Harare – Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe is intent on becoming the southern African country's life president, critics say, following his remarks during his recent 93rd birthday celebrations.
As state enterprises continue to belatedly wish the nonagenarian many more years to come in the state media, his critics and the opposition are adamant that, just like the late Malawian president Hastings Kamuzu Banda, the veteran Zanu–PF leader wants to rule up to the grave.
They point out that Mugabe’s machinations for "president for life" have been laid bare by his wife Grace, and have been confirmed by the Machiavellian politician in his various addresses to mark his birthday.
Mugabe has been at the helm of Zimbabwe for 37 years.
Analysts note that at the height of his rule and octopus-grip on power Banda, who in his 90s and strongly suspected to have been “senile”, was known and revered as "Ngwazi Yamuyaya", meaning "President for Life".
Legend has it that even when he was trounced in the polls by Bakili Muluzi, the former president of Malawi still thought that he was “Ngwazi Yamuyaya”, unaware he had been ousted.
'The call to step down must come from my party'
Now Mugabe’s critics say the Zanu-PF leader is hastening and morphing into a "Ngwazi Yamuyaya" for Zimbabwe.
In fact, it would appear, some within Zanu-PF have no qualms in Mugabe being life president, arguing his exit now could precipitate civil strife in the country, something the opposition vehemently denies.
Mugabe’s wife set the ball-rolling a week before his televised interview to mark his birthday, telling an astounded nation that Zanu-PF could field his corpse during the forthcoming 2018 presidential polls and still win, suggesting he will rule from the grave.
Not to be outdone, the ruling party’s youth league leader, Kudzai Chipanga, for the umpteenth time equated the veteran leader to the “Son of Man Jesus Christ”. Chipanga went further to call for Mugabe’s birthday – February 21 – to be declared a major public holiday just like Christmas Day.
As if giving credence to his wife's assertions, Mugabe told the nation in his interview that there is a general consensus among the party faithful that there is no one cadre within Zanu-PF suitable to take-over from him if he decides to exit politics.
'There is no replacement'
“The call to step down must come from my party; my party at Congress; my party at Central Committee. But then what do you see? It is the opposite. They want me to stand for elections everywhere in the party,” he said, before continuing:
“Of course if I feel that I can’t do it anymore, I will say so to my party so that they relieve me. But for now I think I can’t say so…. The majority of the people feel that there is no replacement; a successor who to them is acceptable, as acceptable as I am,” he said, adding that the “people would want to judge everyone else on the basis of President Mugabe as the criteria”.
Mugabe has in the past categorically stated he would not groom a successor: “There are people who say Mugabe must go. Where do they want me to go? People who are busy forming their own groupings saying Mugabe must go; I ask myself where?”
But critics have been quick to point out that such utterances can only come from a politician who wants to die in power despite old age.
Mugabe intends to be life president of Zanu-PF and the republic, says political analyst Ricky Mukonza, adding that it has been Mugabe’s desire to be a life president and Zanu-PF to be the only party with access to state power since independence from Britain in 1980.
“The one-party state debate in the 1980s bares testimony. His desire to be a life president can be seen in his use of various methods, both overt and covert, to weaken his potential competitors both in Zanu-PF and outside,” says Mukonza.
Tribal or factional leaders
One of Mugabe’s strategies, say critics, has been to ensure that there are two contesting factions within the party every time; Edson Zvobgo versus Simon Muzenda; Joice Mujuru versus Emmerson Mnangangwa and now Mnangagwa versus the G40 faction.
What this divide and rule tactic does, adds Mukonza, is that it reduces other leaders to tribal or factional leaders while Mugabe maintains his national stature.
“Even now when he is advanced in age, he is still playing the divide and rule tactic to retain power. It will therefore be plausible for one to conclude that the man wants to be a life president.”
Reason Wafawarova, a political analyst with strong links to Zanu-PF, surprisingly agrees Mugabe intends to be life president.
“There is no evidence he plans to retire on his own initiative. If unstopped he is going to be there until death does him part with that job,” says Wafawarova.
Blessing Vava, another analyst, says even Grace would not test real power in Mugabe’s life.
“I don’t see him surrendering power to anyone, not even his wife. Mugabe is just being shrewd not to openly say he wants to rule till his last breath,” said Vava.