Source: OPEN FORUM: Is this Mugabe’s Yeltsin moment? | The Financial Gazette October 12, 2017
PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe and Russia’s first post-soviet leader, Boris Yeltsin, could not have been cut from more different cloth.
Teetotal Mugabe has often been described as a calculating ascetic.
The late Yeltsin was an effusive, even barmy vodka lover.
Mugabe, in power since 1980, still covets another term in power, which he will seek next year, at 94.
Yeltsin, on the other hand, resigned after limping towards the end of his eight years as Russia’s transformative leader, picking Vladimir Putin as his successor.
Born seven years after Mugabe, Yeltsin ended his political career as the last century drew to close and now seems to be a politician from a different epoch from Mugabe’s.
But the manner in which Mugabe has managed his latest term of office has some similarities with Yeltsin’s erratic final term.
This week, Mugabe, for long known for his love for stability and predictability, announced his fourth Cabinet reshuffle in a little under three years.
Yeltsin, on the other hand, went through five prime ministers in 17 months between 1998 and 1999, when he eventually bowed out.
Given his well-publicised health problems, each of Yeltsin’s picks for Russia’s premiership was touted as a potential successor.
But the hapless prime ministers, with the exception of the last, Putin, were fired for reasons ranging from showing too much ambition or were defenestrated after a bad event.
Baby-faced Sergei Kiriyenko was Prime Minister at 35, but only for four months in 1998.
Blamed for Russia’s economic woes, he was fired in August 1998.
His parting words: “I believe this is a bigger surprise to me than it is to you all.”
Kiriyenko was succeeded by Yevgeni Primakov in September 1998. Regarded as a compromise candidate during a period of economic upheaval, Kiriyenko was, however, popular with Russians who viewed him as outside the influence of the oligarchs.
Primakov was jettisoned in May 1999, officially because of the slow pace of reforms, but many put his ouster down to him having grown independent and ambitious.
He was reported to have even talked back to, and interrupted, Yeltsin.
Yeltsin appointed Sergei Stepashin as Prime Minister in May 1999.
Stepashin was widely viewed as a Yeltsin loyalist and yes man.
Yet he lasted 82 days in office.
Upon his sacking, a tearful Stepashin said: “I was, am, and always will be with him.”
An increasingly frail Yeltsin was, towards the end of his tenure, buttressed by his family, particularly daughter Tatiana Dyachenko who assumed the role of her father’s chief advisor.
Similarly, Mugabe’s wife Grace has assumed an openly influential role in his party and government since 2015.
But the list of similarities between the two men could never be a long one.
“You can build a throne with bayonets, but you can’t sit on it for long” is a quote commonly ascribed to Yeltsin.
It runs directly contrary to what critics describe as Mugabe’s approach to power: If you build a throne with bayonets, you can sit on it for long. Very long.