Former student leader Arthur Mutambara sneaked into opposition politics through the back door on February 25 when he was elected president of the pro-senate faction of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). But he is not intending to lead a faction. He is gunning for both opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai and the country’s presidency since President Robert Mugabe will be off the scene in two years.
Though he was not even a political player two weeks ago, at least publicly, Mutambara is using a new tactic not employed by his predecessors. He recognises the role Morgan Tsvangirai played in founding the strongest opposition party in the country, the Movement for Democratic Change, and that Mugabe played in liberating the country from colonial rule, but at the same time, he says Zimbabwe must now move on.
Playing on his youth, he questions whether ZANU-PF knows what the present generation wants.
“Every generation has its mandate,” he says. “Our generational mandate is the economy and economic empowerment. Our generation demands the fruits of independence. They want to become commercial farmers, innovative entrepreneurs, productive workers, and creative managers. They want to be global players. They want to be globally competitive.”
Speaking like the militant that he was as a student leader nearly two decades ago he added: “We want our freedom now. We demand human rights now. We want solutions to the economic crisis now. There will be no compromise, retreat or surrender. Defeat is not on the agenda.”
Analysts and those who went to college with him say, despite his militant words Mutambara is not going to be confrontational. It has not paid off for Jonathan Moyo. He is looking for a compromise. He wants to bring the opposition together first and then go for Mugabe to either to form a government of national unity or contest whoever succeeds him in 2008.
He clearly spelt this out soon after his election when he said all democratic forces in Zimbabwe needed to engage each other. A reunification strategy had to be established immediately.
To demonstrate his personal pledge on unity, he said, he was prepared to step down as president and allow fresh elections. He would , however, contest anybody nominated for the post and if he lost he would “work vigorously under the new leadership”.
Mutambara was also clear on a number of issues that Tsvangirai has been vague about. He said though he was now leader of the pro-senate MDC, he was actually against the party’s participation in the elections. His view was that the MDC should not just have boycotted the elections but should have withdrawn from parliament and all other election-based institutions to “constitute a consistent and effective regime de-legitimisation strategy”.
He said he had joined the pro-senate group because of the need for unity, not just of the MDC factions, but unity that brought in other opposition parties such as Jonathan Moyo’s United People’s Movement and Daniel Shumba’s United People’s Party.
“Morgan Tsvangirai deserves a place of honour in the fight for democracy in Zimbabwe. He is a Zimbabwean hero,” Mutambara said, but he added that Zimbabweans needed to unite. Even Robert Mugabe needed to be recognised as a soldier for social justice and democracy in the fight for liberation. But the opposition should not be brushed off as western stooges as Mugabe repeatedly says.
“We are better defenders of the liberation war legacy than the current ZANU-PF party whose activities are a negation of the principles and values of that great struggle. If we appear combative, it is because of love for our country,” he said.
Mutambara is also clearer on the contentious land issue. He did not agree with western governments because land reform should not be driven by the interests of white farmers but those of all Zimbabweans. While ZANU-PF was to blame for the present crisis, western governments were also to blame because they had reneged on their agreements and the inertia of white farmers in seeking pre-emptive solutions.
He would seek “equitable, transparent, just and economically efficient distribution and use of land” which emphasised productivity, food security, self-sufficiency and collateral value of land.
Mutambara’s biggest problem will be how to convince his colleagues to form a broad-based opposition. Tsvangirai’s faction is holding its congress from Mach 17-19. Tsvangirai’s tramp card is that he has a large constituency. Mutambara does not. Therefore Mutambara cannot ignore Tsvangirai. Tsvangirai may have blundered on several occasions but he is still regarded as the most powerful opposition leader. Mutambara therefore needs to work with Tsvangirai and gain his support.
The faction Mutambara currently leads is now disgraced. Not only is it regarded as a regional faction trying to gain a national outlook by handpicking a Shona to lead it, but it is also considered to be a ZANU-PF creation because it is getting funding from the government. The government has just paid out the $8 billion under the Political Finance Act to the faction. Besides, most of the Shona who went with the faction are suspected to have ZANU-PF connections or are linked to the intelligence.
But while Tsvangirai has the constituency, observers say, he cannot afford to ignore Mutambara. He could be kicked out of the political scene altogether. Mutambara can give him a dignified exit, or even catapult his political career though not as leader of the opposition.
The other two opposition movements are no major threat. They just serve to fragment the opposition. The UPM is still largely considered to be a stillborn baby surviving on Emmerson Mnangagwa’s good will. But Mnangagwa is not willing to abandon ZANU-PF. Daniel Shumba’s party can only have support in Masvingo, but even this is doubtful.
Mutambara has several advantages under his sleeve. He is not tainted by the bickering within the opposition. He can bring respectability back to the opposition. But more importantly be can bring in money to the party and to the country.
Mutambara is currently chief executive officer of Africa Technology and Business Institute which has operations in 13 African countries. Prior to that he was a director of Standard Bank of South Africa, one of that country’s largest banks, and was responsible for 17 African countries. This makes him a major business and political player on the continent.
He is the right age, 39, turning 40 on May 25. He has the right academic qualifications. He has a PHD in robotics and mechatronics from the prestigious Oxford University in England. He has the backing of South African president Thabo Mbeki, the most powerful man in Southern Africa running the most powerful economy on the continent.
He has another ace up his sleeve. He is closely connected to Charles Utete, former secretary to the cabinet and once regarded as the country’s de facto prime minister. He is married to Simukai a close relative of Utete. This would make it easier to gunner for a government of national unity something Mbeki has toyed around with since the formation of the MDC six years ago and still prefers.
His links with McKinsey and Company of Chicago, is another ace. He could bring in the necessary foreign direct investment to the country because he was their management consultant providing advice to senior managers and global players. He also has permanent residence to the US.ZANU-PF leaders are banned from entering the United States except on United Nations business.
ZANU-PF can, however, use some of his connections to play dirty politics. He once taught at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and did some work for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), institutes that have close links to the American intelligence.
The biggest question at the moment is, with such an impressive CV, why is Mutambara gambling by entering into politics, a dirty game especially in the Zimbabwean context? Observers say he did so reluctantly. He was persuaded to go into politics, some say by Mbeki, because he offers the best compromise, not just for the MDC but for Mugabe as well. But most important of all he is good for business, which Zimbabwe needs badly to turn around.
The only stumbling block is ZANU-PF. Some people within ZANU-PF, especially vice-President Joyce Mujuru, who is backed by her powerful husband Solomon Mujuru believe the fragmentation of the MDC plays in their favour.
There are whispers that Solomon Mujuru played a key role in splitting the opposition to get rid of Tsvangirai because he was the biggest threat to his wife’s ascendancy to power if Mugabe stepped down in 2008. That plan backfired when Tsvangirai survived the internal coup. But Mujuru has not given up. He still believes a divided opposition offers his wife a chance. Most people believe she is not presidential material.
The emergency of Mutambara has therefore widened the succession battle because Mujuru not only has to fight Mutambara but Emmerson Mnangagwa who though playing a low profile remains in contention for succession. Mnangagwa still believes he was robbed of the party’s top post when Mugabe forced Mujuru on the people by insisting that one of the vice-presidents of the ruling party had to be a woman.
Interestingly all three key players can claim to have support of the military one way or the other. Mujuru has defence forces chief Constantine Chiwenga and air force chief Perence Shiri as homemates. Mnangagwa has former defence forces chief Vitalis Zvinavashe behind him while Arthur Mutambara’s brother, Agrippah was a brigadier in the army and is now a diplomat.
For now, people have to wait and see what happens at the Tsvangirai faction’s congress.
Brief Bio for Mutambara
Born: 25 May 1966
University of Zimbabwe (1987-1990) BSC Electrical and Electronic Engineering,
Oxford University ( Rhodes Scholar)- (1991-1995)-Msc Electrical Engineering/Computer Engineering
PHD-robotics and mechatronics
1996-1997- Associate Professor, FAMU-FSU College of Engineering ( Florida)
1998- Carnegie Mellon University- Pennslyvania
1999-2000 Massachusetts Institute of Technology
2001- McKinsey and Company, Chicago, management consultant
2002- Standard Bank of South Africa – director payments
2003- Managing director and CEO Africa Technology and Business Institute.