Africa Watch

Southern Africa is experiencing uncertain times

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As 2014 comes to a close, elections, succession battles and death are plunging the immediate future of Southern Africa into uncertainty. A challenging but interesting time lies ahead.

With two national elections just concluded, fireworks expected at the December 2014 party congress of the ruling ZANU-PF party in Zimbabwe, the death of Michael Sata, Zambia’s 77-year-old president and turmoil in Lesotho, Southern Africa is set to enter an interesting and challenging era.

Despite consensus beforehand that the incumbents would retain power, it was predicted that the elections in both Mozambique and Botswana would be hotly contested. It turned out to be exactly that.

Mozambique

The strong showing of Renamo in the Mozambican elections surprised many observers. The party had 89 representatives elected to parliament, a considerable improvement on the one of 2009. Renamo’s presidential candidate Alfonso Dhlakama received 36% of the vote (Renamo had 16% in 2009) against the 57% of the new president, Frelimo’s Filipe Nyusi.

True to custom and to nobody’s surprise, Dhlakama cried foul and rejected the election outcome.

In what could only be interpreted as a positive sign, Dhlakama also gave a public undertaking that he and his party will participate as a responsible and worthy opposition.

Analysts differ as to why Renamo put up such a strong showing. Two main reasons are raised:

• Firstly, it is argued that a significant percentage of Mozambicans are dissatisfied with the Frelimo government and many of them voted for Renamo expressing a no-confidence vote in the ruling party; and

• Secondly, it is suggested that fears that Renamo might return to a policy of destabilisation and terror swayed many voters to support Renamo, using their vote as a preventative measure.

Time will tell if Dhlakama will keep to his word. If he does it could go a long way to help create favourable conditions to stimulate and accelerate the economic potential of Mozambique, locked up in its natural resources, particularly coal and gas.

Renamo’s willingness, as expressed by Dhlakama, to be a constructive opposition could also help president Nyusi to consolidate his position as leader of all Mozambicans without the burden of constantly looking over his shoulder in anticipation of destabilising tactics by a destructive opposition.

Botswana

President Ian Khama and the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) were unconvincing winners in last week’s elections. For the first time since independence the BDP has won an election by less than 50 % of the votes.

The result still dismayed the opposition who had high hopes of breaking the ruling party’s 48 years of dominance of the political scene in Botswana. It also nullified predictions that the election could be a game-changer.

In comparison with past elections this election was particularly hostile and personal, dominated by accusations from the opposition and a critical media bemoaning the president’s authoritarian style of government and claiming that Botswana’s long-standing status as the beacon of democracy in Africa is under serious threat.

According to the opposition and critics the militarisation of government has created an environment of fear and intimidation. Career military officers have been appointed to strategic civilian posts and security forces, particularly the intelligence service, played a prominent role in support of the president.

Critics of President Khama feel vindicated by the constitutional row that has broken out on the eve of the opening of parliament over suspicion that he is trying to create a ‘dynasty’ by naming his brother as vice-president.

Botswana’s international image has taken a knock, but now after voted back into power President Khama has been given time and space to repair the damage inflicted on his image and that of his government. The choice is his.

Zimbabwe

The ZANU-PF’s congress scheduled for early December is destined to deliver fireworks and could become the final battlefield in a bitter and increasingly fierce succession struggle.

Despite all his efforts to convince the people of Zimbabwe that he is still in full control, President Robert Mugabe admitted that the battle to succeed him is tearing ZANU-PF apart, and that, “some war is going on in my party”.

President Mugabe can proclaim that he is “in full control” but reality dictates that his final exit is only a matter of time and it will be sooner rather than later.

His wife, Grace, entering the succession race might be part of a ploy to bolster the chances of Justice Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa against that of Vice-President Joyce Mujuru. However, she might actually be eyeing the presidency herself to establish a Mugabe ‘dynasty’.

Whatever the final aim, Grace Mugabe’s roughshod and toxic stratagem has only succeeded in increasing the tension and factionalism within ZANU-PF.

Most observers see her as a destructive force but, writing in Politicsweb, Vince Musewe makes a salient point. He argues that her antics might in the long run still become a blessing to the long-suffering people of Zimbabwe.

By allowing her enough room to spew her vitriol she could hasten the implosion of ZANU-PF and help pave the way towards what could be a new and better era for Zimbabwe.

Zambia

The death of Michael Sata, Zambia’s soon to be forgotten fifth president, has been overshadowed by the fact that the caretaker president for the next 90 days until the election for a new president takes place, is a Mulungu – a White Zambian, Guy Scott.

Since his parents were not born in Zambia Scott, who was vice-president and a close confidant of the late President Sata, is constitutionally prohibited from becoming Zambian’s president.

In what has become customary practice in many, if not most, African countries, President Sata never groomed a successor. Prone to shuffle or dismiss ministers without any apparent reason, President Sata never allowed any of his ministers the latitude to plan and campaign for the highest office in the country.

The result is a fierce struggle for supremacy among all the ambitious candidates within the ruling Patriotic Front (PF) to become the ruling party’s presidential nominee.

Those throwing their hats into the ring are facing a daunting task. Not only will they have to watch each other closely, but they will also have to keep a close eye on the candidates of the main opposition parties.

An upset cannot be ruled out. In 2011 Sata was elected president with 42% of the vote. Without an obvious and popular candidate to run on the PF ticket, Zambia’s next president could turn out to be a surprise.

by Garth Cilliers

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