Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front's National Conference 2006
The ninth Zimbabwe African National Union conference may be finished but the controversy isn't. Welshman Ncube, Secretary General of the Mutambara-led Movement for Democratic Change faction, has called the extension of President Robert Gabriel Mugabe's term in office until 2010 'a civilian coup' and vowed protest.
Whilst MDC protest has been largely ineffectual in the past, this one could harness the support of ZANU-PF moderates also opposed to a 2010 term.
The fans were flamed when Mugabe announced on Sunday that only 'God' could remove him from office precipitating fears that he intends to stay beyond 2010.
'Forever? Who needs forever?' Mugabe responded to journalists' questions about whether he intended to rule indefinitely. 'God is there, I can't live forever.'
But here's the rub. According to ZANU-PF officials, who have spoken to Africa Confidential, no resolution was ever adopted at the conference, despite the parrotings of the official press.
'It was Mugabe's decision, his instigation. He fears he will lose 2008. It was adopted by the Politburo, with opposition from [Vice-President Joyce] Mujuru but she swallowed it. She's intent on her own ambitions. But no resolution on the matter was tabled at the conference it was deferred,' one official told AC.
Mugabe needs to amend the constitution if he is to pursue his 2010 bid. At present, with combined MDC and moderate ZANU-PF MPs he will face a fight to get the necessary two-thirds majority.
With no change in political direction there's little hope for the economy, according to ZANU-PF analyst Ibbo Mandaza. Agricultural production was up on last year, but the rains are already late this season, putting next season's harvest at risk. 'The economy is going to get worse; we could have inflation at 5,000 percent by the end of next year,' said Mandaza.
Others are not so pessimistic. Harare-based land expert Professor Sam Moyo foresees good growth on the commercial farms bolstered by the government's new 99-year lease scheme and government cutbacks on quasi-fiscal spending to reduce inflation.
17 December 2006
Unity and solidarity are the greatest weapons, President Robert Mugabe
Only problem is, the official press aside, nobody believes him.
"We want the conference to tell the truth. The economy is in bad shape. We fear the wrath of the people when we go to meet them," said Mashonaland East Governor Ray Kaukonde, urging the government to focus on the economy instead of politics.
Corruption was another bête noir. Mugabe spent part of his speech openly castigating the corruption of ZANU-PF officials, in particular the heads of parastatals – Ziscosteel and the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority come to mind particularly. One placard in the main hall read: ‘Crookish leaders betray people's trust’.
According to the state-run Daily Mirror, Mugabe is expected to reshuffle his Politburo cabinet on Sunday in a bid of strength.
ZANU-PF stands divided. Moderates are fuming at the proposed extension of Mugabe's presidential term until 2010 – and perhaps longer, under the guise of election ‘cost-cutting’.
Eight out of ten ZANU-PF provinces are backing the plan to scrap the 2008 vote so that it will be ‘harmonised’ and held at the same time as parliamentary elections in 2010. A final resolution is expected to be passed later today. thundered at 4,000 assembled delegates in his keynote speech at the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front's ninth conference, urging people to be patient whilst the economy is in ‘transition’. ‘We are impartial and objective and we will gain much more in terms of uniting out people, Mugabe said to the crowd.
‘He [Mugabe] doesn't want to fight elections in 2008 given regional pressure," said private economist John Robertson. ‘After regional elections in the Congo and Zambia, there is much more monitoring; he won't put people's wrath to the test in 2008."
Then there's the sucession. Yesterday Mugabe insisted that there were no ‘vacancies’ in the presidency. Still, his failure to mention any favourites hasn't damped the expectations of Joyce ‘Spill Blood’ Mujuru, ably supported by her military husband, retired General Solomon Mujuru, who hopes to pip hardman Emmerson Mnangagwa, ZANU-PF’s Legal Affairs Secretary, to the top post.
Anticipation is high across the country on 14 December as delegates begin piling into Goromonzi High School in Mashonaland East Province for the start of ruling-party Zanu PF's annual conference. President Robert Mugabe has already given his assent for the presidential poll – currently scheduled for 2008 – to be 'harmonised' with the parliamentary elections in 2010. Mugabe's cabinet has also agreed, making a necessary resolution at the party's assembly a mere formality in extending the President's tenure for another two years.
Many think Mugabe will stay on longer, particularly if Zimbabwe's economic woes continue, which they are bound to for the foreseeable future amidst inflation touching 1100 percent. Some officials, such as Land minister Didymus Mutasa, have implied that Mugabe should be made President-for-life officially, though this would only confirm what people have suspected for some time. 2010 would take Mugabe's rule up to 30 years – from whence he would be competing with a select few of Africa's longest-serving despots, for instance Mobutu Sese Seko, who was in power for 32 years (1965-1997).
Despite the economic malaise, the capital city Harare is looking clean and pretty, if a little ragged at the edges. The government has certainly gone on a clean-up in a bid to boost its image for foreign investors: pavements have been washed, potholes filled, garbage picked up and lawns mowed. But one Harare taxi driver complained that the tidy-up had been confined to the centre, the so-called central business district. If you go down to Mbare Township, he warned, be ready to encounter weeks-old piles of rubbish, cheek-by-jowl with rickety, makeshift huts – the legacy of last year's 'Operation Restore Order', which made thousands of people homeless when their houses were destroyed by the security forces. "What we need is change," the taxi driver said.
Still, there are those who think that Mugabe isn't the problem per se: it's his policies. "The conference is a non-event – what matters is policy," Bulawayo-based economist Eric Bloch told AC. "The only difference being that, after the conference, four thousand delegates will leave better fed and drunker than when they arrived on Friday."
The action kicks off tomorrow. Watch this space.