Zambia and Zimbabwe, African Neighbors, Grapple With Political Turmoil

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Mugabe 89 vows to 'step down' if he loses
Mugabe 89 vows to 'step down' if he loses

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Ever since colonial cartographers drew their common frontier across the Zambezi River, the two lands have shared an uneasy destiny: landlocked nations, onetime adversaries and now mirror images of political uncertainty.

In Zambia on Tuesday, a split in the governing Patriotic Front after the death in October of President Michael Sata deepened as a faction supporting the acting president, Guy Scott, Africa’s only white leader, chose a 44-year-old economist, Miles Sampa, as its candidate to contest elections in January.

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Another faction had already appointed Edgar Lungu, the defense minister, to the same position.

In Zimbabwe, also on Tuesday, the governing ZANU-PF party of President Robert G. Mugabe prepared for a congress that is expected to rewrite the party’s profile, endorsing Mr. Mugabe’s 34-year grip on power and anointing his wife, Grace Mugabe, to high office while sowing uncertainty over a choreographed contest to become his heir apparent.

In both countries, the maneuvers among the elite risk alienating ordinary people and political figures such as Rugare Gumbo, a former ZANU-PF spokesman, who was purged last month as Mr. Mugabe moved against supporters of the country’s vice president, Joice Mujuru, a former guerrilla fighter once seen as his likely successor.

If, as expected, the congress enables Mr. Mugabe to choose the party leadership, Mr. Gumbo said: “Where is democracy? It is not a congress at all. It is a charade.”

The congress, lasting most of this week, will most likely be seen as one more political masterstroke by the 90-year-old Mr. Mugabe to buttress his dominance, as he has done through a blend of guile and brutality since the nation gained independence from Britain in 1980.

Before then, Mr. Mugabe led a fractious guerrilla movement fighting white minority rule in the former Rhodesia, while just to the north, copper-rich Zambia — already independent — was one of the so-called front-line states supporting the insurgents by providing rear bases, political backing and the imposition of economic sanctions.

Since then, Mr. Mugabe has pursued a ruthless quest for power, reinforced on many occasions by violence. By contrast, Zambia, known as Northern Rhodesia before its independence in 1964, has nurtured a relatively peaceful transition from the one-man rule of former President Kenneth Kaunda, which came to end in 1991, to multiparty democracy.

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