What next? Following another marred election, what is to become of Zimbabwe? With alleged assistance from inflation by banning the Zimbabwe dollar as legal from Israel and China, President Mugabe was re-anointed president after a July election for another five-year term. He has been misruling Zimbabwe with an increasingly iron fist since 1980, governing since 1999 over a country with ever-diminishing GDP, many years of Weimar-like inflation, and deteriorating medical and educational outcomes. But Mugabe will be 90 in February. How long will he live? Who can succeed him? Will Zimbabwe ever resume its long-discarded democratic path to prosperity?

When the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), led by Morgan Tsvangirai, ostensibly won the 2008 presidential and parliamentary elections but were pushed away by Mugabe and his Zimbabwe African People’s Union-Patriotic Front’s (ZANU-PF) burst of electoral violence, the MDC and ZANU-PF were eventually forced by South Africa and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) into a mismatched Government of National Unity, with Mugabe and ZANU-PF controlling many of the high cards (and the nation’s newly exploited diamond wealth). Yet Tendai Biti, the MDC's Secretary General, became minister of finance and rapidly ended several years of horrendous inflation by banning the Zimbabwe dollar as legal tender, replacing it with the free use of the US dollar or the South African rand.

Zimbabwe regained some of its previous economic buoyancy, even if Mugabe and ZANU-PF officials refused to share proceeds from diamond exports either with the nation or its exchequer. Then Mugabe’s minister of indigenization scared foreign investors away by demanding local 51 percent ownership of any and all ongoing foreign and domestic corporate operations. (Some special deals have been made to benefit the minister and Mugabe’s cronies.) That “indi- genization” campaign is ongoing, and has chilled outside foreign direct investment and much domestic re-investment. In December, the Indigenization authorities even began to harass foreign traders and shop owners, some from Nigeria. Indigenization seems a recipe to destroy Zimbabwe’s chances of economic growth. But it is largely motivated by extortion and greed (lots of special arrangements are made); its mass political appeal and value is negligible since most ordinary Zimbabweans prefer jobs and real opportunities for personal advancement.

Mugabe prefers to blame Zimbabwe’s economic weaknesses on Western sanctions, but those claims are attempts to cover up his regime’s inability to move ahead with sensible economic growth policies. Moreover, sanctions, such as they are, apply primarily to individuals like Mugabe and associates, not onerously to the nation as a whole. Indeed, since European sanctions against industrial earnings were lifted in September, very little new foreign investment has arrived. What bothers Mugabe and his associates is that overseas bank accounts of prominent Zimbabweans are frozen and non-UN travel to Europe or the United States is outlawed.

Zimbabwe is the world’s fourth largest diamond miner, although there are disputes about the proportion of the off take that is composed of more valuable gem diamonds rather than rough industrial diamonds. Its Marange diamond fields, in the eastern part of the country, are believed to be yielding about 17 million carats a year. Originally these alluvial diamonds were collected by artisanal miners. Then, in 2008, the army swooped in to seal off the 60,000 hectare area, expelling the artisans and killing about 200. Ever since, three consortia close to Mugabe and allied to his wife, leading generals, and the Central Intelligence Organisation, and assisted by Chinese and South African firms, have kept the diamond operations and their returns to themselves. Chinese contractors also constructed a private airfield at Marange to enable planes to take off directly toward Dubai as well as to Johannesburg and Harare. Global Witness claims that at least US$2 billion in diamond revenues has gone unaccounted for since 2008, but the amount could even be larger. In 2013, Zimbabwe’s finance ministry was promised US$600 million to help defray the costs of national civil service salaries (70 percent of government expenditures) by the minister of mines, but received only US$41 million. In very late 2013, Zimbabwean diamonds were to be auctioned in Antwerp for the first time. Proceeds from that sale need not benefit the nation, however, and could end up in high- placed private hands.

Today, Zimbabwe’s GDP may be growing at an annual rate of under 4 percent, lower than the sub-Saharan African average but slightly greater than neighboring South Africa. To break out of its economic doldrums, particularly under ZANU-PF rule, Zimbabwe needs to grow at least at 5 percent a year by scrapping indigenization and producing the kind of governance climate which would prove friendly to investors. Corruption levels are among the ten worst in Africa as well.

GDP per capita incomes are about 40 percent less than they were at independence in 1980. Agricultural output of maize, tobacco, and other crops is still 60 percent lower than it was before Mugabe began attacking the (mostly) white commercial farmers in 2000. Manufacturing exports are insignificant. Formal wage employment remains limited at somewhere about 20 percent of the working age population. There remains widespread poverty in the rural and peri-urban areas of the country, while there is evidence that persons close to the Mugabe regime are wealthier than ever. The national Gini-coefficient is apt to be one of the moreunequal in Africa.

Even though Mugabe has shuffled his ministers around, the MDC cabinet ministers (most of whom were very competent) have been replaced by persons loyal to Mugabe. Already, with an MDC minister of energy having been succeeded by a ZANU-PF minister, electric power supplies have begun to fade, presumably because of incompetence and corruption. More and more from Harare and Bulawayo, the two largest cities, are frequently without power – euphemistically known as “load-shedding.” They also lack clean water on a regular basis.

Patrick Chinamasa, the new Minister of Finance, was Minister of Justice before. He is a lawyer without much experience in finance. Moreover, unless Chinamasa manages to secure for the treasury much more than his predecessor obtained from diamond sales, the government will continue to lack the cash with which to pay its civil servants, fix broken generating equipment, repair leaking water pipes, refurbish airports, maintain roads, and so on. His first budget, due in 2013, will not be presented to Parliament until January. It will be a difficult exercise, since Zimbabwe is rapidly running out of revenue. Tax receipts are down, commercial banks are faltering, the Reserve Bank is insolvent, and commercial life is slowly grinding to a halt. Moreover, many Zimbabweans will continue to go hungry. In 2013 the World Food Program was feeding about 10 percent of Zimbabwe’s remaining 9 million inhabitants. (About 3 million have decamped in recent years to South Africa, Botswana, Zambia, and Britain. More will be leaving now.)

The Succession

Mugabe may fill out his current term. Or, given his visible fatigue and the tiring procedures of his office, he may decide to retire. He is alleged to be suffering from prostate cancer and has taken almost monthly trips in recent years to specialists in Singapore and Malaysia. Or he may die of natural causes. Whatever occurs, who then succeeds?

Joice Mujuru is the sole vice-president until the party’s national congress in mid-December. Depending on her support and backing from Mugabe, she may remain at least the titular heir-apparent. Or she might be compelled to share the vice-presidency with Minister of Justice Emmerson Mnangagwa, with long-time acolyte Sydney Sikeramayi, now Minister of Defence (a powerful position), or conceivably with Didymus Mutasa and Simon Khaya Moyo, both ministers in the president’s office.

Obert Mpofu, the once-powerful Minister of Mines (and the conduit for diamond revenues) has become Minister of Transport, a seeming demotion. Also demoted is Saviour Kasukuwere, the abrasive former Minister of Indigenization, now Minister of Water Affairs. Curiously, Mugabe has kept Joseph Made, enemy of commercial farmers and the person largely responsible for forcing white farmers to flee, as Minister of Agriculture. So Zimbabwe is almost certain to endure sustained shortages of food once again.

Mujuru and Mnangagwa lead rival factions within ZANU-PF. Mnangagwa has been much closer to Mugabe for much longer, but is regarded with suspicion and fear by other ministers and many rank-and-file members of the party. He has long been known inside and outside the party to harbor consummate presidential ambitions. Mujuru, the widow of General Solomon Mujuru, assassinated by rivals in mid-2012, has never exhibited the same dominating type of ambitions. But she is regarded in the party as a steady hand, and a leader who just might keep Zimbabwe from a massive internal struggle when Mugabe goes. In a series of provincial bye-elections in October and November her supporters triumphed over backers of Mnangagwa.

Or there could be a bitter battle between factions, with defence force chief Constantine Chiwenga, police chief Au- gustine Chihuri, and air force chief Perence Shiri desiring important king- or queen-making roles for themselves. Ambition and greed, aggressively and defensively, are prevalent among these prominent securocrats. Mugabe could not have stayed in office in recent years, or “won” elections without the backing of the army and the police and their ability to intimidate potential voters in the rural areas of Zimbabwe and face down urban supporters of the MDC.

Zimbabwe is a rough place. ZANU-PF followers have long abused opponents; police and soldiers are rarely gentle, with thousands of MDC party members over the last decades losing their lives. Additionally, within the ZANU-PF ranks, about 50 dissidents or objectors have also been killed in recent decades, mainly in mysterious road accidents. In July, a few days after releasing a scathing bi-partisan report by his parliamentary committee on mining and energy that described some of the nefarious ways in which proceeds from the nation’s Marange diamond fields had been misappropriated by Opofu, Mugabe, Chiwenga, and others close to Mugabe (including his young wife Grace), Edward Chindori-Chininga, the chair of the committee, “drove” his car into a tree near his home and died instantly.

Chindori-Chininga’s committee report said that its “worst fears were confirmed” by clear evidence of “un- derhand dealings” and massive smuggling of diamonds by Mugabe supporters and others facilitated by Mpofu and Zimbabwe’s military, working hand-in-hand with official Chinese operators. The diamonds were usually flown out the country to Dubai and Hong Kong without depositing any taxes or revenues with the then MDC-led ministry of finance. In September, Mugabe even blamed Godwills Masimirembwa, head of the state-owned Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation (ZMDC), for accepting a US$6 million bribe from Ghanaian investors who sought mining rights in Marange. Masimirembwa in turn revealed that the purported arrangement with the Ghanaians had been discussed fully with Mpofu and with Chiruri. But he was still scapegoated and no indictments had been proffered by December.

Zimbabwe as a rough place also extends to its once celebrated national parks. Under the earlier Mugabe regime before 2009, its best wild game areas were shot out by poachers and, it is alleged, by soldiers. Under the Government of National Unity the parks became better run and tourists began to trickle back. Now, even under the more plausible of new ministers, the national parks system may be starved of funds and tourists turned away. Under the new regime, Zimbabwe is poorer than ever, so the parks system has limited appropriations; the national infrastructure has deteriorated, too, so tourists must be brave and canny if they travel to Zimbabwe. Additionally, poaching has returned in a big way. In September, poachers (allegedly from the army) poured cyanide into a watering hole, killing 80 elephants for their tusks.

The Opposition

Tsvangirai and Biti had expected to win the July election and finally oust Mugabe and ZANU-PF. Informal opinion soundings beforehand suggested that Tsvangirai remained overwhelmingly popular with the mass of urban, and a good proportion of rural voters. When it entered the final weeks of the hastily called election, both Tsvangirai and Biti and the entire MDC and its backers were aware that Mugabe’s national election commission had somehow left up to 1 million voters off the official roles. (Zimbabwe’s total electorate is about 3 million.) More than 100,000 of the voters still on the rolls were aged more than 100. Indigenous chiefs, paid by the Mugabe regime, had been told to insure that rural voters knew that they were required to vote for ZANU-PF. Finally, in the country there were more rural than urban constituencies. Mugabe’s machinations, whether or not strategically assisted by Israelis and Chinese, meant that there was no need (as in prior contests) to rig the results by falsifying returns after the fact as he had in 2008, 2005, and 2002.

Prime Minister Tsvangirai and his team were easily out-maneuvered. Protesters could have taken to the streets, as they have done elsewhere in Africa, the Middle East, and Europe, but the MDC was ostensibly so crushed that it would have been difficult to justify the deaths and mayhem that might have developed from a massive protest. Moreover, that has never been Tsvangirai’s style. He has always preferred it to a constitutional, non-violent path.

He also presumed that President Jacob Zuma of Rwanda and SADC would roll back any falsified victory by Mugabe. They had warned Mugabe beforehand not to interfere with electoral processes, but they unexpectedly did allow the election to occur at least a month before the voters’ roll might have been legitimized and more living Zimbabweans listed legitimately in their proper constituencies. But, in the end, Zuma and others celebrated Mugabe’s “victory,” dumping Tsvangirai and his associates unceremoniously. Zuma may have had “Zimbabwe-fatigue,” and simply wanted to put the matter behind him. Or, like so many African heads of state, Zuma may have simply had little taste for intervening decisively.

Today, the MDC has too few members in parliament (50 of 208) to offer an effective counterweight to the Mugabe machine. Internationally and regionally, as well as locally, its luster is naturally dimmer than it once was. Tsvangirai, compromised before the election by a number of mishaps regarding women (his wife was killed and Tsvangerai injured when they were together travelling east of Harare and another vehicle “accidentally” rammed their own, in 2009), may not be able to gather opposition backing for another run at the nation’s top office.

Biti might be able to keep the party, only founded in 2000, together sufficiently to combat by-elections and any snap election that could be caused by Mugabe’s sudden demise. But, nationally, he has always been a less popular figure than Tsvangirai, a former trade union leader. Biti is a university-trained lawyer. The problems for the party after its disturbing and illusion-shattering loss now naturally consist of how exactly it can regain legitimacy, and under whose leadership? How does it raise funds – a difficult task at the best of times? For the last election ZANU-PF had access to ample diamond revenues, squirreled away in personal or party coffers. The MDC was easily out spent.

The Near Future

Unless Mugabe decides suddenly to open his economy, embrace the standard nostrums that might allow his country and countrymen to prosper, and to begin a Nelson Mandela- like embrace of inclusiveness, Zimbabwe’s beleaguered people will doubtless continue listlessly to endure whatever hardships the ZANU-PF machine delivers. Those might include a return to serious inflation, escalated corruption, more arbitrary arrests, a shutting of the free press, more human rights violations, and a continued erosion of jobs and skills as employers and the better educated flee the country. Already hospitals and clinics are in poor shape, destroyed by Mugabe’s period of ascendance before 2009. Schools barely function, text books are lacking, and teachers are scarce.

Hoping for an epiphany in Mugabe’s leadership in his ninetieth year is unlikely. His cabinet reshuffle cleverly moved some of his older and more compromised associates into less endangering positions. But it did nothing to sideline the main contenders or prepare his party and the country for a thoughtful succession. Nor can the MDC.

Mugabe wants to leave office and leave life as a reigning master, uncompromised by reality and a tattered legacy. Or perhaps he will go soon and the ruling party and the country will be blessed by a visionary and responsible successor. At least Zimbabweans can hope that Mujuru or someone as yet untapped knows how to bring Zimbabwe out of the cold. Mugabe’s road is dark, there must be a brighter path ahead.