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Last Updated: Monday, 27 February 2006, 17:47 GMT
Zimbabwe's 'outsider' faction leader
Arthur Mutambara, the new leader of one faction of the Movement for Democratic Change
Arthur Mutambara vowed to work for party unity
Arthur Mutambara, the new leader of one faction of the Movement for Democratic Change, has stepped into the furnace of Zimbabwean opposition politics essentially as an outsider.

That reality is being seen both as an advantage and as a disadvantage.

He is untainted by the ugly row that split the MDC late last year, but he will also have to work hard to gain a public profile in his home country.

Although he was a noted student leader in the late 1980s, his involvement in politics ended long before the MDC was founded.

Accepting the position, Mr Mutambara, 40, hinted it was time to move beyond the disagreement over participation in national Senate elections that prompted a split in the MDC last year.

[He is] an 'outsider' untainted by the struggles-within-the-struggle of opposition politics
Eldred Masunungure, political scientist
Mr Mutambara now heads the faction, previously led by secretary general Welshman Ncube, that favoured participation.

"My position was that the MDC should have boycotted those Senate elections," Mr Mutambara said.

"I guess then that makes me the Anti-Senate leader of the Pro-Senate MDC faction. How ridiculous can we get? That debate is now in the past, let us move on and unite our people."

He praised his rival-to-be - MDCs leader Morgan Tsvangirai, who was instrumental in setting up the party - as a national hero.

But he criticised Mr Tsvangirai for seeking to impose his views on other party leaders during the senate debate, and vowed he would always accept the decision of the majority.

While Mr Tsvangirai's supporters have claimed the faction now led by Mr Mutambara are being used by agents of President Mugabe, Mr Mutambara vowed to end the "misrule" of the ruling party.

Strategic

Mr Mutambara's appointment has been greeted as a move that will help quell the accusations that the party is riven by ethnicity.

That view was given substance by last year's split, which set MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai - who comes from Zimbabwe's majority Shona group - against the rest of his party's top officials, from the Ndebele community.

He has a good history as a student leader but will need time to grow into the position of national leader
Brian Raftopoulos, political scientist
Political scientist Eldred Masunungure suggested that strategic thinking by Welshman Ncube and his colleagues had led to the emergence of Mr Mutambara as the most widely acceptable candidate.

"Both Ncube and [deputy chairman Gibson] Sibanda must have realised... that in Zimbabwe politics, and given the grip of ethnic consciousness, a Ndebele would have a very faint chance of making it to State House," Mr Masunungure wrote on the ZimOnline website.

"Both Ncube and Sibanda also deferred to an 'outsider' untainted by the struggles-within-the-struggle of opposition politics."

In Harare's extra-parliamentary political circles there has been a mixed reaction to the news of Mr Mutambara's arrival, Columbus Mavhunga of the National Constitutional Assembly told the BBC News website.

"There is not much known about him, besides him leading demonstrations as a student," Mr Mavhunga said. "He has been out of Zimbabwe for virtually 10 years."

"Some are happy since he's from the Shona tribe - but critics are saying he is just an academic."

Robotics

Mr Mutambara's academic record is something admired even by his political detractors.

He holds a PhD from Oxford University in Robotics and Mechatronics, and held professorships in that field in several US institutions. He has published three books on engineering.

Morgan Tsvangirai
Tsvangirai maintains he is the only MDC leader
His CV is as impressive in the area of business as it is in science, including a post as professor of business strategy, and as a consultant with McKinsey and Company.

In the late 1980s, he rose to prominence at the University of Zimbabwe, leading the first anti-government student protests since independence.

The protests in 1988 and 1989 led to clashes with the police and Mr Mutambara's detention.

"He has a good history as a student leader but will need time to grow into the position of national leader," political scientist Brian Raftopoulos, told the Zimbabwe Independent newspaper.

But he added: "There is a lot of groundwork to be done to get him known after a long absence. Morgan [Tsvangirai] has an advantage because besides [President Robert] Mugabe, he is the only other leader with a national profile and appeal."

Reconciliation?

In contrast to the slanging-match that went on between the two MDC factions over participation in the Senate elections, Mr Tsvangirai has extended at least a cautious hand of friendship to Mr Mutambara.

"Prof Mutambara's comments are quite welcome and in sync with the aspirations of Mr Tsvangirai of bringing a new dispensation to the struggle for democracy," said Mr Tsvangirai's spokesman Nelson Chamisa.

But he also made it clear that Mr Tsvangirai is no closer to acknowledging the legitimacy of the rival faction's leadership.

"We are not aware of any other president other than Mr Tsvangirai."


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