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Even With New Term Limits, Mugabe Isn’t Stepping Down in Zimbabwe

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, who has ruled the former Rhodesia since it gained independence 30 years ago, said he has no intentions of stepping down.

“There is a fight to fight. My people still need me,” the 89-year-old leader said in an upcoming documentary produced by Dali Tambo, the son of South African anti-apartheid hero Oliver Tambo.

Some may question, however, whether Zimbabweans need more of the policies that rendered an initially stable, once-promising nation into a struggling, economic wreck.

Last week, Mugabe signed a new constitution that set term limits and other governing rules, and made way for an election later this year.  While the constitution, approved in a referendum in March, imposes term limits, they are not retroactive. Under the new document, the president will be limited to two five-year terms. Theoretically, Mugabe could run twice more and rule Zimbabwe until he is 99.

The constitution, which was signed by Mugabe, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai – his chief rival – and Deputy President Joice Mujuru, was rewritten as part of a power-sharing agreement following 2008 elections that were marked by violence.

The three formed a coalition government after the elections and the agreement is set to expire June 29. Under the terms of the new deal, parliamentary and presidential elections should follow within 90 days.

It is not clear, however, how the elections would be paid for and where independent monitors would be found, since Mugabe has already turned down offers of assistance from the United Nations. He has also accused the 15-nation Southern African Development Community (SADC), which has helped to mediate the formation of the coalition government, of trying to control the process.

Still, Mugabe would like to see an election before July, likely because it represents his best chance for re-election.

In the early years of Mugabe’s rule, it seemed that Zimbabwe was going to be one of Africa’s success stories. The largely agricultural nation had several years of good weather and crop production and various cooperatives that provided fair trade income for workers had begun to flourish. The nation became a safe haven for many fleeing the apartheid practices of South Africa.

In fact, many Western journalists were based in the capital of Harare. They would cross the border to cover the death throes of South African apartheid and return to politically freer Zimbabwe to file their stories unfettered.

By the late 1990s, however, Mugabe had gotten his army embroiled in the Congolese civil war without consulting parliament; there was a rigged food shortage; and Western journalists had been targeted for harassment at best, expulsion and detention at worst.

In 2000, Mugabe had called for land owned by thousands of white commercial farmers to be turned over to black Zimbabweans, some of whom had no farming experience. He didn’t get legal approval for the plan, but Mugabe supporters began a series of often-violent seizures of land. The economy began to collapse.

Zimbabwe has been a struggling nation ever since.  South Africa has become a democracy not without its problems, to be sure, but more like what Zimbabweans had hoped their country would be in the salad days of independence.

In the Tambo documentary, Mugabe criticized former South African President Nelson Mandela for being too soft on white South Africans during his tenure, implying that his own policies would be preferable to the accommodation of which he accused Mandela.

“And when people still need you to lead them, it’s not time, sir, it doesn’t matter how old you are, to say goodbye,” Mugabe reportedly told Tambo.

Clearly, Zimbabwe needs leadership. One can only hope its citizens will be given a legitimate opportunity to choose its next leader.

Jackie Jones, a journalist and journalism educator, is director of the career transformation firm Jones Coaching LLC and author of “Taking Care of the Business of You: 7 Days to Getting Your Career on Track.”


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