As the ruling ZANU-PF party’s traditional coalition of supporters crumbles, the state is lashing out at opponents.
A large group of the liberation war veterans, a traditional pillar of support for Mugabe’s party, have now defected.
Their leaders have been harassed, jailed and placed under surveillance for having the temerity to call for free and fair elections – and for having denounced the First Lady’s pretensions to dynastic rule.
As Mugabe deteriorates, if not teeters, Zimbabwe’s political elites are positioning themselves for the inevitable transition that will follow.
The outside world, too, should be preparing for the consequences of Mugabe’s demise.
Zimbabwe’s neighbours, notably South Africa, will bear the brunt.
Preventive diplomacy should be the immediate priority – while planning for a full-scale humanitarian crisis.
This would be a change from the usual practice of ignoring the clear signs and risks, only to react once the long lasting strongmen eventually, “suddenly,” depart.
There has long been a naïve view in western publics and policy circles which holds that the problem with Iraq was Saddam Hussein, that Libya would be better off without Moammar Gadhafi, and that Mobutu Sese Seko’s departure would herald a bright future for Zaïre.
The solution? Get rid of the strongman and democracy will naturally follow!
It isn’t the case.
The fall of a longstanding authoritarian leader typically leads to one of two sub-optimal outcomes: regime continuity (e.g. Cuba, North Korea, Togo, Turkmenistan) or state collapse and protracted civil conflict (e.g. Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Zaïre/Democratic Republic of the Congo).
While many different factors are present in each case, two usually play determining roles: the cohesiveness of national elites and the role of the international community (especially neighbouring states).
In Zimbabwe today, elite cohesiveness is lacking and, hence, all the signs point to a disorderly succession.
The ruling party is in or close to civil war.
Former ZANU-PF supporters in the war veterans and in the faction of the party expelled in 2014 with then vice-president Joyce Mujuru are waiting to see what kind of ZANU-PF emerges after Mugabe goes.
Opposition political parties are trying to form a coalition to challenge Mugabe and ZANU-PF in the 2018 elections, but the success of that venture is far from assured.
The opposition parties have a long history of factionalism.
Continued next page