As Zimbabwe's 2018 election draws near, President Robert Mugabe's ruling Zanu-PF will benefit from rising tensions among opposition groups vying for power, a prominent academic has said.
The battle to succeed Zimbabwe's 92-year-old president is decades in the making, and Zanu-PF and opposition parties are expected to hit election mode in the coming months.
While Mugabe, who has held the reigns of power since 1980, announced he will run once more for office in 2018, tensions have been rising as a progressively volatile fight over who will succeed Mugabe intensified within Zanu-PF ranks between his 50-year-old wife, Grace Mugabe, and Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
Mugabe: A 94-year old Muhammed Ali
Zanu-PF may be putting forward an old candidate –Mugabe will run at age of 94 – but Zimbabwean author believes the party's capacity to divide and rule coupled with an opposition in need of a complete overhaul means the ruling party is likely to win the election.
"In 2017, you will see where Zanu-PF's priorities will lay – mending the divisions within the party, and getting the party ready for the elections. While a weak Zanu-PF faces many difficulties at the moment, divisions run even deeper within the opposition," Tendi, who teaches politics at Oxford University's Department of International Development, told IBTimes UK.
Tendi likens Mugabe to an old Muhammad Ali: "He is in the ring, lumbering and it seems the punches are taking 94 years to land, but rivals can't land the knockout blow".
"Mugabe faced international onslaught, sanctions, all sorts of attempts to get him out of power, and he has always seemed to survive. He is a skillful poker player, but he has also been very lucky. He's never faced an effective opposition in my view. At periods he has, but he then relied on his skills, but on many other occasions, the opposition just made a lot of mistakes."
Tendi: Zimbabwe's opposition in need of an overhaul
Unless the opposition radically and effectively resolves disunity, funding, electoral strategy and mobilising the youth vote between now and 2018, Zanu-PF will win, the academic explained. Unlike the Zanu-PF elite, which Tendi claims can "use the state to oil its machine", the opposition's under-funding issue may only be resolved if and when the different political parties manage to form an effective coalition.
In a push to unseat Mugabe, five smaller parties earlier this year came together to create the the Coalition of Democrats – dubbed Code – but opposition leaders Joice Mujuru of Zimbabwe People First (Zim-PF) and Morgan Tsvangirai (MDC-T party) were absent from the coalition. In August, the pair vowed to end Mugabe's reign in a historic show of unity, as opposition heavyweight and former minister Tendai Biti also urged for a "broad coalition" to unseat Zanu-PF.
But these opposition leaders have thrown a number of accusations at each other in recent weeks – seemingly undermining these coalition-building efforts. Biti, for instance, this month claimed Mujuru had lured some of his party members after a number of senior PPD officials defected to Joice's ZimPF party and Biti's party to Morgan's MDC party.
"Mujuru and Tsvangirai came out with all these pledges and promises together, but what has unfolded since that suggests a level of friction between the two main leaders, so it is unclear whether a coalition would hold," Tendi said. "It's not just about Mujuru and Tsvangirai, it's about the others and so far everything suggests divisions reign. Some people believe that because Tsvangirai has been in the opposition trenches all these years that he's the one that should be the leader, but others are arguing he's tried and failed and there is a need for a new face – Mujuru or Biti," Tendi explained.
"Get united and get a clear electoral plan: when you look organised and effective, that's what helps you get donor money – people to support you whether its donor money or private citizens," the scholar added. PDP spokesman Jacob Mafume earlier this month denied there had been a fallout between Mujuru and Biti.