Key political risks to watch in Zimbabwe

2012-03-12 08:27

Harare - President Robert Mugabe's party has stepped up a drive to force all foreign-owned companies to sell majority stakes to black Zimbabweans, a policy threatening the southern African state's fragile economic recovery.

Mugabe's rival, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, says the demand by Zanu-PF is motivated by upcoming elections and is scaring away investors at a time when Zimbabwe is emerging from a decade-long economic decline.

Empowerment Minister Saviour Kasukuwere has demanded foreign miners in Zimbabwe turn over various stakes - eventually building up to 51% - to locals or risk losing their claims and licences.

Political analysts say Mugabe, 88 and one of Africa's longest serving leaders, has picked up the black empowerment drive as his campaign weapon for the election he wants held this year, a year ahead of schedule.

Mining and local ownership

Kasukuwere, commonly known by the nickname "Tyson", is leading Zanu-PF's fight with mining firms over their proposals to transfer a 51% stake in their operations to locals.

The targeted firms include Zimplats, a unit of Impala Platinum, the world's second-largest platinum producer. World number one platinum miner Anglo American Platinum is also developing its Unki mine in Zimbabwe.

Foreign mining firms are being forced to fund development projects in rural communities. Analysts say they are likely to be squeezed more for cash to be funnelled to Zanu-PF's coffers for the polls.

Some analysts have branded it an "extortion scheme" but companies are co-operating with Zanu-PF, wary of its record after its seizure of white-owned farms in the past decade.

Many are waiting for a government more amenable to foreign investment before they ramp up production in the resource rich country with the world's second largest platinum reserves.

What to watch:

- Details of deals struck between government and miners.

- What the government will do to non-complying companies.


Mugabe's and Tsvangirai's parties are quarrelling over a new constitution, with Zanu-PF accusing the MDC of trying to sneak in a law giving unfettered voting rights to Zimbabweans living abroad, who Zanu-PF regard as largely MDC supporters.

The final charter is likely to be a compromise between Zanu-PF and MDC, who both lack the two-thirds majority in parliament needed to pass the new supreme law on their own.

Many Zimbabweans want the charter to strengthen the role of parliament, curtail presidential powers and guarantee civil, political and media liberties.

Mugabe and Tsvangirai were forced into a coalition after a disputed election in 2008. It was held amid a deep economic crisis where the population struggled with inflation of over 500 billion percent, food and power shortages and a cholera outbreak that claimed over 4,000 lives.

Their power-sharing deal calls for a new constitution to be put in place ahead of the election.

What to watch:

- Zanu-PF reaction to prolonged delays in charter's crafting.

Mugabe succession

Despite his advanced age and reports of failing health, Mugabe says he is fit to contest another election.

Some of his close officials say Mugabe has quietly worked on a succession plan, but party members fear Zanu-PF could implode in a battle over who takes over power if he dies in office.

The death of retired general Solomon Mujuru in a fire last August has also changed the party dynamics. Local media reports say Mujuru, husband of Vice President Joice Mujuru, was pressing Mugabe to step down and his Zanu-PF faction had courted the MDC.

Some Zanu-PF members see Mugabe as a liability who should hand over power to a younger leader but they are unsure whether any successor can defeat Tsvangirai in a free election.

Mugabe, who turned 88 on February 21, was endorsed by his party as candidate for the next presidential poll.

Pressure for him to retire has been growing especially since reports, based on a 2008 U.S. diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks, said Mugabe was suffering from prostate cancer.

What to watch:

- Mugabe trying to heal party rifts or anoint a successor.

- How Mujuru's camp regroups.

Inter-party violence

Mugabe has been accused by the West, rights groups and his opponents of using police and former troops in campaigns of murder, rape and intimidation to fix elections.

He and Zanu-PF leaders are under international sanctions for suspected human rights violations and vote rigging.

The test for whether efforts to stem the violence have been successful is likely to come closer to the election date, when Zanu-PF tends to mobilise its forces in the form of independence war veterans and youth brigades known as "green bombers".

What to watch:

- Investors shelving or slowing down plans due fears of instability.

Read more on:    saviour kasukuwere  |  mdc  |  zanu-pf  |  morgan tsvangirai  |  solomon mujuru  |  joice mujuru  |  robert mugabe  |  zimbabwe  |  southern africa

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