Growth of Democracy in Africa Sees Mugabe Ponder Future

By Stephen Mbogo | July 7, 2008 | 8:15pm EDT

Nairobi, Kenya ( - Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe has indicated that he may not seek re-election when his current term expires in 2008, a move some analysts are attributing to a growth in awareness of democratic values and strengthening of democratic institutions in Africa.

Mugabe, who is one of Africa's most controversial rulers, hinted in recent interviews with a Kenyan daily newspaper and a British television channel that he would not run for president in four years' time.

Instead, he wanted to get some rest and "do a bit of writing."

Mugabe has ruled, many critics would say misruled, the small southern African country since its independence in 1980.

East African-based political scholar Jimmy Mwai said Mugabe may well be aware that, with his poor human rights record, he will "find it hard" to sell himself to an electorate in 2008.

Democracy is growing in Africa by the day, he said, and at the same time, democratic institutions are becoming more robust.

By 2008, institutions like the African Union (AU), and in particular AU bodies like the Human Rights Court, will be even stronger, and "perhaps able to influence political decisions in specific African countries," Mwai said.

Although progress has been slow, Africans were beginning to vote rulers out of office based on their leadership records, and the trend was likely to pick up in the next 5-10 years.

Kenya was a case in point. Former President Daniel Arap Moi was in office for four terms until he stepped down in December 2002. His chosen successor and representative of the party that ruled Kenya since independence was defeated by the current president, Mwai Kibaki.

Despite having moved away from one-party systems and allowing opposition political parties to function, it has become a popular trend by African leaders to push for the election of a preferred successor.

Political analysts in Africa attribute this to outgoing leaders' concerns that they may be prosecuted for past misdeed, and so seek protection from their successors, whom they hope will also carry on with their policies.

The strategy has succeeded to some degree in countries like Malawi, Zambia, Seychelles, but fell foul of voters in both Kenya and Ghana.

Although hinting in the press interviews about standing down, Mugabe also said he would rule Zimbabwe "as long as his people require him to," adding that he did not have a successor in mind.

Mugabe's land redistribution policy, which saw large numbers of white-owned commercial farms confiscated and handed over to blacks, has resulted in strained relations with United States, former colonial ruler Britain, and other Western countries.

Although the redistribution of land to underprivileged blacks was seen in many quarters as necessary, the policy was characterized by illegalities, including violent evictions of farmers and their employees by gangs loyal to Mugabe's ZANU-PF party.

Zimbabwe is facing a severe economic and political crisis, with acute shortages of food, medicine, gasoline, hard currency and other goods reported.

According to the United Nations World Food Program, about 5.3 million Zimbabweans, out of a total population of less than 12 million, will need food aid in the next year following the collapse of local production.

Nonetheless, Mugabe told the interviewers that Zimbabwe would experience a "bountiful" maize harvest this year.

The political crisis, worsened by Mugabe's disputed re-election in 2002, also continues to simmer.

Efforts by Zimbabwe's key ally and southern neighbor, South Africa, to help bridge the gulf between ZANU-PF and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) have been unsuccessful.

South African President Thabo Mbeki's appointed Zimbabwe mediator, Ayanda Ntsaluba, told reporters in Johannesburg that attempts to build political consensus were failing because neither party seemed to recognize the need to secure Zimbabwe's future.

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