affiliation towards the G40.
Q: War veterans and the military speak the same language on the credentials that Mugabe’s successor should possess; does this make it difficult for anyone who does not have war credentials to succeed Mugabe?
A: Yes, this would be, but I’m not sure this position is as rigid as presented, especially as this prerequisite obviously had a nearing sell by date. We may be seeing a more general positioning that RGM’s successor would have to be committed to upholding and maintaining the goals of Zimbabwe’s liberation struggle, which could open the door beyond a narrow range of options, mainly within Zanu PF.
This would provide space for the security sector to move beyond these politicised limitations and to premise its focus on constitutional provisions and the integrity of the institutions of the sector.
Q: Can the Zimbabwe opposition political parties profit from the current national and Zanu PF problems?
A: Opposition groupings are already benefiting as seen by growing convergence and consolidation of opposition actions and positioning.
This, of course, by no means translates into tangibly improved options for real change.
Q: Will the military allow a transition that does not involve a Zanu PF president?
A: At this stage if Mugabe leaves office, the acting president remains from Zanu PF. There are indications that the security sector will not be enraptured to enforce continuance of Zanu PF into national presidency, but much depends on prospects for internal convergence within Zanu PF between the factions, and whether the sector will, for the time being, tuck in behind Zanu PF for the time being (i.e. 2018 elections).
It’s important to remember that the security sector played a pivotal role in securing victory in the 2013 polls and this is according to Mugabe’s own admission.
Q: In light of the myriad problems facing Zimbabwe, can it wait for 2018 elections to change the guard, either way
A: If Mugabe successor and government seriously put their shoulder to the wheel, the country could limp to 2018 elections.
It seems unlikely that alone though Zanu PF can chart a realistic path out of this morass by itself. Inclusiveness with other political formations and building confidence with both domestic and international constituencies is pivotal for meaningful reform prospects. -Daily News