AS much a keen student of history as he is one of its notable figures, Robert Mugabe is certainly familiar with Napoleon’s exile to Elba and his ill-fated attempt to return to the French throne.
The French dictator briefly succeeded, briefly returning to the throne for the now fabled Hundred Days before meeting his Waterloo.
Mugabe’s mission has not met even partial success, but it hasn’t reached a bloody denouement either.
Just over two months after being deposed by military generals who had enabled his lengthy rule, the old wily fox started making his moves, just like the Little Corporal began to build a small navy and army in exile, as he plotted a fight back.
First, Mugabe reached out to Joice Mujuru, whom he had humiliated and fired in 2014. Mujuru’s audience with Mugabe, leaked by self-proclaimed loyalist tails that had wagged Mugabe’s dog in his frenzied final months in power, was accompanied by a whispering campaign that he was tapping her to head his proxy party.
At the time, the mooted outfit was identified as New Patriotic Front (NPF) – championed by mostly former G40 functionaries who found themselves outside ZANU-PF and government following the coup.
But the Mujuru-NPF trail quickly ran cold.
Not for the faint-hearted
Later that February, Mugabe used his birthday, held at his Borrowdale mansion with an exclusive group of guests, to fire his first salvo.
After warning, for dramatic effect, any faint-hearted guests to leave before he gave his first public reaction to the coup, Mugabe accused his successor, Emmerson Mnangagwa, and his deputy, former army head Constantino Chiwenga, of shooting their way to power.
“I know you were told not to talk about this, but I will say it because it is the truth. People were injured, some were killed. They came here with bruises; some with their heads injured, and told us that some of them had been killed,” Mugabe told his stunned audience.
“Just because we had a misunderstanding with one of my vice presidents, Emmerson, the army and Chiwenga decided to bring tanks out onto the streets.”
‘Cure the coup’
Days later, Mugabe was to meet Ambrose Mutinhiri, a former army general with a storied liberation history. The meeting followed Mutinhiri’s widely publicised resignation from ZANU-PF in protest against Mugabe’s removal, which he deemed illegal.
Shortly afterwards, the former minister was named as interim president of the new party, now named National Patriotic Front, to some considerable tub thumping within the national press and among the chattering classes.
“The emergence of the NPF led by the former minister of state for Mashonaland East provincial affairs, retired Brigadier-General Ambrose Mutinhiri, has created possibilities of what could be described as the ‘NPF factor’ in the oncoming 2018 elections,” the Zimbabwe Democracy Institute (ZDI) said in a hopeful March note.
“This phenomenon entails shrinking ZANU-PF’s ease of election manoeuvring and support base, increasing chances of a win by a ‘reasonable’ coalition of opposition forces.”
The NPF, the reasoning went, would ride on Mugabe’s support, particularly in the three Mashonaland provinces and Harare, to shrink the Mnangagwa-led ZANU-PF’s electoral map to a point where victory was impossible.
The NPF, its promoters cooed, would “cure the coup.”
However, far from being the potential game-changer it was touted to be, the NPF party appears to have unravelled, leaving its key promoters seeking succour from Nelson Chamisa and his opposition alliance.
A little over three months after he was named NPF leader, a group of his colleagues on the party’s National Founding Executive Committee – led by interim chairperson Eunice Sandi-Moyo and spokesperson Jealousy Mawarire – announced Mutinhiri’s ouster.
Unsurprisingly, Mutinhiri held his own press conference a couple of hours later, to assert his position as the party’s leader.
The NPF upheaval had been preceded by significant events, in quick succession, at the end of May.
A video, purportedly recorded and broadcast inadvertently on Twitter by Jonathan Moyo as he strolled through a Nairobi suburb with fellow exile Patrick Zhuwao, confirmed what many observers had known for a while – the NPF was floundering.
Moyo and Zhuwao’s recorded conversation revealed allegations of deep-seated mistrust and abuse of party funds by Mutinhiri and Mawarire.
The recording also appeared to out Grace Mugabe as a significant NPF benefactor. Moyo has however, strenuously denied this.
But a more significant event was to follow the day after the leaked recording; Moyo and Zhuwao’s erstwhile ally, Saviour Kasukuwere, returned home.
Days before his return, Moyo and Zhuwao had accused Kasukuwere, who fled the country together with Moyo after surviving attacks on their homes, of selling out and cutting a deal with the Mnangagwa administration.
As part of the bargain, Kasukuwere would seize control of the NPF, to neutralise it so it would not pose any threat to ZANU-PF, so the speculation went.
In turmoil days before the nomination court for the July 30 election sat, a faction of the NPF desperately courted the MDC Alliance for accommodation, with Mawarire announcing the party’s support for Chamisa’s presidential bid on June 6.
After Mutinhiri disregarded his purported ouster and pushed through the nomination process along with a record-breaking 22 other candidates, Zhuwao pleaded with the retired soldier to withdraw his candidacy, citing the NPF’s inability to mount a viable presidential campaign.
“As you are aware, the NPF…sought to establish a new political movement to contest the 2018 general election as a means of reversing the coup. Patriots are eternally grateful that you offered yourself to lead the establishment of the structures of NPF. Ideally, patriots dreamt of you leading a strong campaign for the Presidency,” Zhuwao wrote in an open letter to Mutinhiri.
“But alas, that dream proved not possible. That wish is not attainable. For any political party’s presidential bid to be credible, it must be supported by a full complement of 60 senatorial candidates, 210 candidates for constituency members of the National Assembly, 60 candidates for the women’s quota members of the National Assembly, 80 candidates for Provincial Council, and 1,958 candidates for local authority councillors. Such a strong representation effectively means there would be someone campaigning in all parts of the country for that party’s presidential candidate.
“The results of the nomination courts on 14th June 2018 are not good for the NPF. NPF only managed to field candidates in 95 out of 210 constituencies covering 45 percent of the country… and 78 out of the 1,958 councillors to make a paltry 3.98 percent. The objective reality arising from a realistic and critical analysis of the outcome of the nomination process shows that NPF does not have the ground force to sustain a successful Presidential bid,” Zhuwao argued.
The NPF only managed to field 44 National Assembly candidates out of a possible 93 seats in the three Mashonaland provinces and Harare. The party has fielded 12 out of the 29 Harare constituencies, Mashonaland Central (14 out of 18), Mashonaland West (18 out of 22) and none in Mashonaland East.
It, however, managed to field in all Bulawayo’s 12 constituencies, six in Manicaland’s 26 constituencies, four in Masvingo’s 26, nine out of 13 in Matabeleland North, four out of 13 in Matabeleland South, 14 out of 28 in the Midlands and four out of 26 in Masvingo.
Desperate to boost their party’s numbers, NPF officials prowled court venues on nomination day, offering to pay registration fees for independent candidates so that they register under the NPF banner.
Meanwhile, the party’s bid to strike a deal with the MDC Alliance did not succeed, with Shadreck Mashayamombe, who is standing in Harare South, appearing to be the only NPF official to get onto the Chamisa-led outfit’s candidate list.
From far-away Singapore, Mugabe watches his fractious army scatter. There will be no triumphant return to Paris. Even for a Hundred Days.
He has already met his Waterloo.