A recent article by David Smith in The Guardian depicts the recent and sudden increase of political influence of Grace Mugabe, the wife of the long-serving President of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe.

Don't mess with Grace Mugabe - she could be the next president of Zimbabwe | David Smith

Mugabe is in his early 90s and has been rumored to have been gravely ill for many years, but has adroitly maintained his firm grip on power.

Many Frontier Market investors have identified Zimbabwe as a country with amazing potential. It has vast mineral resources, amazingly fertile farmland, and a well-educated population. However, most of these potential investors have remained on the sidelines because of the perceived political risk.

Cotton Farm in Zimbabwe

Cotton Farm in Zimbabwe.

There is no apparent succession plan and the potential chaos in a Zimbabwe post-Mugabe is so uncertain that many investors have remained observers, not participants.

Over the last 15 years, three people have emerged as potential successors to Mugabe:

  1. Morgan Tsvangirai: The leader of the opposition party, Movement for Democratic Change. He won the first round of the 2008 election but was effectively marginalized by Mugabe.

  2. Joice Mujuru: A recent favorite to succeed Mugabe. She served as Vice President and was a popular figure. Joice was recently accused of being plotting to kill Mugabe by Mugabe’s wife, Grace Mugabe, at a recent ruling party, ZANU-PF, Congress.

  3. Emmerson Mnangagwa: A long time aide to Robert Mugabe. He is a member of the same tribe as Mugabe, but not the same clan.


Over a year and a half ago, we were asked by a South African brokerage firm to assess the political situation in Zimbabwe through the lens of our proprietary network-based risk analysis methodology.

This research and the subsequent findings are approximately 18 months old, yet many of our forecasts have recently been proven accurate. This article will introduce the findings of our much more detailed report.

Identifying the “real” influential people and organizations in the local environment are vital to success in Frontier Markets. For instance, did you know that there are sub-clans within Robert Mugabe’s Shona tribe in Zimbabwe that have been competing for influence for over 30 years?

Network-Based Risk Analysis Methodology

Our methodology identifies important factors and filters out the noise of complex environments. It includes:

  • An innovative data collection, survey methods, and analysis that identifies key influencers in local environment.
  • The development of readily understandable measurements that illustrate how desired resources are accessed based on their social, organizational, or role connections.
  • Innovative knowledge visualization techniques that enable instantaneous understanding of the local environment.

This overview will only address 32 prominent political figures, the Executive Branch of government, the Prime Minister’s Office, the Zimbabwean Defence Forces, Intelligence Services, the Central Bank, and other government ministries.

Our analysis illustrates the synergistic effects of family, clan, and political relationships on influence in Zimbabwe.

Based on our methodology, we developed the following influence network that we hope accurately depicts the political structure of power in Zimbabwe.

Political Influence Network

Zimbabwe's Political Influence Network

Interesting Findings

These findings are as of January 2014.

Inter-tribal conflict: While there are 2 main tribes in Zimbabwe, the Shona and Ndebele, the Shona tribe is comprised of numerous clans that have been competing for influence for many years. The main 3 clans are Zezuru (Mugabe’s clan), Karanga, and Manyika.

Zezeru dominance: Mugabe’s Zezuru clan is incredibly dominant. Nearly all positions in one of the most powerful organizations, the Joint Operations Command (JOC), are held by Zezuru individuals.

Delicate balance: To balance ethnic tensions, Mugabe has granted representation in the Joint Operations Command to one member of each of the three other ethnic groups vying for power: Ndebele tribe, Karanga clan, and Manyika clan.

Zimbabwe Joint Operations Command

The Joint Operations Command — organization that coordinates state security in Zimbabwe. In effect, the true inner circle of influence.

Mnangagwa and Gono are well-positioned to be kingmakers: Emmerson Mnangagwa (Karanga clan) and Gideon Gono (Manyika clan) are both well-connected and influential. This fact appears to give the political advantage to Mnangagwa over Mujuru and identifies Gono as a potential “kingmaker.” If Gono makes a deal with Mnangagwa that benefits the Manyika, a Karanga-Manyika coalition could finally overcome the powerful Zezuru influence.

Mujuru may be a popular choice but lacks the necessary influence among the Zezeru Inner Circle: While Joice Mujuru is a favorite to succeed Mugabe and is a Zezuru, she is not a member of the JOC, which potentially limits her influence in the near-term.

Likely outcome: If a clear successor who consolidates power is not designated by Mugabe, or does not emerge swiftly after his death, expect one of the graybeard Zezeru members of the JOC to seize power in the name of national unity and stability.


Our network-based analysis was rather pessimistic in the near-term, but we still maintain that it is accurate. The influence of the Zezuru clan combined with the desire to maintain and, perhaps seize, power by Mugabe’s contemporaries, the older members of the JOC, is too strong. We forecast a period of turmoil after Mugabe dies.

The “old lions” will make last gasps attempts for the Presidency and the palace intrigue will be fascinating to watch. The addition of Grace Mugabe into the mix only further complicates the situation. Look for an additional analysis of the political situation from our team in the near future.

Cover Image: Grace Mugabe with Robert Mugabe | Wikimedia

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