Saturday November 18 2017

When ‘the crocodile’ ate Uncle Bob’s nuts

Samuel Sejjaaka

Samuel Sejjaaka 

By Samuel Sejjaaka

By the time you read this, that ‘little problem’ in Zimbabwe may have been resolved. It was something I could not resist writing about because it turned out to be the ‘non-event’ that we have all been waiting for with bated breath. But it has several interesting management lessons for us.

What egged me on were two incidents that happened at the same time. One was that as events were unfolding and social media was awash with euphoria; there were still some in denial that Uncle Bob’s nuts were being roasted. Second was the fact that I happened to be with someone with deep roots in Zimbabwe who understood and gave me a very impressive lesson on the events as they unfolded. Ultimately I also could not resist marvelling at some of the parallels that these events always seem to throw up.

The happenings in Zimbabwe are very intriguing because the main protagonist seems to have said nothing so far as the drama unfolds. Could he be lying comatose somewhere in his “Blue Roof” mansion, having been abandoned as his praise singers ran for dear life? Poor old man, we should wish him a gentle resolution.

Having ruled Zimbabwe for more than 37 years, Robert Gabriel Mugabe is reputed to have said that no one but God could take him out of power. This is our first parallel. He seems to be in good company with our own Field Marshall Idi Amin. Maybe it is the clergy who exhort us every Sunday that our leaders are ‘chosen by God’ who reinforce that impression. Never mind evil events like ‘Gukurahundi’ (see Heidi Holland’s ‘Dinner with Mugabe’). If you believe the clergy then God seems to have spoken.

But what are the management lessons that we all need to learn when it comes to succession planning, whether for our private business or for nations? Using a process known as scenario planning we can examine the potential outcomes and then decide which we prefer.
First, there is the ‘graceful scenario’. Mugabe is forced to ‘appoint’ a successor and the central committee of Zanu-PF supports that choice.

Mugabe is allowed to retire and live out the rest of his life with Grace ever after (no pun intended). The second scenario is the ‘hell hath no fury’ situation in which his inner circle bumps him off and his wife Gucci Grace (GG) assumes the reins. Here the veterans and the so-called G40 (another parallel can be drawn with groups like Nyekundire and Boda 2010) get into a power fight with the veterans and the army on one side. This is a very unlikely but dangerous scenario. The third scenario would be called ‘goose step’. In this one the army takes over, and in connivance with the Zanu-PF structures put in place their ‘man’. That man would most likely be former first vice president Emmerson Mnangagwa, aka the crocodile. He has been stewing for Uncle Bob’s nuts for the last two weeks. Mugabe is carted off to prison to end his days ungracefully.

The last scenario, in our opinion would be the most probable one with some modifications. Remember that GG, in having ousted Mnangagwa was set on a collision path with the veterans, having allied with G40. The army did not appear to have any options but to move in (what we call a zero sum game – when either party’s gain or loss of utility is exactly balanced). These are the likely scenarios we discussed a few days ago as the events started unfolding.

The lessons are clear. No matter how immortal we think we are, we have a past due date. If you accept that you have a past due date, it’s preferable you organise your orderly exit, unless you would love your successors to have a fight. If you don’t organise your exit, your enemies or nature will most likely do it for you at your peril.

Prof Sejjaaka is country team leader at Abacus Business School.