On a recent visit to Tanzania a colleague in the media asked me whether President Robert Mugabe was really standing for office again. I said he was because the party had chosen him.
He said that Tanzania founding President Julius Nyerere confessed when he stepped down after 24 years at the helm of his country first as Prime Minister and then President (just like Mugabe) to give way to Ali Hassan Mwinyi, that throughout his 24 years in office he had been assured by his lieutenants that he should stay because the people loved him.
Nyerere said that after he left office, he realised that it was not the people per se that wanted him to remain in office, but his lieutenants because his continued stay ensured that they could continue to loot the country.
My Tanzanian media colleague asked, could this not be the same reason why people want Mugabe to hang on, namely that his continued stay can protect their loot?
I felt there was an element of truth in that. Opposition leader Tendai Biti once said, ZANU-PF was abusing Mugabe because at 94 he really deserves a rest. But others would disagree arguing that wisdom comes with age.
Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, who has been studying company chief executives and what makes some stay longer and others to quit, came up with something I thought could explain the Zimbabwe situation.
He says Americans decided to have the United States CEO serve only two terms of eight years after Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s four terms led some to worry about the risk of an imperial CEO.
Zimbabwe agreed to a two-term limit but said it would not apply retrospectively for Mugabe.
Sonnenfeld says that although the average CEO in the United States serves only five years, there are some who have been at the helm of their companies for more than 60 years and the companies are doing extremely well.
Rupert Murdoch and Warren Buffett are typical examples. Buffett, who has managed an average 22 percent annualized growth has a clear succession plan, while Murdoch when asked by Buffett what his succession plan was responded that he was in no hurry to go anywhere because his mother, who was 98 then, was still active and intellectually sharp.
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