by SAVIOUS KWINIKA
JOHANNESBURG – ZIMBABWE will have the second elected president in more than 38 years this week and barring an upset of monumental elections or a runoff poll, either incumbent Emmerson Mnangagwa or Nelson Chamisa will be occupying that position.
Over 20 presidential hopefuls are contesting but Chamisa and Mnangagwa are front runners.
Both men have been at the helm of their parties for several months and while they are eyeing the biggest seat in the country, their ascension has sharply divided their organisations.
Mnangagwa’s rise to the presidency of the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU–PF), as the party’s first leader since 1975, came after a military coup helped depose Robert Mugabe in power.
He had led the Southern African country with an iron fist since attaining independence from Britain in 1980.
Mugabe’s demise came amid him and a faction of the ZANU-PF positioning his controversial wife, Grace, to succeed him.
Mugabe, Grace and a ZANU-PF faction widely known as the Generation 40, or ‘G40’ lost out after the military elbowed the dictator out of contention last November.
Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF) commander, Constantino Guveya Nyikadzino Chiwenga, the brains behind the military intervention is now Mnangagwa’s co-deputy. Mnangagwa’s second co-deputy president, Kembo Mohadi comes from another liberation movement – Patriotic Front Zimbabwe African People’s Union (PF ZAPU) following unity accord signed in 1987.
What has followed is a purge of officials aligned to Mugabe’s faction.
On the other hand, ZANU-PF’s fiercest rival, the Movement of Democratic Change (MDC) Alliance will for the first time since its formation in 1999 be participating in Monday’s elections without its founding leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, who died in February in neighbouring South Africa after battling colorectal cancer.
His death triggered a brutal battle to succeed him.
As the nation mourned arguably the most prominent opposition leader since independence, a tactful Chamisa unconstitutionally grabbed power ahead of Tsvangirai’s deputy, Thokozani Khupe.
Chamisa and Khupe were alongside Elias Mudzuri, Tsvangirai’s deputies. While Khupe was elected at congress, the other two were appointees hence she was odds-on favourite to succeed Tsvangirai.
The divisions have threatened the existence of the opposition movement.
Like his longtime rival Mugabe, Tsvangirai remained at the helm despite numerous calls for party renewal.
While the youthful Chamisa (40) might be fancying his chances, with a huge following among the youth disillusioned by economic malaise, history has taught us African liberation movements are a hard nut to crack.
They (liberation movements) will never easily let go power. They are determined to retain power even by hook or crook.
A scenario still afresh in millions of Zimbabweans’ mind and globally when Tsvangirai handed Mugabe his first defeat only for electoral authorities to doctor the results and reduce the landslide victory.
This culminated a rerun, which Tsvangirai boycotted as the military and pro-Mugabe militia unleashed an orgy of violence that left scores of supporters dead.
Short of legitimacy, regional leaders forced Mugabe into a unity sharing government with him as the head of state, military and government while Tsvangirai became Prime Minister and his party was relegated to less effective portfolios.
Another runoff cannot be ruled out if no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote. A runoff could be held on September 8.
Zimbabwe’s political terrain is a bit tricky and completely different from the rest of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) in that it has been excessively militarized.
Military generals have infamously declared in previous polls they would never endorse a leader without liberation war credentials.
Such a threat has not been made ahead of this election but there are some scenarios on July 30‘s outcomes.
Firstly, the ZANU-PF’s presidential candidate (aged 75) might emerge victorious considering his strategy to pledge to the nation he is a different “creature” from his predecessor Mugabe.
Mugabe’s former right-hand man has relaxed the formerly stringent policies, with the opposition largely campaigning freely, peacefully and unhindered around the country.
Under the leadership of Mugabe, some provinces in the rural Mashonaland province were “no go” areas for opposition parties during election period. Mugabe’s henchmen traditional chiefs, headmen and village heads were hostile to opposition, mainly MDC.
Zimbabwe’s population of 16 million is largely rural, hence village folk are a crucial entity in elections, politics being a game of numbers.
To maintain a stranglehold on power, Mugabe would ensure hefty salaries for traditional leaders and former veterans of liberation, who widely viewed any opposition in the country as sellouts or puppets of the West.
State media denounced opposition in similar terms while ZANU-PF enjoyed publicity in the sole national broadcaster, the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) and national mainstream media such as leading newspapers controlled by government.
During successive years of drought, ZANU PF would ensure the food parcels were only given to rural folk widely known for supporting Mugabe’s party while opposition were starved into submission.
Civil societies, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), food aid agencies and human rights groups were not allowed to enter into the countryside (villages) without permission of traditional leaders, thus making food distribution to opposition sympathizers impossible.
A “rebranded” ZANU-PF under Mnangagwa has meanwhile allowed international observers from Western countries, widely viewed hostile to Zimbabwe, to observe the poll.
Among those invited are former colonial master Britain, United States, European Union (EU) and Commonwealth Grouping, who are monitoring the exercise alongside the usually preferred contingent from the African Union (AU) and SADC.
Mnangagwa’s rebranding strategy has seen some neutrals immediately embrace him as the Messiah.
Mnanangagwa has also seized the opportunity to preach peace, reconciliation, championed the Zimbabwe is open for business mantra and reformed the indigenization economic policies that obstructed inflow of investment into the country.
Those political activists sitting on the fence have been influenced to back the experienced politician (Mnangagwa) and ZANU-PF.
It will be no surprise if Mnangagwa wins the polls.
However it remains to be seen whether his strongly speaking against corruption but failing to prosecute well known corrupt government ministers might work against his chances.
Another scenario is that, even if Chamisa wins the July 30 polls, he would find governing very impossible.
If Chamisa and the MDC Alliance emerge victorious, the military would make Chamisa’s government highly unsustainable.
All government ministries and departments in Zimbabwe are heavily militarized such that first five years in power for Chamisa would not be rosy as he will have a tough task to demobilize, disband, decommission and discharge the aspect of militarization in government.
War veterans and have been deployed right from Grain Marketing Board (GMB), Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP), Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) and the military itself.
This is where Chamisa and his new government would be frustrated into hopelessness. Disappointed former freedom fighters in these institutions would throw spanners into the work through disobedience.
The third scenario is that the military would outrightly reject a victory for the opposition candidate.
The military would not merely allow transfer of power to Chamisa and MDC to rule before they have fully enjoyed the power they grabbed from Mugabe.
Following the removal of Mugabe from power decades after failure by the opposition in 38 years, the military top brass does not look likely to hand the opposition power in a silver platter.
It is incomprehensible Chiwenga, retired air force commander Perence Chiri (now minister of lands and agriculture), retired general Sibusiso Sibanda (foreign affairs minister), army chief of staff retired major-general Engelbert Rugeje (now ZANU-PF political commissar) would not allow any opposition enjoy the fruits while they watch.
The military, who have since captured the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC), might also influence the election outcome.
The opposition has raised vote rigging concerns ahead of the poll. The fears are not far from genuine and the beleaguered ZEC might doctor the results in favour of Mnangagwa and ZANU-PF.
The presence of regional and international observers would only be a smokescreen of democratic elections.
MDC will again dispute the outcome, but the observers would go ahead to endorse the polls as credible, free and fair.
Any aftermath chaos, protest marches and demonstrations will be referred to the election courts and the verdict will take a lifetime to be declared.
However, investors, will be closely monitoring for an enabling business environment, a factor which will either entice them to pour their promised $16 billion (about R240 billion) the incumbent administration desperately anticipated.
Amid such a scenario, the world’s second’s largest economy, China will be the happiest to continue plundering Zimbabwe’s vast mineral wealth.
NB: Savious-Parker Kwinika is Editor-In-Chief of Pan African news agency – Centre for African Journalists (CAJ News) based in Johannesburg, South Africa.
To contact him, write on: Savious.Kwinika@cajnewsafrica.