BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Languages
Last Updated: Tuesday, 18 March 2008, 12:34 GMT
Simba Makoni: Zimbabwe's roaring lion?
By Joseph Winter
BBC News website

Simba Makoni, for years a senior member of Zimbabwe's ruling Zanu-PF party, is challenging Robert Mugabe for president.

Simba Makoni
Simba Makoni adopted yellow to symbolise gold and wealth
With a PhD in chemistry, his supporters say he has the magic formula to reverse Zimbabwe's economic collapse and end its political stalemate.

The mild-mannered, jovial man has long been seen as a possible compromise candidate, with backers both in Zanu-PF, as well as plenty of admirers in the opposition.

He has variously been described as a moderniser, a technocrat and a "young turk".

Opposition MP Priscilla Misihairabwi told the BBC News website that Mr Makoni is very courageous to challenge Mr Mugabe from within the system.

He could be living up to his name, Simba, which means lion in Swahili - spoken across East Africa - and strength in Zimbabwe's Shona language.

Ms Misihairabwi, whose faction of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change is backing Mr Makoni in the presidential race, says he is a man of principle.

The then finance minister stood up to President Mugabe over economic policy in 2002 and was sacked for his trouble.

Regional backing

There has been much speculation that Mr Makoni could split Zanu-PF - his spokesman says 60% of top Zanu-PF officials back him and many local officials are campaigning for him.

But so far former Interior Minister Dumiso Dabengwa is the only party heavyweight to publicly join Mr Makoni's camp.

Land shall be acquired and redistributed equitably, fairly and transparently
Simba Makoni

The name of former army chief and Zanu-PF kingmaker Solomon Mujuru is widely touted as being behind Mr Makoni's campaign but he has remained silent - and has appeared at Mr Mugabe's rallies.

His wife, Vice-President Joyce Mujuru, has spoken in favour of the incumbent.

The MDC faction backing Mr Makoni is strong in the western Matabeleland region - also Mr Dabengwa's home area - and so he may do well there.

Despite his years of service to Zanu-PF, Mr Makoni is now described as a "traitor" and "western puppet" by the president and his allies.

SIMBA MAKONI
Zanu-PF moderniser
1980: Named deputy minister aged 30
2002: Sacked as finance minister after argument with Mugabe
Possible support of Zanu-PF heavyweight Solomon Mujuru
Trained chemist

On the question of land, which defines Zimbabwean politics, Mr Makoni told the BBC he would not repossess farms given to Mugabe supporters, unless they had acquired the land improperly - implying that many had done so.

He said it was an important issue and more essential now than 10 years ago, before Mr Mugabe's seizures of white-owned farms began.

Mr Makoni said Zimbabwe's land reform policy was that "land shall be acquired and redistributed equitably, fairly and transparently".

"Zimbabweans are entitled to one person, one farm," he said.

Critics say Mr Mugabe's land reform has been marred by corruption, with top officials gaining more than one farm, contravening official policy.

'Saboteur'

Mr Makoni's supporters note that he has a good understanding of orthodox economics and he promises to use this to rescue Zimbabwe's economy.

He has adopted yellow as his campaign colour - to symbolise gold and wealth.

Dumiso Dabengwa (l) and Simba Makoni (r)
Dumiso Dabengwa (l) is the only top Zanu-PF official to back Makoni

He could appeal to those voters who are desperate for some improvement in their daily lives but do not quite trust the opposition.

His soft tone could also help heal the country's bitter divisions and end the years of political lambast and name-calling.

But his critics dismiss him as a political lightweight and say he will struggle to compete against Mr Mugabe.

Mr Makoni was brought in as finance minister in 2000 to restore relations with donors and the business community but failed to change Mr Mugabe's policies.

He was sacked 18 months later after calling for a devaluation of the currency to try and boost exports.

I share the agony and anguish of all citizens over the extreme hardships that we all have endured for nearly 10 years now
Simba Makoni
Mr Mugabe said those who wanted a devaluation were "economic saboteurs".

Mr Makoni responded by cheerfully introducing himself informally as "saboteur".

But until he announced his candidature for the elections, he remained a member of Zanu-PF's policy-making body, the politburo and so must share some of the blame for the country's economic woes.

Heavyweight backing

Announcing his candidature, he nevertheless tried his best to distance himself from the crisis.

"Let me confirm that I share the agony and anguish of all citizens over the extreme hardships that we all have endured for nearly 10 years now," he said.

He is very approachable and ready to laugh - unlike Mugabe

Priscilla Misihairabwi
Opposition MP

He said he would have preferred to stand as a Zanu-PF candidate but the party leadership opted to stick with Mr Mugabe.

Zimbabwean political analyst John Makumbe said that if Mr Mujuru is indeed backing Mr Makoni, then the Zanu-PF vote would be split in the 29 March election.

"This is a significant development," he said. "We are beginning to see a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel."

At just 57, Mr Makoni comes from a different generation to the octogenarians currently running the country and its ruling party.

While the party old-guard were fighting the 1970s guerrilla war of independence, Mr Makoni was studying chemistry in Britain.

But he also found time to represent Zanu in Europe and clearly made an impression.

When the first post-independence government was formed, he was appointed deputy minister of agriculture at just 30.

Over the next four years he served as minister of energy and of youth before abruptly leaving government.

"He was too hot to handle," one long-time associate told the BBC.

"He was too clever and too young for the older members of the party. They wanted him out of the way."

Scandal-free

Mr Makoni went on to become executive secretary of the Southern African Development Community, (SADC), a job which he says required "a fine balance between high principles and pragmatism".

Ms Misihairabwi says that Mr Makoni is also untainted by allegations of corruption or scandal.

"He is very approachable and ready to laugh, unlike Mugabe," she said.

"There is a real excitement about this - but whether that will translate into votes is another question."



RELATED INTERNET LINKS
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites



FEATURES, VIEWS, ANALYSIS
Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit

PRODUCTS & SERVICES

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific