Zimbabweâ€™s Former Finance Minister Challenges Mugabe
â€œI would have much wished to stand as its official candidate, unfortunately as we all know, that opportunity was denied to any other cadre who would have offered themselves to serve the party and country,â€? Makoni said.
Zimbabwe’s former finance minister Dr. Simba Makoni has thrown his hat into the ring announcing that he will challenge President Robert Mugabe in the March 29 presidential vote.
Makoni, 57, a Zanu PF politburo member told journalists that he will contest the presidential election as an independent ending weeks of speculation.
Political analysts see Makoni as a reformist who wants the ruling Zanu PF to embrace change that will help build the country’s economy and end international isolation.
“Following very extensive and intensive consultations with party members and activists countrywide and also with others outside the party, I have accepted the call and hereby advise the people of Zimbabwe that I offer myself as candidate for the office of president,” Makoni said.
“Let me confirm that I share the agony and anguish of all citizens over the extreme hardships that we all have endured for nearly 10 years now,” he said.
“I also share the widely held view that these hardships are a result of failure of national
leadership and that change at that level is a pre-requisite for change at other levels of national endeavor,” he added.
Makoni made the announcement at a press conference that was attended by British and American diplomats, something which raised suspicion among political analysts.
The former cabinet minister said he still has faith in Zanu-PF although he knew that contesting as an independent would automatically lead to his expulsion from the party.
“I would have much wished to stand as its official candidate, unfortunately as we all know, that opportunity was denied to any other cadre who would have offered themselves to serve the party and country,” Makoni said.
Makoni evaded questions pertaining to the party he would stand for in the coming poll. He said he would make an announcement on the issue soon.
His visible allies so far include former Zanu-PF secretary for information in Masvingo Province, retired Major Kudzai Mbudzi and political analyst and publisher Dr. Ibbo Mandaza, who says he is Makoni’s official spokesman.
Speculation has been rife in the past few months that Makoni wanted to lead a breakaway party with the backing of Zanu PF political heavy weight retired army general Solomon Mujuru, husband of Mugabe’s vice president Joice Mujuru.
Political analysts in Harare were sniffing around as to why Makoni’s announcement coincided with the collapse of unity talks between the MDC camps led by Morgan Tsvangirai and Arthur Mutambara.
After weeks of political haggling, opposing sides of the MDC said they would field rival candidates in the March polls citing differences in policy and strategy.
Combined elections - presidential, parliamentary and senatorial elections will held on March 29 following constitutional amendments that paved the way for the joint election.
Veteran leader Mugabe, in power since independence in 1980 is widely expected to breeze to victory despite widespread criticism by his opponents who say that he has ruined the economy through his policies.
Other candidates vying for the country’s top job include Tsvangirai, Mutambara, Paul Siwela of the Federal Democratic Union (FDU), Daniel Shumba of the United People’s Party and Isabel Shanangurai Madangure of the Zimbabwe People’s Democratic Party,
the only female contestant in the presidential race.
Makoni’s announcement has been met with mixed reactions.
“Simba Makoni, a progressive force, reformer, former Zanu-PF cabinet minister and member of Mugabe’s politburo could be the stone that the builder rejected which could become Zimbabwe’s cornerstone,” said a political commentator on a web publication.
“Something has been whispered about how Makoni performed as SADC’s secretary general and head of the Energy and Finance ministries. But if past failures are the only reason to prevent Makoni from standing for the presidency then no candidate would qualify.
“As Makoni steps forward to present himself as a presidential candidate without responding to insults directed him by his detractors, he breathes fresh air into Zimbabwean politics. Makoni has been silent since the speculation on his political intentions started in
the media and those of us who were not sure of his approach asked why he had been so silent. There is no smoke without fire. It might now be concluded that he was listening and calculating his moves,” said the commentator.
Critics see Makoni as an opportunist who wants to cream off the results of the struggle of other politicians who have battled for years to oust Mugabe from power.
“Dr Simba Makoni will run for President of Zimbabwe. What a joke. .. I am wary of opportunists who emerge at the final hour after some people have struggled fora long time. I feel sorry and saddened that on this day, the people of Zimbabwe have decided to forget about Morgan Tsvangirai, a man who illustriously fought to oust the Zanu-PF regime over the last nine years. He has his own weaknesses, but there is no doubt that many changes have come about in Zimbabwe because of him,” one critic observed.
Other analysts say the coming into the fray of Makoni will split the votes within Zanu PF while others said his entrance was of little significance because he does not have a clearly drawn out support base.
“As the electorate waits for the story to unfold, they want to know whether Dr Makoni will run as an independent or whether he will be launching a political party before the end of the week, because by default, he has expelled himself from Zanu PF,” wrote a political commentator in the Zimbabwe Herald.
Some critics suggest that Makoni will further split votes lending Mugabe victory over him and the sharply divided opposition MDC.
Makoni was born 57 years ago and at the height of the protracted armed struggle of the 1970s he studied at the then University of Rhodesia and at the University of Leeds in the United Kingdom, obtaining a BSc and a PhD. He was active in student politics and represented Zanu PF in Europe for a number of years.
He was one of the youngest ministers of the newly formed government at independence in 1980. He was aged 30 when he was first appointed deputy minister of Agriculture.
In the 1980s he rose through the ranks serving the Energy and Youth ministerial portfolios before joining the Southern Africa Development Community, a regional economic block made up of 13 countries in southern Africa. He was the executive secretary of SADC at its
headquarters in Gaborone, Bostwana.
When he quit Sadc, Makoni was appointed chief executive of the Zimbabwe Newspapers in March 1994. While at the helm of the newspaper group, he clashed with the late editor of the Zimbabwe Sunday Mail forcing him to cut his term short.
Makoni is a business man and is widely touted for his prudence and market-oriented economic policies which do not augur well with the ruling party ideology biased towards the interest of the urban poor working and peasant classes.
Makoni’s announcement has sparked debate among Zimbabweans and his impact on the murky political landscape will only be felt after the March 29 poll results.
For now, Makoni is riding on his corrupt-free and youthful image to woo the hearts of many young supporters yearning for change. Time will tell whether he is fit to fight the veteran and battle hardened leader Mugabe who has already marshaled his skill and
experience in politics to consolidate his support base.
Tsiko is The Black Star News’s Southern Africa correspondent based in Harare.
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