The country of Zimbabwe could potentially be headed for political turmoil. The warning signs came during the nation’s independence festivities that were led by President Robert Mugabe.
Mr. Mugabe is the only leader that the nation has ever known. He has asserted that he will rule over Zimbabwe “until God says, ‘Come.’” Such statements have been supported by his wife, Grace, who has vowed that Mr. Mugabe will retain control over the country even if he has to rule from a special wheelchair until he is 100.
However, at the age of 92, it appears Mr. Mugabe is growing increasingly frail. During the independence celebrations, Mr. Mugabe bowed before his own framed portrait when his vehicle stopped in front of the picture whilst he inspected a military parade. The unusual action, leaving some question whether or not Mr. Mugabe is competent enough to recognize even his own portrait, is perhaps a sign that the president’s age is catching up with him.
Indeed, Mr. Mugabe is the oldest head of state in the world, having held power since 1980. It seems that the end of an era is coming to Zimbabwe.
As a result, there have been whispers amongst the governing class of what will come following the aging president’s death, which will likely be in the none-too-distant future. This has led to cutthroat jockeying for positions of power because of the inevitable political succession that must come once Mr. Mugabe has passed.
The change that has come over Mr. Mugabe is apparent to many Zimbabweans. He no longer has the same strength as the man refused to succumb to Western opponents or adversaries within his own nation that managed to bring down other African rulers by staging coups.
Now, Mr. Mugabe’s age can no longer be ignored as footage of the president stumbling and falling asleep during public events have been surfacing. This past March, Mr. Mugabe dozed off while conferring with the prime minister of Japan. Last year, he even reread a speech to Parliament that he had delivered to the same body of lawmakers the previous month.
Still, Mr. Mugabe is not ignorant of the speculation about what may come following his demise. Mr. Mugabe even contributed to some conversations being held concerning his mortality during a recent meeting with Zimbabwe’s war veterans.
Mr. Mugabe recognized that talk of his eventual death was fueling tensions within his party, ZANU-PF, which he fears could lead to infighting over succession. In response to these expectations and anxieties, Mr. Mugabe insists; “I am not dying. Shame on you.”
These assurances from an obviously aging Mr. Mugabe have failed to quell worries and political uncertainties. In recent weeks, these uncertainties have had negative repercussions, such as severe cash shortages caused by Zimbabweans hoarding money or moving out of the country due to uncertainties over what a change in leadership may bring.
There are doubts that after more than three decades of rule, Mr. Mugabe will be able to run for re-election in 2018 as he has promised. In the past, he was able to attain the presidency by pitting feuding factions against each other to come out on top.
These factions are now attempting to capitalize on Mr. Mugabe’s obvious frailty. The Lacoste faction led by Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa is appealing for support by insisting both that the president deserves a break and that Mr. Mugabe is no longer capable of carrying out needed political and economic reforms.
Even Mr. Mugabe’s wife has been accused of joining in the political jockeying. Ms. Mugabe held rallies for the purpose of attacking the previous longtime vice president, Joice Mujuru, who was a likely candidate as the president’s successor. However, after accusations of corruption and witchcraft from Mr. Mugabe, the vice president was stripped of her position and expelled from the ZANU-PF party.
Her recent actions have supported rivals’ claims that Ms. Mugabe is taking advantage of her husband’s growing frailty in order to make a grab for power.
With even Mr. Mugabe’s wife joining the political fray, there are fears that the ZANU-PF party will lose its hold on Zimbabwe due to infighting, leaving room for an opposition group to step in.
With a government that has been forged for decades by a single leader and no clear-cut successor on the horizon, it appears that Zimbabwe’s political hopes are dimming as Mr. Mugabe declines.