I can’t remember a time when President Robert Mugabe and his ZANU-PF party were not in power in Zimbabwe. ZANU, of course, fought a bloody war against white minority rule in the seventies.
Dr Sue Onslow, co-Head of Africa International Affairs at LSE, recently produced a report called Zimbabwe and Political Transition. In it, she examines the factors which have helped ZANU-PF, the former liberation movement, retain power and lead a one-party dominant state.
President Mugabe and his ZANU-PF party have remained at the summit of Zimbabwe politics since taking political power in 1980.
According to Dr Onslow, Mr Mugabe is the central reason ZANU-PF have stayed at the top so long and cites his “supreme political skills, his ability as orator and communicator, and his charismatic leadership” as a factor.
As political and social discontent rose in the nineties, Mr Mugabe and ZANU-PF searched for alternative sources of support. This gave birth to an era of patronage and privileged access that operates not just among senior officials, but also at the grass roots.
There was dissent not just from organised labour, civil society, student and youth groups, but also within ZANU-PF and among war veterans and landless rural populations.
Mr Mugabe got round this problem by first offering generous pensions and then land to appease some of the disgruntled parties.
Dr Onslow concludes that through “his astute manipulation of the constitution, use of patronage, exploitation of legitimate grievances and political antennae for populist politics, Mugabe has proved a political phenomenon”.
In her report, Dr Onslow also cites other reasons for ZANU-PF’s dominance in Zimbabwean politics. She includes the abuse of history, the lack of determined opposition leadership and the role of violence.