More than 7 000 fractious delegates, a president near the end of his career in a cash-strapped southern African country, one rain-soaked city and there you have it: Zanu-PF's ruling party conference, which kicked off yesterday in Zimbabwe's central city of Masvingo.
Here's what you need to know:
Don't they hold one of these conferences every December?
Yes. Every fifth year Zanu-PF holds a congress, not a conference. A congress is slightly more consequential. As every year, this year's conference delegates come from each of Zimbabwe's 10 provinces, just as they do to President Robert Mugabe's birthday party each February.
In the last few years the conference has basically been a big, back-slapping talk-fest, where members get a chance to buy party regalia and convince Mugabe that 1) he's in control 2) they really love him.
Underneath the camaraderie, there are still bitter fights going on: VP Emmerson Mnangagwa's faction and the G40 grouping (Higher Education Minister Jonathan Moyo, Local Government Minister Saviour Kasukuwere et al) are at each others' throats. But much of the manoeuvring has been done ahead of this two-day meet.
How is Zanu-PF funding this, given the cash crisis?
Estimated cost is well over $4-million, according to the Zimbabwe Independent last week. That would pay up to 8 000 government teachers (who are pretty sore about not getting their salaries before Christmas). It must be well over $4-million- since a fund-raising dinner presided over by Grace Mugabe in Harare in October was reported to have raised $4.2-million. That apparently wasn't enough: the Zimbabwe Independent says some Zanu-PF MPs and members of the party's central committee have been forced to contribute up to 400kg of meat each.
What's on the agenda?
According to the official Chronicle newspaper, this conference will see "various departments of the party outlining plans in place to transform the economy in line with ZimAsset", the government's economic blueprint that doesn't seem to have fixed much in the three years since it was adopted.
There will be discussions on mining, agriculture, tourism and manufacturing (none of them doing particularly well).
Mugabe also wants this to be a kind of "meet up and make up" session, reportedly telling central committee members on Wednesday they were to go to the conference "with a strong resolve to patch up any differences we might have had as a result of the internecine fights between us".
Mugabe is already in Masvingo but on Thursday he missed scheduled appearances to open a museum and an information centre in the city due to his "busy schedule".
Is anything big going to happen?
Bar someone falling ill (or just falling), this is unlikely. Mugabe is not going to announce his retirement. Last time something big happened at a party congress in December 2014, when then vice president Joice Mujuru and her associates were humiliated and ridiculed, setting the stage for her dismissal immediately afterwards.
Could that happen again, this time to Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who may not be in Grace Mugabe's good books? An attempt to do that would certainly be "surprising", concedes Zimbabwe analyst Pedzisai Ruhanya. He added: "But I don't think the military that supports Mnangagwa will allow that to happen."Suggest a correction