08/11/2017 04:58 SAST | Updated 08/11/2017 04:58 SAST

Grace Mugabe's Succession Show Is A Comedy of Tragic Consequences

Get ready to kongonya to the sounds of party politics when Grace Mugabe takes centre stage at the Zanu-PF special congress scheduled for December.

Philimon Bulawayo/Reuters
Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe's wife, Grace Mugabe, has her sights set on the top job.

Get ready to kongonya to the sounds of party politics when Grace Mugabe takes centre stage at the Zanu-PF special congress scheduled for December. I hope former vice-president Emmerson Mnangagwa can dance well. Grace is going to pull his orchestral strings so hard and so artfully and so joyfully while he dances to "Kutonga Kwaro" from Jah Prayzah, the Bob Mugabe Muppet show will feature an ecstatic and once-all-powerful dummy dancing to the whimsical moods and elaborate objectives of the Zvimba puppet masters.

And to borrow a couple of wise words from Chazezesa Challengers frontman System Tazvida, as things stand now: aripo mukadzi avakushaisa munhu mukuru hope (a woman is causing an important man sleepless nights). Grandiose acclamations will follow the historic festive feat of the First Lady, because 37 years into independence, the Zanu-PF Women's League is still the best cheerleading outfit in the southern hemisphere for Gushungwe.

Yet Grace is no Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. One woman is like a dark and rain-filled night and the other reflects sunlit Saturday-afternoon optimism. One woman is similar to a warm serving of Chibuku beer and the other has a cool Mazoe Orange Crush freshness about her. Additionally, one woman has a dubious PhD and a predilection for public outbursts of ear-splitting "stop it" exhortations, and the other is a calm and eloquent Harvard-trained representative who studied economics and public policy at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government.

And while the extravagant property mogul remains reliant on a borrowed 1970s legacy, former Liberian president Sirleaf is a Nobel Peace Prize winner who has worked for the World Bank and Citi Bank. Along the way to the high office in 2006, Sirleaf encountered enormous challenges; Charles Taylor -- the once-powerful warlord, who was convicted of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Switzerland, accused Sirleaf of treason and ordered her execution. However, Sirleaf survived and went on to mastermind a nonviolent renaissance in Liberia.

Zimbabwe, though, can expect a new era of political turmoil as winds of womanly transformation tame Ngwena, and cumbersome economic woes escalate. For where will the "irony lady" of Mazowe lead the nation if she succeeds her husband? In contrast to the selective elevation of Sirleaf a little over a decade ago, Ms Mugabe will serve to reinforce narrow interests and extend an ugly African story.

When you recall the low inflation economies of the 90s, you can be forgiven for thinking that the nation can rediscover valuable economic and political fundamentals without suffering a struggle. Yet when one looks closely at Nigeria, an African nation inundated with electoral cataclysms, the certainty of all-inclusive economic renewal is not guaranteed, ever.

Like moths are drawn to a candle flame in a shabby rural hut, Africans will play political fools -- and with fiery drama -- to no end.

According to the latest poverty report by the National Bureau of Statistics about 112-million Nigerians (representing 67.1 percent of the country's total population of 167-million) live below the international poverty line. War, tribalism and corruption have devastated the second-richest nation in Africa. Adjacent Ghana has fared well in the poverty-reduction stakes, though -- and according to World Bank data, it reduced poverty from 52.6 percent to 21.4 percent between 1991 and 2012.

Unsurprisingly, Ghana experienced a smooth and peaceful transference of power when former president John Mahama quickly conceded defeat to Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo after the results of the presidential election in December 2016 were publicised. And it figures, Ghana retains excellent institutions that read like a Christmas wish list for Zimbabwe: it has a highly independent judiciary, professional security services, a dynamic media industry and civil society, freedom of political participation, a strong constitutional base and clearly defined electoral systems.

Substantial electoral, media and security sector reforms remain crucial necessities in Zimbabwe, for there is a method behind the Ghanaian success story, and a disastrous electoral and political dance pushing the povo to a penniless standstill. Zimbabwe could be the first nation in Southern Africa to elect a 94-year-old man as president -- or select a 53-year-old so-called leader with a fondness for acquiring million-dollar cars and real estate in exclusive South African suburbs. And quite chillingly, we could end up electing a discredited and violent tribalist who has coldblooded swagger.

Unless a fresh song surfaces in the forthcoming elections -- we will do Fela Kuti and Wizkid-like dances for a long time. Nigeria is a mineral-rich nation where corruption, internal conflict and vicious violence fester with shocking satisfaction. Sounds familiar, doesn't it? Our obsequiousness has made us dance to Machiavellian frauds like Mnangagwa for far too long. Like moths are drawn to a candle flame in a shabby rural hut, Africans will play political fools -- and with fiery drama -- to no end.

Philimon Bulawayo / Reuters
Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and his wife Grace attend a rally in Marondera, Zimbabwe, June 2, 2017.

Social unfairness can lead to relentless civil unrest and the creation of fanatical politics and extremist groups: 1,200 died in post-election violence in Kenya in 2008, and electoral schisms could lead to further conflict after another disputed poll this year; in West Africa, 800 lives were lost in Nigeria after a suspicious 2011 presidential election in which president Goodluck Jonathan succeeded amid allegations of rigging; and the steadfast refusal of Laurent Gbagbo to accept defeat to Alassane Ouattara after the October 2010 presidential election in Ivory Coast led to over 3,000 deaths and the intervention of the International Criminal Court.

A lack of a common national character and winning ethos ostensibly plague each failed, failing or fragile state -- equally as much as religious and economic disputes. Simply look at Syria, Somalia, Myanmar, Nigeria, Iraq, Yemen, Turkey, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Central African Republic, Rwanda, Liberia, Yugoslavia, Lebanon, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Sudan and South Sudan.

So whatever it is that Mugabe, Mnangagwa and wealthy decision-makers like Obert Mpofu stand for today, it hardly resonates with a lot of people, and that could spell trouble in the future since the excruciating déjà vu that is awakened with each questionable election could create a wave of irrepressible dissent and elongated civil strife. Who then will ululate and dance to the sound of civil conflict?