Robert G. Mugabe: The president of Zimbabwe since 1980, Mugabe’s grip on power was loosened significant amid an implosion of the economy that enabled the opposition Movement for Democracy and Change to challenge the dominance of the long-governing ZANU-PF at elections held in 2008. With economic conditions stable (if still poor) and the opposition in disarray, Mugabe and his party have reclaimed their dominant position following a general election held in July 2013. However, the president will turn 90 in February 2014, and even if he manages to survive until the completion of his current term, it is inconceivable that he might stand for re-election in 2018. His departure from the political scene will almost certainly trigger damaging turmoil within the ruling party unless he takes steps to ensure a smooth transfer of power to a designated heir, and even then there are no guarantees that the process will unfold as intended. For the time being, Mugabe is using his control of government appointments to stave off the risk of an internal power struggle, but there is no evidence that he is grooming a successor. The president remains the ultimate authority on matters of policy, and his populist and nationalist inclinations ensure that the risks for foreign investors will remain high as long as he is at the helm.
Zimbabwe African National Union-Popular Front: The long-time governing party has enjoyed a comeback since losing its majority status at the March 2008 elections, despite facing international hostility to President Mugabe’s rule and being troubled by internal disagreements over to return the party to a position of dominance. ZANU-PF romped to victory at a general election held in July 2013, and currently controls a two-thirds majority in the National Assembly. However, the party’s future is clouded by the threat of a destructive power struggle between its moderate and hard-line nationalist factions in the likely event that President Mugabe proves unable to serve out a full five-year term.
Joice Mujuru: The vice president is generally seen as the leader of elements within ZANU-PF who favor a less overtly hostile posture to foreign investors and the international financial community. Mujuru’s office positions her as the front-runner to succeed Mugabe in the event of an unplanned leadership transition, but it is unlikely that her claim to power would go unchallenged. Her allies have been named to oversee the government’s controversial indigenization program and the Mines portfolio, which could bold well for investment conditions in the event that she does replace Mugabe.
Emmerson Mnangagwa: A former defense minister who currently controls the Justice portfolio, Mnangagwa is the leader of ZANU-PF’s hard-line faction, which shares President Mugabe’s hostility toward foreign investors and the international financial community. Mnangagwa is among the leading candidates to be tapped by Mugabe as his successor, but he will be at a disadvantage if Mugabe departs the scene without anointing a preferred heir.
Movement for Democratic Change: ZANU-PF’s most dangerous rival came close to supplanting the long-time governing party at elections held in March 2008, as MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai finished ahead of Mugabe in the presidential election and the MDC won 99 legislative seats, compared to 97 for ZANU-PF. Tsvangirai’s insistence that he actually won more than 50% of the vote, and as a result had a claim to the presidency without need for a run-off election, triggered a political crisis that was resolved through the formation of a national unity government made up of ZANU-PF, the MDC, and the smaller faction of the MDC headed by Arthur Mutambara. Although the MDC ministers in the power-sharing government (in which Tsvangirai served as prime minister) were credited with pulling the economy out of a spiral of contraction and hyperinflation, the party’s participation in a government headed by Mugabe hurt its credibility. The party suffered a crushing defeat at elections held in July 2013, and is fighting to survive, amid rumors of plots by high-ranking officials to oust Tsvangirai as party leader before the end of his term in 2016. Historically, the MDC has been prone to factional strife, and its ability to survive its current trials intact is a matter of some doubt.
Military: Should a power struggle within ZANU-PF give rise to dangerous political unrest, the military could play a key role in ensuring stability. Younger military leaders outnumber the old guard that fought the battle for liberation in the late 1970s, and the generational changes in military leadership have resulted in a weakening of loyalty to Mugabe and support for his views.
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