The irony of Mugabe's AU chairmanship and Zanu PF's prolonged infighting

HARARE - The significance of the Zambian election to many Zimbabweans is not so much its outcome, but the reception that President Robert Mugabe got, which in my view underscored the disdain of many in the region towards the incoming AU chairman who is also the Sadc chairperson.

I am referring here to the booing that the Sadc and AU chairman was subjected to when he was greeted by “Mugabe must go” chants at the Radison Blu Hotel where opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema’s supporters were camped.

Despite feeble attempts by ZBC and other State-run media houses to create the impression that Mugabe got a “rousing” reception, many neutral observers who have seen footage of the jeering would agree that this was a significant departure from the usual applause that Mugabe has always been greeted with when he graces regional capitals.

Although it is probable that Hichilema’s supporters were frustrated by what they considered to be a rigged election, it is clear that their attitude towards Mugabe symbolises the resentment that many in the region and on the continent, particularly among the young generations, have towards Mugabe.

The fact that Mugabe also had the temerity to show up for an official inauguration of a new head of State when the results of the election had not fully been announced also did not help matters as it raised suspicion that he knew Lungu would win, itself a source of national consternation given Mugabe’s alleged history of rigging elections in his own country.

The reason I am raising these matters is that as Mugabe assumes the chairmanship of the AU, there is an expectation that he will carry the monumental responsibility of dealing with the myriad challenges that the continent faces and therefore his stature and integrity will be very critical in determining the extent to which he is able to do.

In my view the Zambian incident, which as I have argued above, symbolises some kind of collective resentment of Mugabe, is a good measure of his reputation and stature in the region, which has obviously been dented by his continued stay in office and his brutal response to growing dissent, especially in the period 2000-2008.

I want to make the point that Mugabe is assuming the role of Chairman of the AU at a time when the continent faces innumerable challenges, one of them being threats to human security, especially in West Africa and in particular Nigeria where the radical insurgent group Boko Haram has killed thousands of Nigerians, with the State showing very little capacity to deal with the problem.

I think that the Boko Haram crisis has been a clear indicator of the AU’s inability to effectively deal with African problems and to me it is shocking that up to now there has not been a single emergency summit of the AU to deal with the Boko Haram crisis.

When one looks at the West’s response to the Paris terrorist attacks targeted at the publishers of Charlie Hebdo magazine in which 12 people were killed by Isis-linked militants, it becomes clear that the continent still has a long way to go in showing decisive leadership when its citizens are in harm’s way.

But the global outpouring over the Paris attacks also betrays the skewed nature of world politics, and in particular the West’s ambivalent commitment to human peace and security, the reality of which is that when the West is under attack then we have a global crisis but when thousands of Nigerians are massacred the global response is a Twitter hashtag #BringBackOurGirls, which in essence is more of a celebrity craze than a serious commitment to bringing to book the perpetrators of these heinous killings and abductions.

Other challenges confronting the continent include terrorist threats in East Africa that have seen hundreds killed in terrorist attacks in Nairobi, Mombasa and other places.

The ebola crisis, although it seems to be abating now, is another continental challenge that threatens to decimate the significant progress that the continent has made over the last decade. But more importantly, Africa faces the challenge of a growing population, which is increasingly becoming young, but has not enjoyed the fruits of independence for more than four decades now.

The biggest problem today is that of a ruling class that seems so distant from the citizens, a ruling class that has used the State as an avenue for personal and factional elite accumulation at the expense of economic and social progress for a majority of the citizenry.

The growing gap between the rich, who are in most cases a comprador bourgeoisie class deeply embedded with the ruling class, and the poor citizenry has spawned growing resentment, hence the wave of unrest we have seen over the last five years, whether it is the so called Arab Spring in the North or the more recent citizen revolt against kleptocrats like Blaise Compaore of Burkina Faso. 

Mugabe himself is a good example of this ruling class given the fact that he presides over an economy with 85 percent unemployment and in which half the country’s skilled personnel is in the Diaspora.

Many on the continent wonder why Zimbabweans have not taken decisive action to get these problems solved.

I want to come back to the issue of the irony of Mugabe’s chairmanship of both Sadc and AU in the context of events that we have seen unfolding in Zanu PF over the last three months, which culminated in the purging of one time presidential aspirant and now former vice president Joice Mujuru and her allies.

Undoubtedly, the purge has precipitated a serious crisis in the ruling party and one can safely make the conclusion that there is now a split in the party of revolution.

Hitherto, Zanu PF had exhibited a façade of elite cohesion but the fissures finally resulted in an implosion that is unprecedented in the party’s fifty-year history.

It is highly unlikely that those who have now assumed control of the party apparatus will be able to reach out to those that were purged to rebuild elite consensus.

It is also highly probable that Mugabe’s departure will take away any pretence of civility and bare-knuckle fight will ensue as soon as he exits the stage, itself a threat not only to the party but also to national peace and stability.

The question therefore becomes whether Mugabe will be able to deal with the myriad challenges that I cited above when he is faced with an imploding party back home.

I submit that the fight to retain control of the party will consume Mugabe, who in any case is exhibiting signs of frailty, so much that he will not be able to offer the kind of leadership that is required to tackle the multiple crises the African continent faces.

As a shrewd power player, Mugabe will be cautious to avoid the experience of former ANC and South African president Thabo Mbeki who became so consumed with his mediation role in the Zimbabwean crisis that by the time he got off his private jet in Johannesburg, Luthuli House had recalled him from his position as President of the Republic.

*This is an abridged version of a paper presented at a Zimbabwe Democracy Institute (ZDI) Public Forum in Harare on 27 January 2015.

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