US warns of violence over succession

HARARE - Zimbabwe risks suffering another eruption of violence even before its next presidential election in 2018 over the intensifying succession wars, a United States-based think-tank has warned.

The United States’ Centre for Preventive Action (CPA), which seeks to help prevent, defuse, or resolve deadly conflicts around the world and to expand the body of knowledge on conflict prevention, said in its recommendations for US policy towards Zimbabwe, that the major area of concern was President Robert Mugabe’s refusal to plan for a transition.

Mugabe, who turned 93 in February this year, has been endorsed by his party as Zanu PF’s candidate in the presidential election in 2018 polls.

If he wins the poll, he would be Zimbabwe’s leader until the next elections in 2023. By then, he would be a year shy of reaching a century.

Notwithstanding his advanced age and concerns over his health, Mugabe has refused to anoint a successor, saying it was the prerogative of his party’s elective congress to do so.

But that has done little to contain the infighting in his party, with Zanu PF now split between two factions namely Generation 40 (G40) and Team Lacoste, which cannot agree on what should happen in the post-Mugabe era.

CPA told the US Council on Foreign Relations that even though the support of most of the leaders of Zimbabwe’s security establishment would seem to give the Team Lacoste faction, which is backing Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa to succeed Mugabe, the upper hand over the G40 group supporting First Lady Grace Mugabe, it is impossible to predict the outcome of the intra-party struggle.

This also comes as the National Electoral Reform Agenda (Nera) — the opposition umbrella group formed out of an uneasy alliance between former vice president Joice Mujuru and perennial opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai — is failing to gain traction.

Mujuru has encountered turbulence within her own breakaway party, and Tsvangirai, Mugabe’s chief rival for the last 17 years, has been diagnosed with cancer of the colon and is undergoing treatment in neighbouring South Africa.

Genuine opposition unity remains elusive, and the question of who would be the alliance’s candidate for president remains unsettled.

This comes amid worsening economic decline, with investment drying up, government struggling to pay public servants, including members of the security forces on schedule, and the US dollar-denominated bond notes vanishing from the market and declining modestly in value against the dollar.

Amid this crisis, the CPA’s George Ward — a research staff member at the Institute for Defence Analyses — warned that there was diminishing likelihood that Zimbabwe’s neighbours will help prevent violence.

South Africa is currently distracted by its own political turmoil and the growth of economic populism, while in Zambia, the leader of the political opposition Hakainde Hichilema has been jailed and charged with treason for allegedly failing to make way for the president’s motorcade.

“These factors have reduced but not eliminated the possibility that members of the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) will act to limit violence during a succession crisis or to re-establish the rule of law post-Mugabe,” Ward warned.

While the US has limited direct interests in Zimbabwe, with bilateral trade and investment flows small, and Harare does not directly threaten Washington’s security interests, indirectly, however, the US has substantial equities at stake, CPA said, adding instability in Zimbabwe could result in internal violence and even greater humanitarian need than at present.

“Even relatively low levels of violence could disrupt food supplies and require increased emergency aid from the US and other donors.

“Delivery of timely aid could be problematic if the amount of resources available from the US for emergency assistance declines,” CPA said, referring to US President Donald Trump’s move to slash $3,6 trillion in government spending over the next decade in healthcare and food assistance programmes for poor African countries.

CPA warned that political instability, violence, and further economic decline in Zimbabwe could see xenophobic violence directed against the country’s migrants in South Africa becoming worse if large numbers of refugees began fleeing the country.

“The US should expand contacts with a variety of first and second-tier Zanu PF and government figures and with influential business leaders to make clear that it would be willing to offer incentives to a government in Harare that demonstrated commitment to the rule of law.

“Before embarking on these contacts, the US government should complete an internal review of its policies toward Zimbabwe to determine how a gradual relaxation of sanctions might be orchestrated should a successor government in Harare move toward political and economic liberalisation,” CPA said.

Mugabe and his inner circle have been subject to US sanctions over rights abuses and electoral fraud.

“Internationally, the US should consult actively with its European partners, especially the United Kingdom, to develop a common assessment of the situation that would provide a basis for coordinated actions should instability and violence occur,” the CPA said.

It also said because China is the external partner most likely to be able to influence a successor government led by Zanu PF, “Zimbabwe should be on the agenda of US-China consultations on Africa.”

Zimbabwe’s isolation from Western markets due to its extreme economic volatility and Mugabe’s authoritarian system has caused China to become its primary international ally in recent years, with Beijing spearheading economic recovery efforts in Harare to strengthen its leverage over the country.

“Beijing has already demurred in response to the Mugabe government’s requests for new assistance; this stance might indicate that Zimbabwe could become a relatively easy test case for US-China cooperation, especially in the context of US acceptance of China’s substantial role in Africa,” CPA said.

It also called on the US to make it a priority to consult with South Africa to limit instability and violence in Zimbabwe.

“Although prospects for cooperation on Zimbabwe with the current South African government led by President Jacob Zuma are not promising, other leaders in the ruling ANC, in opposition parties, and in civil society might be more receptive to proactive approaches to averting instability and dealing with the complexities of a post-Mugabe Zimbabwe.”

CPA said the US should continue to reach out to the opposition to encourage developing an effective coalition.

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