OUTSIDE LOOKING IN A letter from the diaspora

It was inevitable I suppose, given the endless stories in the media of Mugabes supposed ill-health, that the Dear Leader should go public to reassure Zimbabweans that he was still, in his words, fit enough to fight the sanctions and knock out my opponents.

In an interview with Reuters News Agency, the 86 year old conceded that My time will come but for now no and of course he could not resist the opportunity to remind us that Bush is out, Blair is out adding dismissively if rather vaguely, and the others are persons of no consequence. The implication being that after thirty years in power and despite his octogenarian status, he, Robert Mugabe was still there in office and had no intention of leaving State House any time soon if at all.

Thanks to the efforts of an enterprising civil rights activist, I was fortunate enough to get hold of the following breakdown of African leadersages and it reveals a very interesting contrast between Africa and the west. At 86 Mugabe is the oldest , followed by Senegals Abulai Wade at 83 and Egypts Hosni Mubarak at 82. The remaining listed African leaders are all in their seventies: Malawis Bingu Wa Mtalika is 76, Namibias Hifikepunye Pohamba 74, Zambias Rupiah Banda 73, Kenyas Mwai Kibaki is 71 and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia is 75. Jacob Zuma of South Africa and Gadaffi of Libya are the youngest, both 68 years old. The average age of African leaders listed here is 76 years.

Compare that to western leaders – who are democratically elected – and you see a remarkable contrast. The President of the United States is 48, David Cameron of the UK is 43, the Russian President, Dimitri Medvedev is 45, Canada is represented by a 51 year old, Australia by a 49 year old. Nicolas Sakozy of France is 55, Spains Luis Zapatero is 49 and Portugal Jose Socrates is 53 while Angela Merkel of Germany is 56 and at 62 Herman Van Rompuy is the oldest western leader. The average age of these leaders is 51years, a staggering 25 years older than Africas leaders.

Quite apart from the decline in physical strength which is an unavoidable consequence of the ageing process, it is generally accepted that older people tend to get very set in their ways and are often resistant to fresh ideas and opposition of any kind! African culture respects old age we know but wisdom and age do not necessarily go together.

Ironically, this week a man was sentenced to one year in gaol for referring to Mugabe as a wrinkled old man. This remark was deemed by the magistrate to be disrespectful of the President but the one year sentence was commuted to eight months on condition that the offender made no more disparaging remarks about the presidents age for the next five years! By which time Mugabe will be 91 and wrinkles will surely be evident for all to see, botox or no botox!

Underlying these apparently trivial stories about Mugabes advancing years is the question of who will succeed him when he finally moves on. An incident occurred this week which illustrates the turmoil within Zanu PF as the battle for succession escalates. On Thursday morning the Council Offices in Chitungwiza were invaded, quite literally, by men waving AK 47s who proceeded to beat up the municipal guards, accusing them of being supporters of Emmerson Mnangagwa. The gun-toting thugs were apparently supporters of Solomon Mujuru himself a War Veteran of note and another 70 or 80 year old if I am not mistaken. He and Mnangagwa are both contenders for the top job when the Old Man dies and the two factions are daggers drawn. The police were called in to quell the violent disturbance at Chitungwiza Council offices and they too were overpowered by the well-trained Mujuru followers. The most worrying aspect of this incident was the fact that Mujurus people were actively supported by soldiers from the ZNA based at Cranborne barracks. Interestingly, the Herald reported the incident but said nothing about it being a direct result of faction fighting inside Zanu PF over the succession issue. Age may be just a number but in Zimbabwe Mugabes age and health are crucial issues which could propel us into civil war.

Yours in the (continuing) struggle PH, aka Pauline Henson.

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