The missing President and delayed political decisions

President Robert Mugabe has been away, reportedly in Singapore for two weeks now. The official line is that he is organising a place for further studies for his daughter, Bona, at local universities. So banal is this official line that as citizens we are expected to believe that the head of state is running around in a hired car from one university to the other, dropping application forms, talking to University administrators as well as estate agents to get a digs for his daughter.

Meanwhile President Robert Mugabe has missed a key political deadline, a decision by his ruling party ZANU PF on its continued participation in the contentious constitutional reform process and the call for elections. A week before Mugabe's departure, he had promised that his party's decision making body, the politburo, would meet this past week to make pronouncements, likely denouncing and withdrawing from the constitutional reform process. He was set to make a key announcement on his plans for elections, more so by giving his justification for this hard-line stance he has taken demanding elections this year. Alas, the President is nowhere to be found. Instead Secretary to Cabinet Misheck Sibanda now says cabinet might meet on Thursday this week.

It is not clear whether Mugabe will be back by then and if he returns, whether he will be in a state of health to preside over national affairs. Already media reports indicate how government business has been grounded as a result of Mugabe's absence. Not only is the Prime Minister barred, unlawfully, from leading government business in the absence of Mugabe, even the two Vice Presidents cannot preside over cabinet. Mugabe has such a stranglehold on government and national affairs that nothing moves without him. This is compounded by the fact that much of government business is not conducted systematically and within known and agreed laws and policies. It is impossible therefore for his juniors to meet, discuss and agree on government business since rules are set on each given cabinet meeting and they fear making decisions unpopular with Mugabe. Take the indigenisation debate as an example, Mugabe's ally and Minister of Youth and Indigenisation Saviour Kasukuwere made a pronouncement that government has unilaterally taken over 51% of all foreign mining company shares. The Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai objected, lashing Kasukuwere that there was no such decision ever made.The tie breaker is Mugabe as the two cannot move, as indeed they are no policies on how the government is proceeding on indigenisation.

Zimbabwe fits well the description of a banana republic, under the tight grip of one person, and rules are made on the day and the same can be broken by night. The absence of Mugabe in the past two weeks is a precursor to the chaos that will prevail the day the man either does not return in one piece or simply fails to wake up from his sleep. It is clear that his juniors in government are paralysed after years of suppression, there is likely to be indecision that will create a vacuum and allow the military hoodlums a chance to dictate the process of change. While we are told Mugabe is in Singapore for family reasons, it is well known that he is not feeling well and has to visit Singapore at least every three to four months.

The people of Zimbabwe have been denied information on the state of health of the head of state. Citizens are kept in suspense on their future, now so intertwined with that of President Mugabe. The story of the missing President also tells us why Mugabe wants an election yesterday. He is running out of time to make crucial decisions on his succession. He cannot do that with the menace of the MDC parties close by; he wants total power to dictate his wishes. And again citizens are prisoners of the political wishes of the head of state.

Civil society and other sectors must oppose the dictation of the process of political change by man and one party. Voices must be heard calling on Mugabe to respect the citizens of Zimbabwe by following through the Global Political Agreement. So far civil society remains deafeningly silent as Mugabe railroads his political agenda. The example being set by the South Africa mediation team need to be bolstered. While Mugabe was still in Singapore, Lindiwe Zulu, President Jacob Zuma's international advisor was unequivocal that there will be no elections in Zimbabwe without reforms. It seems as civil society we are leaving outsiders to speak the message that we need to be shouting from the top of the mountain ourselves. We must not let the missing President dictate the process of reform. The earlier we act on this message the better for us.

David RM Mutomba is a Zimbabwean Journalist and Human Rights Activist

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