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Robert Mugabe turns 92

Privilege Musvanhiri February 26, 2016

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe turned 92 this month and this weekend he will be celebrating with a lavish party. The issue of who should succeed him one day remains a taboo subject as the country stagnates.

Simbabwe Harare Robert Mugabe
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/A. Ufumeli

President Robert Mugabe is now 92 and has ruled Zimbabwe for 36 years. He intends to campaign for re-election in 2018 at the age of 94.

This has, however, not silenced debate about who should succeed him. Fierce wrangles within his ZANU PF party over who should take over from him one day have paralyzed Zimbabwe’s social, economic and political development.

Senior party and government officials are using the mainstream and social media platforms to insult each other. Zimbabweans are witnessing a stream of nasty, colorful and sometimes entertaining quips that would have been unthinkable not long ago.

None of Mugabe’s current close allies have challenged his rule, which began with independence from Britain in 1980.

The disputes within the ruling party are a result of Mugabe’s failure to groom an obvious successor. Mugabe has deliberately kept the lid on the discussion.

"It is not there within ZANU PF’s vocabulary that Mugabe can be succeeded," political analyst Alexander Rusero told DW.

"Mugabe is the Alpha and Omega of ZANU PF. You cannot talk, or let alone think of succeeding him without devastating consequences as was the case with the former vice president Joyce Mujuru,"

Purging of opponents

In December 2014, Mujuru, the country’s only female vice president, was expelled from the party over allegations that she wanted to unseat Mugabe.

Several other senior party members were expelled on suspicion that they, too, were harboring succession thoughts.

Mugabe’s wife Grace has emerged as a powerful figure, rising to become leader of the women’s league in ZANU PF. She and a group within the party are backing Mugabe’s 2018 presidential candidacy.

Determination to ensure Mugabe runs in the 2018 elections is said to be largely found among individuals who want to protect their own interests.

Robert Mugabe his wife Grace cutting a cake JEKESAI NJIKIZANA/AFP/Getty (c) Getty Images/AFP/J. Njikizana
As Robert Mugabe's celebrates his 92nd birthday, questions about who should succeed him remain unresolvedImage: Getty Images/AFP/J. Njikizana

"Politics is a game of staying near where resources are. State power resides in Mugabe and in him alone." Rusero said.

This means it is better to be close to Mugabe and the first family.

Mugabe’s critics have scoffed at the idea of having him to run for the presidency in 2018. One fierce critic is a former ZANU PF senior member Themba Mliswa. He was expelled after crossing swords with the party’s leadership.

"The first lady must be aware that no one in Zimbabwe will vote for a 94-year-old in a wheelchair" Mliswa said.

Future without Mugabe

A future without Mugabe is unavoidable but the delay in solving the succession debate is spoiling hopes of a smooth transition.

There are two vice-presidents in Zimbabwe, the first and the second. Under the constitution, the first vice-president would become president on Mugabe's death.

He is Emmerson Mnangagwa. Once seen as the possible successor to Mugabe, he now faces fierce opposition within ZANU PF.

In the past Mugabe has treated his vice president as a figurehead rather than a successor. Even after Mujuru's expulsion, he seems to be continuing with this practice.

"Whatever faction that will prevail with the backing of Mugabe, it will be the one that could run Zimbabwe in the future. It is difficult to predict who will prevail," Rusero said.

Opposition in disarray

The opposition has been in disarray since failing to defeat to Mugabe’s ZANU PF in 2013.

Several attempts have been made to form an oppostion coalition ahead of the 2018 elections but constant bickering has hampered those efforts.

Rusero said a coalition might not work considering the size of the egos within opposition politics. However, he said Morgan Tsvangirai, who was prime minister in the 2009 - 2013 coalition government, could be a strong contender for 2018.

"Opposition structures are still there, they simply need reactivation. Morgan Tsvangirai must not be ruled out," he said.

Former vice-president Joyce Mujuru has also re-entered the political arena. In early February 2016, she and her People First Movement registered their manifesto with the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC).

However critics say she may not have an easy ride if people judge her for record of having been a ZANU PF stalwart for the last 34 years.

Economic prospects

Emmerson Mnangagwa ALEXANDER JOE/AFP/Getty Images)
Under the Zimbabwean constitution, the presidency would fall to Emmerson Mnangagwa on Mugabe's deathImage: Getty Images/A. Joe

Poor economic performance appears to be acquiring an air of inevitability in Zimbabwe. The government's misplaced economic policies and vague "indigenization" of the economy continue to have the predictable result of keeping down productivity.

According to the World Bank, Zimbabwe's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth rate is falling and will decline to less than 1 percent annually by 2016.

Economist Prosper Chitambira says prospects for economic growth will remain gloomy if factional fighting within ZANU PF does not end soon.

"Issues of the economy have taken a backstage to the political infighting as the factions are positioning themselves to eventually take over from President Mugabe," Chitambira said.

He added it was difficult to fathom where the economy or the country could be heading.

If circumstances deteriorate, there could new outflows of economic refugees to neighboring countries such as South Africa or Botswana.

Millions of Zimbabweans left the country at the height of the country’s political and economic crisis in 2008.

MorganTsvangirai (Photo by Johannes Simon/Getty Images For 2nd CGDC Annual Meeting 2012).
Ex-prime minister Morgan Tsvangirai is a possible oppostion candidate for the 2018 electionImage: Getty Images