World Politics professor at the School of Oriental and African Studies (OAS) University, London, Stephen Chan, says the current wave of protests against President Robert Mugabe — including the social media campaign #ThisFlag — are not good enough to cause a revolution similar to the one witnessed in the Arabic countries (Arab Spring).
Crucially, he says change will come from Zanu PF not opposition or pro-democracy groups; he speaks to Senior Assistant Editor Guthrie Munyuki and below are the excerpts of the interview.
Q: We have seen ructions in Zanu PF over the unresolved succession issues, how are they likely to shape the future of Zanu PF?
A: Yes, these ructions will destroy Zanu PF as the party of liberation. The war veterans have lost faith in Mugabe. Joice Mujuru, a genuine war heroine, has been purged. Emerson Mnangagwa, a hero of the struggle, has been under sustained attack.
Those who will be left will have played no part in armed struggle. If that is the case, those who succeed Mugabe will need a successful policy programme, but all we see is struggle for succession and no policy programme.
If Mnangagwa also falls, then the Zanu PF of the 2018 elections will not be the same party of the 1980 independence elections.
Q: At 92, President Robert Mugabe is considered to lack the stamina and energy he once had in keeping Zanu PF intact, does his age underline the current squabbling in Zanu PF?
A: There is no major leader anywhere else in the world who is Mugabe’s age.
In China, which also venerates age, you cannot become a member of the Politburo or become President if you are over 60. You must have done that in your 50s and then the President only has two terms, so it is impossible to still be President in your 70s.
But I think there is a misunderstanding here about age: it is not just that someone lacks the stamina and vigour of youth; it is much more that one takes into age the habits and mental processes of one’s own youth.
But a man who was in his 20s 70 years ago will not be able to understand the aspirations, technological environment, and complex future imaginings of those who are in their 20s today.
In a way, it doesn’t matter how much Zanu PF squabbles, if the president and the entire party lose touch, at one and the same time, with its living liberation history and with the ability fully to understand the needs and aspirations of very young people.
It then loses its past and its future and has only its squabbling present.
Q: Is there any role left for him to play in keeping Zanu PF together when one considers that he is now being identified with the G40 faction yet previously he would, at least publicly, maintain a neutral role.
A: What is the G40? We in the West keep hearing of the G40, but we recognise not a single brilliant technocratic name; we recognise no one who has the intellectual capacity to rescue Zimbabwe.
Whether Mugabe will come down firmly on the side of the G40 or not, my worry is that the G40 will not bring successful policies to Zimbabwe.
Q: How significant is Mugabe’s fall-out with the war veterans and how do you see things shaping (up) in Zanu PF given the relationship that the ex combatants have with the military?
A: To lose the war veterans is a disaster for Mugabe. They fought. They sacrificed. Who else carries the mantle of the men and women who suffered in the field against huge odds?
I saw the Rhodesian war machine. It took huge courage to go up against that. Losing the veterans will mean, as I said, Zanu PF is no longer the party of liberation.
Q: For a long time Emmerson Mnangagwa was touted as the likely man to succeed Mugabe but there are doubts based on how he is being humiliated by juniors in the party while Mugabe’s watches on. What’s your take on that?
A: I cannot read crystal balls. Perhaps this is not yet over. We shall see. But it is extraordinary to see a vice president treated this way.
Q: What options are there for Mnangagwa and how does his relationship with the military and the war veterans help him in his bid in light of the current attacks by G40?
A: Mnangagwa retains close links with the military, past and present.
To alienate him may be to alienate very powerful other people. But a coup would be very bad for Zimbabwe.
Whoever is president of Zimbabwe should be something for Zimbabweans to decide, not men in uniform. But I do think Zimbabwe is entering a tense moment.
Q: The economy has remained in the doldrums, leading to strikes and protests as well as suggestions that Zimbabwe could have its own Arab Spring; Is Zimbabwe ready for this?
A: There will be no Arab Spring. Besides, the Arab Spring brought nothing to the people of north Africa and only untold suffering to the people of Libya and Syria.
People can wrap as many flags around themselves as they like.
This battle will be fought in the great institutions of the country. Zanu PF is one such institution. The army is another. I hope the judiciary will be another. And, if the church is to be an active institution in all this, it will take more than just one single Pastor.
Q: Can the opposition political parties profit from this situation?
A: The opposition parties have nothing I recognise as viable policy platforms either.
Q: Is their grand coalition possible given that they seem to be hesitant and overly cautious in going towards this route?
A: There will be no grand coalition. The opposition leaders are content to be princelings in their own courts. They are afraid that one of them might indeed become king.
Q: Zimbabwe’s face of the opposition for 16 years, Morgan Tsvangirai, is suffering from the cancer of colon, how does this impact his party’s chances in future elections?
A: Tsvangirai will no longer be a force in Zimbabwean politics. He has made his mark in history. He was a very brave leader of the opposition, and a far from perfect prime minister.
Q: Do you see him having a role in the 2018 elections?
A: No powerful or decisive role whatsoever. Daily news