Zanu PF, Mugabe paranoid

LONDON - Writing in The Guardian newspaper, Stephen Pollard noted that great power comes with great paranoia.

He refers to fears of autocrats such as the later former Venezualan ruler, Hugo Chavez, former Cuban strongman Fidel Castro and North Korean Kim Jong-Il.

Some of the fear borders on lunacy, he notes. For instance, Chavez suggested the cancer that eventually took his life might have been the work of the Americans.

Fear of assassination, Pollard says, is a pretty reasonable form of what he calls the Dictator’s Paranoia.

Former vice president Joice Mujuru was sacked for, among other reasons, plotting to assassinate President Robert Mugabe. The carnage that followed accounted for his alleged associates in the alleged scheme — Didymus Mutasa, Rugare Gumbo, Nicholas Goche and others.

Pollard notes that in the Soviet Union, there was the alleged “Doctors’ Plot” in 1952, the year before Stalin’s death. Some Jewish doctors in Moscow were “unmasked” as conspirators behind the would-be assassination of Soviet leaders.

Show trials, anti-semitic propaganda followed and hundreds of Jews were dismissed from their jobs, sent to the Gulag or executed. Nikita Kruschev, former first secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, later revealed that the whole thing had been invented.

As it turns out, statements by Goche linking him to Mugabe’s assassination may have been just a pack of lies according to a local weekly. Nothing suggested Goche hinted at Mugabe’s elimination.

No solid evidence has been produced against Mujuru and her alleged co-plotters so far.

A psychology professor, Fred Coolidge, told the BBC that many autocrats have a tendency for paranoia which is magnified by their environment. “Their traits can help keep them in power — for example, if you are hypersensitive to threats and plots then you can effectively eliminate your (real or imagined) competition.”

Even after the sacking of Mujuru and her alleged co-conspirators, paranoia still pervades Zanu PF. A popular phrase, that reflects this paranoia, has emerged during the political and media discourse.

Mujuru was accused of creating “multiple centres of power.” The phrase has become routinised and invoked in a matter-of-factly but rather simplistic fashion.

The notion of “power” has been the fundamental concept in political analysis. It has occupied some of the great minds since Aristotle to Machiavelli, Hobbes, Weber and others.

In the current local discourse, it has never been sufficiently clear what “power” constitutes, or how it was to be or has been exercised by the accused other than fuelling paranoia.

Authoritarians thrive on the centralisation of power. Threat to such centralisation creates paranoia. The state media has been performing diligent sentry duty, chastising the over-indulgence of sycophants towards newly-appointed Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa.

An excitable Josiah Hungwe described him as the “son of man”, uncorking a torrent of frenzied protestation. According to Zanu PF’s pet media and its usual analysts, Hungwe was now constructing another locus of “power”.

This would be a remarkable editorial shift if the state media was to react in the same manner when Mugabe is described in similar terms, unless such adulation is reserved for the Zanu PF strongman.

Since the legendary puppetry of Tony Gara, now late, Mugabe has been described in similar outlandish Biblical terms without triggering opprobrium in Zanu PF or its pet media. In fact it has become routine within Zanu PF to equate Mugabe to Jesus Christ.

It would seem it is not about the appropriateness of such equation but the subject of the equation.

Last week, Faber Chidarikire was (and still is) in trouble for describing Mnangagwa’s wife as the acting First Lady.

While the criticism has been couched, rather incomprehensibly, as “disrespect” for the First Lady Grace Mugabe, the real concern is that Mnangagwa is becoming another “centre of power,” perhaps too soon.

He is on apprenticeship. It is no surprise that Mugabe’s nephew was quick to point out that Mnangagwa was not guaranteed to take over.

He has to demonstrate absolute loyalty and satisfy the needs of the soon-to-depart ruler first, not least the security of Mugabe’s family and interests, a test Mujuru apparently failed.

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