Mugabe desperately tries to salvage legacy

HARARE - Like a knight in shining armour, President Robert Mugabe cut short his holiday early this month and returned home to rescue a constitution-making process which his officials and supporters desperately wanted dead.

To millions of crisis-weary Zimbabweans, Mugabe’s masterstroke and charm came as a relief following chilling statements by top Zanu PF leaders that the constitution-making process had all but collapsed and elections should proceed under the 2008 conditions.

So deep was the push that Zanu PF at its conference in December resolved that Mugabe should declare elections if the deadlock remained unlocked by last Christmas.

A mellow Mugabe defied his party and agreed to measures that will not only curtail the next president’s powers but imposes term limits on the all-powerful security sector commanders.

Analysts say turning 89 next month, the veteran ruler could be motivated by other factors such as creating a legacy.

After falling from hero at independence to villain following a series of state-sponsored violence and human rights abuses, Mugabe could be desperate to save his reputation going into an election that could be his last.

Even more is at stake, they say, given that Zimbabwe hosts the world in August for the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) summit.

Human rights defenders and political analysts say the draft constitution contains democratic provisions which Zanu PF could never have agreed to but Mugabe chose to break ranks with the party.

Pedzisayi Ruhanya, director of the Zimbabwe Democracy Institute, says the bill of rights in the draft Constitution is “an answer” to demands by pro-democracy movements.

 “Presidential powers have been whittled and even in perception Mugabe has lost because he has never wanted a progressive constitution or conditional reforms,” according to Ruhanya.

Ruhanya, a fierce critic of Mugabe, says the former guerrilla leader who has also been on a peace crusade, could be on a cleansing exercise after seeing the country plunge into political turmoil and earning the rogue State tag.

 “Mugabe has done a lot of horrible things, so it might be political Damascene. This is some form of leaving a legacy when he leaves office,” he says.

Analysts say Mugabe conceded to a new Constitution and other reforms because he wants a credible election to avoid further tainting his image at a time he is exiting a political arena he has dominated for so long.

Once a darling of the international community, particularly the West, Mugabe has suffered isolation in the past two decades due to human rights abuse and electoral theft allegations. The US and European Union have put him on travel and financial sanctions.

Regional Sadc leaders, who are overseeing Zimbabwe’s reforms, have largely shielded him from harsher international action.

Analysts say Mugabe is vulnerable without Sadc support hence could not afford to rattle the grouping by sticking to his party’s anti-reformist approach.

Dewa Mavhinga, a human rights campaigner now based in London, says Sadc leaders have played a key role in pushing Mugabe to reform.

“Mugabe is responding to Sadc pressure, because they will not give in to elections without a new Constitution, hence the climb down from a hardliner position taken at the Zanu PF December conference,” says Mavhinga.

In December, Zanu PF resolved to resist the Copac authored draft constitution but a cursory look at the final draft that Mugabe agreed to shows that the Zanu PF leader betrayed his party as he gave in to the demands of the MDC, albeit with delayed implementation periods.

Analysts are taking this with caution though.

“He is not a changed man. The new Constitution does not guarantee free and fair elections, and the securocrats are still threatening violence against Zanu PF opponents,” says Mavhinga.

A glance at the draft constitution shows that some of the major issues such as that on running mates will only take effect after 10 years and Mugabe might have retired.

Ernest Mudzengi, director at Media Centre Zimbabwe, says Mugabe managed to deal with an incessant headache over his succession through finalising the draft constitution.

“Mugabe is not ready to give away power. What is happening is that Zanu PF is strengthening its machinery ahead of elections. For now the president has managed to deal with the Zanu PF succession headache by delaying it until he is well out of the picture. What Zanu PF wants for now is to win the forthcoming elections,” says Mudzengi.

Others are claiming the victory as their own.

Mugabe’s coalition partner, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, thinks the completion of the draft constitution is testimony to the MDC’s influence in the coalition government.

“Our background as a party is in the labour and constitutional reform movements. We have always championed the making of a new Constitution and we are pleased that we have overseen the writing of the new Constitution under the inclusive government.

“The constitution-making process is a defining feature in the history of Zimbabwe and, when completed, it will certainly be one of our major achievements,” said Tsvangirai last week.

But, it appears, it is Mugabe who is on his way to redemption and the forthcoming elections will tell whether this is genuinely a Damascene experience.

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