The debate at the SAPES Trust Policy Dialogue Forum on succession last night, 4th September 2014, offered an insight into why Zimbabwe lurches from crisis to crisis, and why the international community (and investors) is so chary about engaging the country. Derek Matyszak, talking about succession in the Presidency, both the national President and the president of ZANU PF, pointed out that the problem with the new (2013) constitution is that, by default, it imports the ZANU PF constitution into the solution for succession. And as he pointed out, and has argued in a detailed analysis, the problems inherent in the ZANU PF constitution may attenuate the crisis. But since “guided democracy” has always been the way in ZANU PF, perhaps we should worry less about what the ZANU PF constitution says, and try to look into the crystal ball about what exactly are Robert Mugabe’s intentions. Will he guide the succession or leave it to his afterlife?
Stephen Chan, by contrast, offers the “guided succession” view. He did point out how desperately serious is the interaction between succession (and political settlement) and the economic survival of Zimbabwe. He was at pains to point out that, in order for Zimbabwe to attract the critically needed financial assistance, investors and donors need both clarity about the political security of the nation and economic policies that will ensure stability and growth. These latter do not need a genius macro-economist to tell us what to do, and since the SAPES conference earlier this year, it is clear that all local economists, bankers, and business men know what needs to be done. Little happens because the succession problem just won’t go away, and the political governance of both the present and the future remains uncertain.
However, Chan has an optimistic solution: “guided succession”. Offering the view that Mugabe’s elevation to the senior posts in the AU and SADC is a plan by the wise men in Africa to offer Mugabe a graceful exit (no pun intended), and that succession will be a process not an event. Hence, Mugabe will be inveigled to hand over in two years’ time, leaving the party two years to prepare a candidate for the 2018 elections. The question of which candidate is argued to be largely irrelevant since ZANU PF will easily win this election due to the parlous state of the opposition parties.
In Chan’s view, therefore, the anomalies in the ZANU PF constitution and the potential constitutional crisis that could be produced were Mugabe to die, or be unable to carry out his office, are not important. The party will not fragment, but will produce a successor in some fashion.
However, from Matyszak’s perspective, and Zimbabwean citizens generally, will this succession be “lawful”: will the ZANU PF constitution have been followed? The point here is that we, the citizens of Zimbabwe, have had 34 years, during which constitutionalism has been increasingly abandoned, both because of guided democracy and also because it is frequently just too inconvenient, politically speaking, to adhere explicitly to the constitution and the law. This is one of the reasons why there is no foreign direct investment or donor support for balance of payments: no-one is certain that the rule of law will be followed, and surely the manner of succession can strongly reinforce the rule of law or continue to undermine it.
Thus, clarity about succession is critical to restoring confidence and trust in the government.
Firstly, will ZANU PF follow its own constitution in electing a successor for the presidency? And as a starter it would be nice if more than Derek Matyszak knew what was in that constitution, and citizens could be reassured that ZANU PF has some kind of commitment to constitutionalism by making plain to the country (and everyone else) how they go about electing their leadership in a constitutional manner. A constitution that seems a secret document is not a reassuring basis on which to develop trust, and the possibility of a constitutional crisis, which Derek Matyszak suggests can happen, is not a good advertisement for the future, and for present trust in the Zimbabwe government.
Secondly, whether we like the result of the 2013 elections or not, the fact is that ZANU PF will govern until 2018, and may very well, as Stephen Chan argues, win that election too. It does not seem impossible, therefore, for the party to publicly indicate how succession will take place if it is not going to follow the (sort-of) explicit provisions of their constitution. If they are going to give us “guided succession”, well just give it to us, and then one problem can be solved – the matter of political confidence – and we can move onto the more fundamental problem of restoring the economy and giving citizens their livelihoods back.
But, thirdly, perhaps the issue is really that which Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga pointed out, and is inherent in the immense powers of the presidency. As she pointed out, whatever constitutions say, Robert Mugabe is his own man, keeps his own counsel, makes up his own mind, and this is wholly opaque. Succession depends on what Robert Mugabe wants, and he gives us no clues. Thus, no matter what the national constitution says, no matter what the ZANU PF constitution says, no matter what the wise men of the AU and SADC think, and no matter what the international community wants, we, the Zimbabwean citizenry, wait for him to decide, as he has always done.
But, and here’s a thought, and raised at SAPES by a young mathematician from UZ, why do we citizens always wait for the elites to decide, and what can we do to get clarity? Join ZANU PF and demand a copy of the ZANU PF constitution? Try to use the courts to see whether there is the possibility that we can force ZANU PF into internal constitutionalism? Since the ZANU PF constitution, courtesy of their “overwhelming” victory at the polls in 2013, now is tacitly incorporated into the national constitution, don’t citizens have right to know explicitly what will happen and who will take charge? Or will we just meander along from “guided democracy” to “guided succession” and back to “guided democracy”? And why even bother with elections, just create a dynasty!
Tony Reeler, Senior Researcher