HARARE – One of the most charismatic politicians in the Government of National Unity (GNU) is Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Guseni Oliver Mutambara.
Mutambara built a national profile as president of the Students Representative Council of the University of Zimbabwe between 1988 and 1989 where he led anti-government protests leading to his arrest and imprisonment.
According to records at the university, he was a brilliant engineering student, who won every scholarship he applied for.
After completing his doctorate at Britain’s Oxford University he went on to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and became a professor at several other universities in the United States.
Unlike many African academics, Mutambara was always determined to return to Africa.
He came back home at the invitation of a breakaway MDC led by the late Gibson Sibanda to take up the post of party president in February 2006.
After disputed elections in 2008 that unleashed deadly post-election violence, the leaders of the 14-member Southern African Development Community (Sadc) crafted a power-sharing agreement between Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC, Mutambara’s MDC and Zanu PF.
Under the deal, Mugabe would remain president, Tsvangirai will become Prime Minister and Mutambara would become Deputy Prime Minister.
Since assuming the government role, most of Mutambara’s MPs have deserted him over allegations that he was ingratiating himself with Mugabe’s Zanu PF and has had a nasty fight with Ncube after a 2010 congress dethroned him as party president and elected Ncube as new leader, subsequently redeploying him to a lower ministerial post, a move he staunchly resisted.
The dispute spilled into the courts and is still pending there.
After a tumultuous five years in the inclusive government, Zimbabwe heads to a fresh election.
And as the Nomination Court sat on June 28 to receive names for candidates wishing to contest the forthcoming harmonised poll, Mutambara did not file any papers.
Mutambara says he is not interested in discussing his political future.
Quizzed on his plans for the future, an irate Mutambara said: “You have been writing things about politics that you do not know about. How can I say it more eloquently — I will speak when I want to.”
Observers had a mixed take on his time in government.
Trevor Maisiri, senior analyst for southern Africa at the International Crisis Group, said Mutambara has worked in providing a semblance of legitimacy to decisions made by GPA principals and yet he has merely been there to rubber stamp some decisions.
“He has kept his cards very open and I see either Mugabe or Tsvangirai giving him a very critical technocratic role in the next government,” Maisiri told the Daily News.
“His time at the GPA principals platform has really been a balancing act; there are times he has stood fervently with Tsvangirai and other times he has stood with Mugabe and on some occasions he has stood with both of them.
“So he has really tried to survive the rough storms that he has gone through but at the same time being careful to maintain a certain level of good relations with the two main contenders for the presidency.
“He is not likely to bounce back immediately into an outright political role, I think he will retract into a critical but technocratic role and reserve his political energy for the future.”
Phillip Pasirayi, director of the Centre for Community Development in Zimbabwe, said the DPM failed in terms of party politics but was able to pursue pragmatic and developmental agendas especially in tourism, ICTs and education.
“The Oxonian is an asset to the inclusive government not only because he is a technocrat but he is some kind of a stabilising force,” Pasirayi said.
“His professional and academic exploits are too attractive for any serious governing party to ignore.
“Yes, he is not running for office but do not be surprised when he returns back after the elections to serve the public in a different capacity. I still think Mutambara still has a role to play in our politics whether or not he has a party or not.
“I do not agree that the DPM is finished politically. He is brainy — an academic giant and a technocrat and his expert contribution to this and future governments will always be invaluable.”
Playwright Cont Mhlanga said Mutambara was not a politician but just an intelligent scientist.
“Since his return from the Diaspora he has been riding on the glory of the political parties that other serious politicians have built,” Mhlanga said.
“He remains with two options if he wants to remain relevant in our politics; to be a serious politician and start building a serious political party or shop around for the next political party to take a glory ride.”
Affirmative action activist Davison Gomo described Mutambara as a huge, loud and partly colourful political figure.
“Yes he is out of the race for both the presidential and parliamentary office this time round, but he is certainly not out,” Gomo said.
“I believe he has learnt his lesson that education alone is not sufficient ground to stay at the top of the political system. He needs to connect with the ordinary people and must at least appear like most of them.”
Gomo said one of Mutambara’s biggest problem was his corporate approach to politics, which does not work in an environment where corporate structures are no longer the pacesetters.
“All said and done, he has potential and the rest will be determined by how he chooses to interface with the ordinary public and the simplicity with which he delivers his message,” Gomo said.
“He is politically astute and certainly very strategic in his thinking but there are few takers of this approach at the moment. He needs time to adapt his thinking to the local environment and dynamics, but a great guy he is.”
Precious Shumba, a civic rights activist, foresees Mutambara becoming a key player in Zanu PF international relations, possibly in one of the influential positions, given his oratory skills and fantastic intellect.
“During the tenure of the inclusive government, Deputy Prime Minister Mutambara has been gravitating towards a public Zanu PF official, except that he did not say it openly,” Shumba said.
“It is important to view Mutambara in the manner he echoed Zanu PF sentiments on a lot of national policy issues, and the manner he survived his ouster from government following the MDC congress that brought in Prof Ncube.”
Media freedom activist Tabani Moyo said this marks the end of the tenure of a leader “invited” into the politics of Zimbabwe.
“Mutambara’s options then, if there are any, are those of being an appointee in the new government,” Moyo said.
“I think he has evaluated the options of going for the elections again after the last defeat in Chitungwiza in 2008 for MP and realised that chances of winning are slim.”
He said Mutambara is “more of a technocrat than a politician. I think that the next role he will be eyeing for after the life of this Cabinet is the former.
“Above all, if you read into his statements, a next government role will be a bonus, he has claimed a chapter in Zimbabwe’s history books as a DPM, I think he is content with that.”
Rashweat Mukundu, a media expert believes it is the end of Mutambara’s political career.
“His political career has been at the benevolence of others and he never developed a political base of his own,” Mukundu said.
“He is a brilliant mind but not necessarily politically brilliant nor politically strategic.
“This is just not his thing and he needs to get back to business or academia and from there make real contribution to Zimbabwe’s growth.”
Pan African activist Thomas Deve said the writing was on the wall for him.
“He is paying the price for talking too much and not building a movement or political party where his leadership credentials were not going to be questioned.
“Mutambara has to start a new party or reappear in one of the existing parties that is dominating the current scenario. But for now, it’s adios amigo!”