When Mugabe goes: Three scenarios for Zimbabwe

via Politicsweb – When Mugabe goes: Three scenarios for Zimbabwe Jeffrey Herbst – Greg Mills 09 December 2013

Jeffrey Herbst and Greg Mills say that while the Zanu-PF leader remains in power little is going to change

With the dust slowly settling from the disputed July 2013 Zimbabwe election, attention shifts to what might happen if – indeed, when – Robert Mugabe departs. This is likely the next major political event on the beleaguered southern African country’s calendar.

It is wishful thinking to believe anything other than economic stagnation if not outright decline face Zimbabweans under continued rule by Mugabe and ZANU. Central to Mugabe’s rule has been rent-seeking, patronage and poor governance allowing him to maintain allies despite the economy’s collapse. The stabilisation measures introduced by Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) ministers with the advent of the coalition government in 2009 were at best tolerated by ZANU and never enthusiastically endorsed. Now even those reforms may be reversed as ZANU has unfettered control over the government.

More than 33 years after he took over running Zimbabwe, President Mugabe is not going to change his ways. In his recent September speech to the 68th UN General Assembly, he railed against his Western adversaries who had dared to place and now retain personal travel and financial sanctions on him and his key associates

‘Shame, shame, shame to the United States of America. Shame, shame, shame to Britain and its allies, said the 89-year old, ‘Zimbabwe is for Zimbabweans, so are its resources. Please remove your illegal and filthy sanctions from my peaceful country’.

Equally it is wishful thinking to anticipate that Mugabe, his election victory behind him, will be more accommodating to Western firms, not press ahead with plans to ‘indigenise’ existing foreign investors, and to be nice to his domestic critics. While it is comforting to believe ZANU will keep the US$ and the SA Rand as Zimbabwe’s currency, it will be tempting for ZANU to attempt to reassert sovereignty and offer the possibility for rewarding the party faithful by reintroducing the Zim dollar. And if the economy does not soon improve, as it probably will not, whatever ZANU’s charm offensive and promise of a softer policy line, as things get tougher, politics will harden, probably with violent consequences.

In the circumstances, the type of Investment that might come to Zimbabwe is likely not to be worried about governance niceties, and in fact interested in investing specifically because of the absence of good governance, in so doing reinforcing a vicious cycle of governance and development failure.

It is rational thus only to imagine change when Mugabe goes. Even when that happens,  things may get worse before they get much better, if ever they do.  Change will be necessary because the team below Mugabe is the same group that devastated farm output, led the country to 6.5 sextillion percent hyperinflation by 2008 before the coalition government, chronic forex and fuel shortages, collapse of health-care and education systems, and forced an estimated three million over the border to seek succour in South Africa. It is also the same bunch that has pilfered the proceeds from diamonds and apparently turned a blind eye to wholesale cigarette smuggling to South Africa, from which trades predominantly the party and not Zimbabwe’s people have profited.

Three post-Mugabe scenarios are now imaginable:

ZANU consolidates. This could occur either around Vice President Joyce Mujuru or Emmerson Mnangagwa, one-time guerrilla, long-time Mugabe understudy and currently Minister of Justice. If this scenario was to occur, expect more if the same politically and economically with little likelihood of positive policy shift. To the contrary, fractured relationships within ZANU over the leadership struggle could result in a deepening of patronage to keep key party players on-side, including the oft-mooted nationalisation of mines and banks among other producing assets, which would be financially ruinous. Of course, one of these may surprisingly prove a FW De Klerk, like the apartheid cabinet minister, a closet reformer shrewdly and patiently biding their time. However, no one in ZANU has to date indicated that the time to make a deal is now and has the courage and sheer political will to bring their side along, a perspective and attributes that were critical to De Klerk’s successful participation in the SA transition.

A new coalition. Mujuru is Mugabe’s automatic successor, baring a revolt in ZANU. It is not impossible to imagine her cementing her power-base against her ZANU rivals by bringing the MDC into her government. This would grant her wider domestic support and international legitimacy – and, crucially, then money to keep the wheels turning. Co-option is attractive to some MDC elements, since it offers time at the trough. But while there may be a veneer of respectability to this option, there is a danger that this perpetuates the same old crony capitalist, statist policies which got the country into trouble in the first instance.

Wholesale change. This would have to involve new elections and a government elected on the basis of change, perhaps prompted by an outright economic collapse plus a failure of the post-Mugabe ZANU leadership to consolidate.  However, if the opposition MDC is to be the agent of change, it would have to get its act together in unprecedented fashion. Given its hapless showing in the last election, participating in a process it then cried foul over, competing successfully against ZANU in the future will in all likelihood require an injection of new leadership.  There may be no other way to regain international and domestic confidence in the party.

The latter two scenarios offer the prospect for fresh and positive economic direction. Indeed, as MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai put it after the flawed July poll, ‘you can’t rig an economy’. But the wholesale change scenario is unlikely, not least given ZANU is not obliged to go back to the polls in the event of Mugabe’s demise. And ZANU may face little other pressure to leave power after Mugabe given the muted criticism of the July process by a southern African region that is focussed mainly on ensuring stability in Zimbabwe in the short-term.

The prospects for immediate change after Mugabe – whenever that will be – are much more limited despite the belief of those who view him as the exclusive problem.

Jeffrey Herbst is President of Colgate University in the US; Greg Mills directs the Johannesburg-based Brenthurst Foundation. They are co-authors most recently of ‘Africa’s Third Liberation‘ (Penguin)


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    Canuck 8 years ago

    Very accurate commentary…….not much hope in any of the three scenarios unfortunately.

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    easily fooled 8 years ago

    Call it an opinion piece, a total different scenario is likely as well. Opposition parties in Zimbabwe will find nobility in coming up together, there is a big chance too of Zanu pf offshoot, who will be forced by economic frustration, and join opposing voices. A crisis is coming soon, liquidity, court contestation about the mismanagement of the bank industry by rbz will fasten up the entire process, leadership genuine failures like Muchechetere,who after being labeled as sellouts, will go private with information relevant to dent ZPf. Of course some but not all will be slaughtered but that is likely going to quicken ZPf demise

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    MikeH 8 years ago

    Yet another scenario ….. Another Nelson Mandela !!! Granted, the chances are very slim indeed but I, for one, never say never.

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    george shava 8 years ago


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    Washumba 8 years ago

    Its too late to teach an old dog new tricks

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    Vote for me. Your best bet and only hope

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    Rwendo 8 years ago

    If there ever was a country crying out for brave and wise leadership (both within ZANU and the opposition MDCs), it is Zimbabwe. Politically things look more dismal now than they have ever done. And there is no game-changing political leader in sight, right across the political spectrum. That would be my New Year’s wish. For that unfamiliar substitution who comes on the field of play and changes everything.

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    Praying for a leader raised up by God Himself with a heart after Him like King David.There is ALWAYS hope.

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    Khaya'bonina 8 years ago

    Mugabe has played his part bad or good , now if he goes , the black cloud still remains and the question is how do we have to clear it , Zimbabweans are more concerned about the economy of the country yes i do agree on that but it is not enough without reconciliation , Mugabe is the stumbling block to the development of our country at the moment , he had been a loosing bull ever since fighting endless battles with everybody , ZANU PF has never been bad as a party but the presence of Mugabe among the party members had resulted the entire party to look so bad , therefore lets hope the departure of Mugabe will bring new leadership which will be well focussed , his departure might open doors for the rise of opposition parties , MDC T , ZUNDE etc . Any part that will take over must be present for the Zimbabweans , first of all , the dark cloud of the gugurahundu victims must be cleared up , the spirits of the dead is powerful and if we are not careful about that as a nation we will never go anywhere , the truth must be told , people like Mnangagwa must reveal the truth as it is .Then after the truth we need to revisit the mass graves, see what can be done and face the families who lost their beloved ones and they must receive the apologe , people died not dogs .

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    Msizeni Silwelani 8 years ago

    Let it suffice to say that when Mugabe goes we all shall rejoyce. There shall be time to say the face of gukurahundi is gone. A scenario which allows Mnangagwa to takeover the reins will be good for the people of Zimbabwe as this will mean total rejection of Zanu pf. For the community of Kwekwe has shown us that he is a heap of trash.

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    MATONSI 8 years ago

    No need to re cycle leadership but rely on intelligencias like the leadership in ROHR, zimvigil and Zimbabwe Yes We Can who remained resolute in their Political Resolve.