It has finally happened. After 37 years, the regime of Robert Mugabe has come to an end. Amidst the pressure from the military in the aftermath of the coup, followed by the decision of ZANU-PF to cut ties with their former leader, it took the threat of impeachment and an inglorious exit for the nonagenarian to call it a day to save what is left of his tattered legacy.
In Harare and other major centres in Zimbabwe, there is euphoria. For the first time since the end of minority rule and true independence, Zimbabwe will have a new ruler. But amidst the joy come the following questions.
Will Zimbabwe Emerge as a Democratic Nation?
This is the million-dollar question. It should be mentioned that Zimbabwe, even under white-minority rule (despite what others might say) has never experienced a truly democratic system of government. In colonial times and the UDI period, the franchise was limited to whites and a few select blacks. Under the government, power – despite being split 80:20 between the blacks and whites respectively – was dominated by ZANU-PF, with the orchestration of Gukurahundi and the hounding out of Mugabe’s rival Joshua Nkomo, followed by the merger of ZANU-PF with Nkomo’s ZAPU, setting the stage for de-facto one-party rule. After 2000 and the formation of the MDC, Mugabe has resorted to every undemocratic act to manipulate the system in his favour. Democracy has often just been wallpapering over the cracks.
That’s not to say that this is an opportunity for change. The masses have come out in support for the removal of Mugabe, the allies that kept him in office for so long have deserted him, even his Chinese allies have reportedly said in private they have had enough. But this does not suggest democracy is inevitable.
First, both ZANU-PF and the opposition are in disarray. The rivalry between Emmerson Mnangagwa and Mugabe’s wife, Grace, has led to a bitter factional rivalry that has weakened the party. As for the opposition, with former Mugabe supporters such as Joice Mujuru ending up forced out, there lacks a unified direction. While Morgan Tsvangirai, the head of the MDC, is the clear favourite to challenge, his recent cancer treatment, as well as leadership style, makes his hold on power a lot weaker than in previous years.
Then there are the backstage factors. Naturally, when a country suffers sudden political turmoil, those with the means do what they can to salvage power, wealth and influence. Zimbabwe will most likely be the same. Since Zimbabwe has seen democracy used more as an excuse to legitimise Mugabe, people with these three means will be disinclined to see its introduction immediately, let they lose it all. Rather, a period of provisional governance, such as the one Reuters speculates will emerge, could emerge as a stepping stone to a stable democracy.
Zimbabwe’s Defence Force
Despite the euphoria, people are at the same time concerned about the defence force in power. Former Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, on discussing repression, remarked “I am told it is like making love – it is always easier the second time”. The same can be said about military coups. It must be remembered that history has not been kind to nations where the military has seized power.
Often or not, the difference between nations which have never had a coup and those which have had many is, as Paul Nugent puts it when talking about Cote D’Ivoires first coup in 1999, the ‘military genie in the bottle’. Armies which have never led a coup often are apprehensive of the blowback, often preferring to sit back and watch. However, those that have often seize power multiple times. They gain experience in governing a nation and, despite oppressive means of governance, often find support for a return among some sectors of the masses when democracy fails to live up to expectations.
In Zimbabwe’s case, it is impossible to tell how this is going to pan out. If one took General Constantino Chiwenga at his word, this is just a neccessary transition of power to rebuild an ailing nation from ‘treasonous’ forces inside government. Early signs would support this argument, with the army more or less allowing all political and democratic procedures to run their course. But the whole idea of forcing regime change is not so cut and dry. Their motive, responding to the dismissal of Mnangagwa, contrasts with this theory.
Whoever ends up in control has to sort out the disaster that has become the Zimbabwean economy. Famously dubbed the ‘breadbasket of Africa’ once upon a time, the nation has seen its fortunes tumble. It might as well be argued that a Zimbabwean optimist is one that thinks things cannot get any worse. Decades of kleptocracy, poor policy and ideological point scoring has depleted the treasury. Unemployment, though hard to measure, sits around the 60-95% mark, depending on who is telling the story. Furthermore, Hyperinflation forced the abandonment of the Zimbabwean dollar in favour of using foreign currency. Hyperinflation returned not long after the Zimbabwean government began using bond notes as a form of currency. These are serious issues where there is no easy fix.
However, if we assume that Mnangagwa is likely to assume power, there are some likely policy changes that will be of some benefit. First and foremost, unlike the teacher/career politician Mugabe, Mnangagwa is said to be Zimbabwe’s richest man. Having served as Mugabe’s spymaster in the 1980’s (for which his role in the Gukurahundi massacres means he is still reviled amongst the Matabele population), Mnangagwa has used every opportunity (much like Mujuru and other high ranking officials) to enrich himself, with speculation he even profited from Zimbabwe’s incursion into the Congo during the late 90’s.
Despite this dubiousness, Mnangagwa has shown he more than willing to work with persons Mugabe would consider ideological enemies. Mnangagwa has previously stated the need for a strong agricultural sector, something non-existent since the forced acquisition of white-owned farms begun in the early 2000s. Both he and Tsvangirai want the return of white farmers to boost the economy. Whether they will come back or, alternatively, cause friction among those who took ownership of the land in the aftermath of their expulsion is yet to be seen.However, more will need to be done.
Indigenisation policies orchestrated by Mugabe, whilst redistributing power to native Zimbabweans, has been a spectacular failure, with foreign investment drying up. Likewise, the nation’s penchant for state-ownership instead of private enterprise, particularly with the nations bountiful diamond mines, will be something that needs review. This may seem a simple fix, but it is a complicated issue, one that needs serious reform just to stem the tide of economic disaster.
It is safe to say whatever positives that have come from Robert Mugabe’s rule, be it education or health-wise, has been completely forgotten in the shadow of the misrule and repression that he openly endorsed. His role as a freedom fighter has brought admiration and affection for him in the past, but these days it is hard to reconcile that image with that of the tyrant whom many see as worse than their white oppressors. He will be remembered as one of Africa’s self-centred dictators, and the man who broke Zimbabwe’s heart.
Zimbabwe is in for a period of uncertainty. How long it lasts and how well the country recovers is yet to be seen. But right now, any prediction of how this transpires is just that. Zimbabweans may celebrate the removal of a tyrant, but there is an old saying – ‘meet the new boss, same as the old boss’. If the best-case scenario prevails, Zimbabwe may return to its mantle as the ‘breadbasket of Africa’. If it’s the worst-case scenario, people may well start reminiscing about the Mugabe years.
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