Zimbabwe: land and elections can be good bedfellows.

Author:Boateng, Osei
Position::Zimbabwe - Essay

This year is a critical one for Zimbabwe. The Inclusive Government that has ruled the country since February 2009 and provided some semblance of economic and political stability, will come to an end. In its place will be a government formed exclusively by either Zanu PF or MDC-T. A 16 March referendum on a new constitution received a massive "yes" vote, paving the way for elections in the next few months. In the meantime, evidence recently published shows that the country's controversial land reform programme has enabled black farmers to reach, in just 12 years, the same level of production white farmers achieved before the reforms. Osei Boateng reports.

AS ZIMBABWE PREPARES FOR crucial elections in the next few months, many people inside and outside the country are wondering why an 89-year-old man would still want to work a punishing schedule as President of Zimbabwe when his similarly-aged colleagues are now enjoying a comfortable retirement, and the unlucky among them, to be put it brutally, are resting in their graves.

"Why can't President Robert Mugabe, who celebrated his 89th birthday on 21 February 2013, and who has been in power for 33 unbroken years, just go home and leave a younger head to continue from where he leaves?" has become the most popular question this side of the elections. "Why is he running again?" is the obligatory second part of the question.

It is a legitimate question and a half whose answer, in normal circumstances, should not be difficult to give. Except that what has happened in Zimbabwe in the past 13 years--when the controversial land reform programme began in 2000-has not been normal. Which means that the retirement of the man the Zimbabwean "nationalists" see as the "anchor of the country" has become a difficult proposition.

It becomes even more complicated when viewed against the background of the actions taken in the past 13 years by certain Western nations--with Britain and the USA in the lead--to effect regime-change in Zimbabwe, whose sole goal has been to reverse the land reform programme and any gains achieved thereof.

In this regard, the antics of the governments of the former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and the former American President George W. Bush, including supporting an abortive coup plot in Zimbabwe in 2007, effectively became a kiss of death for the locals seeking change in Zimbabwe, especially Morgan Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T) which was the main beneficiary of the Western penetration actions.

To the "nationalists", what has happened, and is still happening, in Zimbabwe since woo is a "war without guns"--a war, they say, which is being fought not only to safeguard the honour, integrity and sovereignty of the nation, but also a war to resolve once and for all the warped land question in the country in favour of the majority black people whose ancestral land was taken by force of arms by the white colonial governments in the century before Zimbabwe's independence in 1980.

It is also a war to keep the ownership of the mineral and other resources of the country in the hands of its people--and that "war", to them, is not yet over. As such the only man whose track record gives them comfort to lead the last charge and finish the job, happens to be the man the opposition wants to retire--President Mugabe. Thus, despite his great age--for an African--the "nationalists" say Mugabe is still needed For the last throw of the dice, at least for one more term of 5 years, in order to make absolutely sure that the gains of the "war" will not be reversed by outside forces using local agents.

As one Zanu PF insider told New African last year: "We want Mugabe to run again, because we don't have a strong enough candidate to beat Morgan Tsvangirai."

President Mugabe himself had hinted at it in an interview published by New African in July 2011: "The party needs me," he said at the time, "and we should not create weak points within the party. We must remain solid and in full gear. Once you have a change, if we had it now for example, a new man or a new woman, that might destroy the party for a while as it goes through transition.

"Any new leader needs time to consolidate, so we don't want to take risks at all. No risks at this time because there are people who have regime change as their objective. Blair was calling for it. His successors ... we haven't heard the voice of [Prime Minister David] Cameron yet. But there is that other man with a round head ... what's his name? Hague, William Hague [the current British foreign secretary]. He seems very critical of us and seems to be on to regime change."

Turning to what has become a major talking point in the last decade--his age and state of health, Mugabe said: "The body says what it says it is ... I continue to have checks every six months. The doctors say that I am okay and some are surprised with my bone structure. They say they are the bones of someone who is 40. I suppose it is the exercise [he has been a gym fanatic all his life].

"I also take calcium every day. At this age you must take calcium, and I continue to exercise. I fall sick if I don't exercise. You can see it when I don't; you will say he is down today. For now, I feel as good as my age says I must be. My age says I am not yet old at 87 [two years ago when the interview was published]. My body is saying the counting doesn't end at 87--at least you must get to 100."

Which makes the coming election an interesting one. Like Mugabe, Morgan Tsvangirai will be running for the last time as leader of the MDC-T party, which will surely replace him if he loses again. He has already lost twice to Mugabe, in 2002 and 2008.

Unfortunately for him, conditions in the country today are not particularly in the MDC-T's favour as they were in 2008, when Tsvangirai defeated Mugabe in the first round of the election, winning 47% of the...

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