Mugabe health: a national security crisis

HARARE — President Robert Mugabe’s advanced age and his failure to groom a successor has become the biggest threat to Zimbabwe’s future stability and its transition to democracy, analysts said as ZANU-PF seeks to hurry the country into elections this year before Mugabe’s health deteriorates.

At 87, Mugabe is now Africa’s oldest serving President. Mugabe has held power for 31 years, a feat achieved only by three other African leaders, including Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi, who is fighting a popular uprising against his 42-year rule.

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Political negotiators in Zimbabwe’s fragile unity government are trying to hammer out a road map that will pave way to fresh presidential and parliamentary elections which ZANU-PF wants this year but which the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) says could only be possible within 12 months after electoral and security reforms to guarantee a free and fair vote.

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Mugabe has since the start of the year shuttled between Harare and Singapore for medical reviews, heightening fears that the former guerilla leader’s health is deteriorating. Mugabe has denied that his health is failing.

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“Unfortunately Mugabe’s health and the future of Zimbabwe are intertwined and there needs to be a clear succession mechanism within ZANU-PF first and another constitutional mechanism for power transfer outside ZANU-PF,” John Makumbe, a University of Zimbabwe political science lecturer said.

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“There are a lot of grey areas there and if not handled well, this could pose the biggest threat to the country’s national security.”

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South Africa’s ruling ANC party has already said Zimbabwe’s three governing parties, including Mugabe’s ZANU PF, fear that should Mugabe retire or die in office this could jeorpadise the adoption of a new and democratic constitution that is still being drafted and is seen as prerequisite to ensuring the next vote is free and fair.

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South African President Jacob Zuma is the regional SADC group’s mediator in the Zimbabwe inter-party negotiations.

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Mugabe is believed to be suffering from prostate cancer, which tends to develop in men above fifty years and causes pain, difficulty in urinating, problems during sex, or erectile dysfunction.

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Official sources in the President’s Office have suggested that Mugabe had gone under surgery in January, one of the many treatments for prostate, which also include radiation therapy, stereotactic radiosurgery, and proton therapy.

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The sources also say Mugabe is suffering from peripheral edema or the swelling of ankles, linked to heart, liver and kidney problems.

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Analysts say Mugabe has purposefully avoided anointing a successor and instead played two main factions in his ZANU-PF party as part of a plan to continue in power.

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But the lack of a clear succession plan may have serious consequences for the country.

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The political analysts said ZANU-PF’s factions could not agree on a post Mugabe successor, which could plunge the country into political instability.

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“The constitution is very clear on the route to take if Mugabe were to wake up not there but for this to work ZANU-PF needs to have a clear succession plan in place. It is simply not there, which creates a dangerous recipe for instability,” Eldred Masunungure, chairman of local think-tank Mass Public Opinion.

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Zimbabwe’s constitution stipulates that the two Houses of Parliament sit together as an electoral college to elect a successor when the Office of the President falls vacant and the elected successor serves for the remainder of the terms of the predecessor.

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Under the Global Political Agreement if Mugabe’s post becomes vacant, it would be filled by a member of ZANU-PF.

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“But because ZANU-PF cannot close ranks or reach consensus on single candidate to take over from Mugabe, these constitutional provisions become meaningless,” Makumbe said.

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ZANU-PF is pushing for elections this year, hoping Mugabe will win and manage the succession issue internally but officials in a multi-party constitutional committee say this is impossible as a referendum is only possible after September this year.

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Mugabe was forced to form a unity government with Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai after contentious elections in 2008 and political analysts have said any fresh vote without reforms and mechanisms to transfer power could lead to another stalemate.

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The next election is seen as a watershed as it has the potential to usher in a new era of democracy or further entrench what Mugabe’s critics say is ZANU-PF’s dictatorship.

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Mugabe is also coming under pressure from regional leaders who want his smooth exit to prevent distabilising the region with a repeat of the economic and political crisis that saw thousands of Zimbabweans fleeing to neighbouring countries. — ZimOnline