July 2, 2012 · 2 Comments
When Mugabe leaves office, particularly if it occurs unexpectedly, many international observers fear a succession crisis and the unrest, chaos, and even violence that it would likely entail. At this point, leading contenders to succeed Mugabe include current vice president Joyce Mujuru and minister of defence Emmerson Mnangagwa.
It isn’t clear who would have the easier path to the presidency, although there is speculation that widespread violence during the presidential elections of 2008, which critics charge was a concerted effort to intimidate opposition supporters and return Mugabe to office, was organised by Mnangagwa and may have earned him a secret commitment from Mugabe to be named as his successor. Regardless, any uncertainty could also cause the military to act in order to secure its interests, both political and economic, which would further inflame the situation.
Admittedly, resource-rich Zimbabwe does not attract considerable foreign investment at present, given the poor state of its economy and the extensive sanctions regime imposed by both the EU and the US. However, some analysts have speculated that the departure of Mugabe from power could trigger a change in this situation given the abundance of resources in the country. This is not necessarily the case. Mnangagwa and Mujuru are both specific targets of sanctions. Mnangagwa has earned a considerable degree of international condemnation for himself, while Mujuru fell afoul of sanctions by attempting to arrange the sale of three and a half tonnes of Congolese gold in Europe.
Thus, if Mugabe goes, sanctions will not necessarily be lifted, particularly if the parties vying for succession resort to violence – no small likelihood considering the country’s recent history. The only way a real reduction in sanctions is foreseeable is if free and fair elections are held, which would likely propel the opposition MDC party, led by Morgan Tsvangirai, to power. Tsvangirai’s positions – he has criticised the government’s indigenisation laws as impractical – and the MDC’s generally more reform-oriented platform mean that the party’s electoral success could also pave the way for a more hospitable investment climate to develop. Unfortunately, this doesn’t appear imminent.
Ironically, the best case scenario in terms of stability would be for the ‘death bed’ or ‘near death’ reports to be false, and for Mugabe to remain in office until the next election, which will be held either later this year or next (another contentious issue). Whether or not Mugabe would stand as the ZANU-PF candidate, international leaders and organisations would at least be prepared to pressure the government to ensure legitimate elections and avoid large-scale violence. Otherwise, in the event of any premature, disorderly transition, the near-term future looks decidedly bleak.
- Global Torchlight/Political Analysis South Africa