Mugabe seeks a cloned successor
In his 83rd birthday interview on state television last April, Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe sounded rattled by his possible successor, Teurai Ropa Joyce Mujuru.
Mugabe practically disowned her, though it was he who had paved the way for her to be virtually assured of election as the second vice- president of his ruling Zanu-PF, replacing Simon Muzenda, who died in 2003.
Mugabe referred to an obscure promise the party had made to women members, that the two vice-presidents would be a man and a woman.
That promise has been ignored by a number of the party's top echelon, some of whom have campaigned for the job.
Reports have persisted that party stalwart Emmerson Mnangagwa had mobilised a high-powered team for his campaign.
Among his foot soldiers was said to be Jonathan Moyo, then minister of state for information and publicity, and ostensibly a Mugabe loyalist.
The vice-president's post is to be occupied by a member of the old Zanu-PF because Joseph Msika, the other vice-president, had come from the former Zapu-PF, after the death in 1999 of the incumbent, Joshua Nkomo.
Mugabe was rattled by Mujuru because she had apparently spoken glowingly of Edgar Tekere's autobiography, A Life of Struggle, in which he referred to her as one of the ablest guerilla leaders during the struggle for independence.
Tekere, who fell out with Mugabe in 1989 over corruption and the one-party system, had been Mugabe's right-hand man since 1975. His book, which gave a very unflattering portrayal of Mugabe, was heavily criticised by Mugabe and other Zanu-PF luminaries.
The two former comrades-in-arms squared off for the country's presidency in 1990, with Tekere losing, but not disgracefully.
Mugabe is known for not leaving anything to chance.
But there have been lapses. He couldn't prevent his party from losing 57 of the 120 seats in the 2000 parliamentary elections to the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), formed only nine months earlier.
Two laws rushed through parliament in the aftermath of that election and the presidential poll in 2002 - the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) and the Public Order and Security Act (Posa) - seemed specifically designed to ensure that didn't happen again.
Implementation of AIPPA has ensured a torrid time for the independent media when they have tried to give the opposition extensive coverage, while the use of Posa has crippled the opposition party's ability to hold public meetings.
In the two last elections the independent newspaper, The Daily News, was accused by the government and Zanu-PF of helping the MDC.
The application of AIPPA has subsequently closed down The Daily News and three other independent newspapers since its promulgation in 2002.
Mugabe holds all the trump cards in any election. He chooses the people in charge of supervising the elections and he can change the rules as and when he wishes.
In the current scenario, Mugabe will determine who will succeed him. The party plans what some critics have called "jiggery-pokery" with the constitution to ensure Mugabe has his wish.
Both Mujuru and Mnangagwa appear publicly to have reconciled with Mugabe.
But, according to insiders, a deal has been struck for the sake of party unity.
Under this arrangement, Mugabe will stand as the sole Zanu-PF candidate in next year's presidential elections, then step down in 2010 - having ensured that his hand-picked successor replaces him.
Unless there is a virtual revolt in the party, Mugabe will have his cherished wish - a clone as his successor.
This is assuming that the opposition MDC remains as fractured as it has been since 2005.
Mugabe is acutely aware that if the MDC coalesced into one party and entered any election endorsed beforehand as free and fair by independent observers, Zanu-PF would face a drubbing.
The governing party is condemned by most voters for having plunged the country into its present economic morass.
l Bill Saidi is deputy editor of The Standard in Harare, Zimbabwe.