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A challenger, at last

Not yet on his way out (via Sokwanele – Zimbabwe, Flickr)

Until today, nobody was expecting much from the Presidential elections in Zimbabwe, set to take place in 52 days. With the announcement of former finance minister Simba Makoni to run for office, a rival to quasi-dictator Robert Mugabe has emerged out of the leader’s own party, the ZANU-PF.

Mr. Makoni hasn’t arrived out of the blue: He has been seen as a possible spokesperson for those in the ZANU-PF that are not only desperate about the ongoing downturn of the country’s fortunes, but who are also dissatisfied Mr. Mugabe does not want to give them a share of his power. Mr Mugabe himself seems to take him seriously, as he met the disgruntled Mr. Makoni two weeks ago to calm him down – unsuccessfully, it seems. Mr Makoni has the image of being a modernizer and a clever technocrat that has not been affected by the corruption of the ZANU-PF. He is also said to have the backing of the influential party senior Solomon Mujuru, who is the former head of Zimbabwean army and husband of Vice President Joyce Mujuru.

Still, there are doubts as he has not much time to organize his campaign. He has also appeared less than visionary in his announcement speech. He is not known very well in the countryside, where Mugabe still gets most of his votes from. Additionally, the oppositional MDC under its leader Morgan Tsvangirai seems to be too split up to endorse Mr Makoni – and too much at odds with itself to pose a real danger to Mr Mugabe’s presidential bid.

Less than two months away from the election, both main political parties leave the impression of being near the brink of collapse. Mr Makoni’s candidacy may not be enough to unite the political landscape and give the millions who are suffering from inflation and famine a voice. He may not come close to even seriously threaten Mr Mugabe – but his step forward shows a first indication that the President’s attempts to suppress any challenge to his power may become futile very soon.

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