Connect with us


A Map From The Past For Africa’s Education Systems

 15 min read / 

Throughout history, the provision of education has come in many forms. From one-room schools to the open-air academies of Plato, both the young and old across the globe have been gifted with great scholars, priceless manuscripts, and vast amounts of knowledge. It is in this endless search for knowledge that we take delight. It is in the incessant pursuit of its fruits that history has been made. Like other regions across the world, this pursuit continues for Africa as its states define themselves amidst new trends in technology and growing populations.

Teaching Transforms A Continent

It is ‘all hands on deck’ for the continent and its partners. Agenda 2063 will guide the African Union in ensuring that 70% of all high-school graduates are enrolled in higher education and that 70% of those enrolled will graduate in subjects related to sciences and technology. More and more governments across Africa recognise the need for action. More and more governments and organisations outside Africa are also fully aware of this, and eager to work with African states to shape the future of its workforce.

Although some states may have different ideologies from partners, the growing importance of Africa’s youth overshadows divergent sentiments. Illustrative of the growing desire of external nations to empower the youth is Germany’s education package, which will give a $14m boost to the education sector in Zimbabwe. Already leading the continent with a literacy rate of over 90%, its membership in the Global Partnership for Education has been of great help. Corporations are also involving themselves in programmes that take into account the realities of each distinct African state. Vodafone Cameroon, for example, is to implement programmes at multiple universities in Cameroon in accordance with this ethos.

9% is the enrolment rate for HE in sub-Saharan Africa

Since 1990, significant higher education reforms in Africa have been made. While much progress has been made, the pace of changes in technology and quality control continue to increase the challenges and opportunities in the region. More importantly, Africa’s capacity to facilitate youth education is challenged. In sub-Saharan Africa, there are enrolment rates of 77% for primary, 34% for secondary, and 9% for higher education.

The drive towards producing solutions for the states concerned continues as positive progress has been made with reforms and innovation, causing enrolment rates to rise substantially in the past decade. History has expounded the path for Africa and external regions working to influence the future of education on the continent. The rich history of education systems in the continent may indeed be a map for its future. The future is in the past, and the past is nothing without the future.

History has expounded the path for Africa and for external regions working to influence the future of education on the continent. The rich history of education systems on the continent may indeed be a map for its future. The future is in the past, and the past is nothing without the future.

The Precolonial Era

Founded in 859 by Fatima Al-Fihri in Morocco, the University of al-Qarawiyyin, originally a mosque, has developed into a leading university in natural sciences which now stands as the oldest continually operating and first-degree awarding educational institution in the world. Egypt’s Al-Azhar university, founded between 970 and 972, oversees a national network of thousands of institutions with approximately two million students. The affiliations inherent in these relationships allow for quality control and a sense of pride which incentivises the desire to learn by students. Its programmes included Islamic law, theology, and Arabic.

In Timbuktu, more than 180 Quranic schools and universities made the city of Mali a historic educational centre. Many scholars from around the world were drawn by Timbuktu’s 700,000 manuscripts, windows to the history of the continent and its rich culture. Educational institutions in these regions have undergone several changes. A lot of reforms made showed that modern science and other subjects were not incompatible with the Quran. What undoubtedly remains is the incredible architecture which in many ways captivates the essence of its history in a way words cannot.

Its programmes include Islamic law, theology, and Arabic. In Timbuktu, more than 180 Quranic schools and universities made the city of Mali an historic educational centre. Many scholars from around the world were drawn by Timbuktu’s 700,000 manuscripts, windows to the history of the continent and its rich culture. Educational institutions in these regions have undergone several changes. A lot of reforms made showed that modern science and other subjects were not incompatible with the Quran. What undoubtedly remains is the incredible architecture which in many ways captivates the essence of its history in a way that words cannot.

The Colonial Era

Colonialists had significant effects on early education in Africa. The European Review of Economic History illustrates how missionaries who accompanied colonialists required the Africanisation of the mission in order for the scale of the enrolment expansion witnessed before 1940 to be possible in the first place. They depended largely on the contributions and initiatives of African converts, their communities, and African taxpayers in order to ensure the financial viability of missionary education between 1900 and 1940. One example of this is that of African teachers during the period, who received comparatively lower salaries (about 50 to 100 times lower) than their European counterparts. The ease of collaboration varied by region.

In Uganda’s Northern province, no fewer than 994 registered mission schools existed for a population of 815,000, while in Sierra Leone’s Northern province, only 38 mission schools existed. Fourah Bay College, founded in 1827, became the first Western-style university in Sierra Leone. It gave the city its nickname, the ‘Athens of Africa’.

Christian missionaries, both African and European, were regarded with great suspicion in these regions. The culmination of these suspicions may have been manifested during the Hut Tax Wars of 1898-1900, which were directed against not only colonialists but the missionaries, too. Islam and trade Arab connections provided an alternative for Sierra Leonians concerned with the foreign influence of colonialists. Parents, usually those of higher social standing, were able to benefit from Islamic schools, which were more embedded in the cultures which inhabitants of Sierra Leone aimed to preserve.

Uganda’s African Christian converts carried out significant revolts against local leaders to prevent foreign influence, including installing mission schools. It is clear that internal power conflicts were some of the significant driving forces which shaped the history of education in many parts of the continent. Political rivalry and pending conflicts drove many to succumb to the value systems they believed would shape the future of politics in their respective regions. In the Buganda Kingdom, the court’s decision to adopt Christianity as a state religion acted as a catalyst in the expansion and accessibility of mission schools in the region.

French influence in Morocco was achieved with the assistance of natives receptive to the Resident-General of the French protectorate, Louis Lyautey, who had set aside a lot of time to educate himself on Morocco. French influence had a significant impact on the nation’s expressions of art. Hamid Irbouh,

Hamid Irbouh, author of Art in The Service of Colonialism, identifies the function of schools in Morocco’s colonial era as a stepping stone in the hierarchy of power. Guild reforms and vocational teaching methods contributed to the eventual transformation of Moroccan craftsmen into the best in the French Empire. Officials of the General Administration, who were employed primarily for their loyalty, believed strongly in theoretical lessons, which consisted of tracing from memory and prepared apprentices to become skilled workers.

Increases in job opportunities in colonial regions gave rise to incentives to consume Western formal education. The establishment of mission schools in regions was also dictated by the unprecedented health risks that varied by region. Early initiatives in the south of sub-Saharan Africa were less likely to be abandoned.

Quality And Assurance

In many ways, the colonial era set the foundations for education in Africa. A transition in many regions was made from vocational education to more theoretically-grounded curricula. Despite the various conflicts surrounding it, affiliation with colonial mission schools was one of the first forms of quality assurance in African schools. It may not have been the first, but it provided a different grounding for education on the continent.

Government control of institutions in the post-colonial era came with its challenges. Some of the main challenges to quality assurance systems in Africa are human capacity and cost requirements. Operating a national quality assurance agency typically requires an annual budget of $450,000, and appropriately trained and experienced staff. The direct cost of accreditation per institution is $5,200, and, for a program, $3,700.

These costs cannot easily be borne without innovative measures to ease the pressures. Quality higher education contributes to the retention of skilled human capital. Coupled with a high emigration rate, this can cause scarcity of skills which reduces supervisory capacity. It is imperative that improvements are made.

While quality assurance in the education system is believed to be a recent phenomenon, it should be reiterated that quality assurance existed in Africa prior to the colonial era, albeit in varying forms. The rate of change in global standards of education in the new era requires the assistance of technology and further collaborative efforts with Africa’s partners from across the waters.


Free education may not be perceived as a sustainable path in the long term for several African states, due to the rate of growth in the population, which may compound with the pressures of their impending debts. National budgets and cost-sharing structures may play significant roles in reducing this pressure. With the added value of technology, these dynamics may be altered.

The African Virtual University (originally incubated in the World Bank) is now a leader in open and distance e-learning. Its network spans twenty English and French-speaking countries. Regulating online platforms for knowledge transfer will be a challenge. This may provide many e-learning platforms with the time to establish themselves before regulations tighten, however.

Oversight carried out by boards experienced in e-learning may be the best way to provide sound and fair regulation. By ensuring that a reputable mode of regulation exists, more distance learning solutions available in the continent may be received with more confidence, not only by students but also by employers and governing bodies. This will require patience as time unfolds.

Access remains especially important in rural areas, which is why a growing number of schools in the continent are providing distance provisions for secondary pupils. Such efforts to increase accessibility of education are aided by The Open University, which is collaborating with the Forum for African Women Educationalists (FAWE) to provide young women with opportunities to partake in weekly tutorial sessions with approximately twenty students, preparing them for school leaving exams.

The Open University has equipped thousands of young women in Malawi and Sierra Leone with enough training to support retention of young women in schools and reduce the pressure of overcrowded classrooms. This could increase the likelihood of young women across Africa progressing to higher education.

Valèse Mapto Kengne and Alain Mingat identified the impact of such changes on student repetition and retention in a sample of 54 countries. The regression analysis (based on countries as units of observation) showed that the proportion of female teachers does not affect schooling and student learning, but it does have a noticeable effect on retention rates of boys and girls in schools.

80% of Nigerian children aged 10+ have access to mobile phones

Handled with appropriate care, challenges regarding the retention and availability of teachers may lead to a reduction in dependence on books. The World Bank states that in Nigeria alone, an average of over 80% of children aged over ten have access to a mobile phone. The need for expenditure on books may lower if greater use of cheaper mobile devices, with connectivity to cheaper internet connection, is encouraged.

Eneza Education, a Kenyan start-up, increases accessibility to virtual tutors for students in low-income rural areas. Students between the ages of eleven to eighteen can easily search Wikipedia by sending a text message or asking teachers questions. The provision of information, as well as community hubs, may reduce the dependence on these measures.

Looking to the future, Nairobi Dev School will equip youths in East Africa with computer programming skills and help them build foundational knowledge in a rapidly changing field. Vocational training may provide the requisite skills to overcome any capacity constraints that may arise.

East Africa

National governments in East Africa looking to gain from economic growth in the service sectors have observed a rapid increase in the number of universities being established. In twenty years, 60 new universities were created, half of them private. From February 2017, University students in East African Community (EAC) states will be able to transfer credits from one university to another with significantly less difficulty.

This will be particularly feasible if heads of states of the region endorse a plan to create a common higher education area. Universities in the region would recognise qualifications from any chartered university, and programmes accredited by higher education authorities in the countries of origin. These developments could increase competition among universities. The free movement of students may help in a transition towards stronger bargaining power of students, thus raising the quality of education.

Language barriers, however, may be an impediment to progress – but also a positive step, encouraging more harmony in the knowledge transfer of languages. The initiative may be beneficial not only for encouraging quality education but also for reducing any pressures on students who may feel the pressures of political instability risks in their regions.

Public institutions may not benefit as much as anticipated due to capacity constraints. Innovative cost-sharing practices may be necessary. Where these challenges arise, opportunities for viable solutions from private entities are birthed. In East Africa, Indian IT companies remain committed to providing a group of students from the East African region with three to six-month internships, under a $23m programme supporting the Indian Trade and Investment for Africa (SITA) project aimed at facilitating trade, investment, and technology transfer between India and East Africa.


China’s significant investments in African states is likely to lead to more positive developments in education in the region. There are over 2000 Chinese companies operating in Africa whose investments create greater incentives to fill skills gaps in the workforce.

30,000 Africans received training from China’s ‘African Talents’ programme

Filling skills gaps has been done in many creative ways, encouraged by China’s strategic relationship with Africa. Its African Talents programme trained 30,000 Africans in various sectors and provided financial means for postdoctoral research to be carried out by Africans in China. Corporate partnerships have also helped African universities to expand knowledge and ties. The African Leadership University (ALU), which has pan-African ambitions to provide world-class low-cost tertiary education through a network of 25 campuses, has also been engaging Chinese students and corporates since 2015 to forge long-term relationships.

Chinese students could be a major source of Africa’s international student base. Although African countries remain unexplored as higher education destinations, this could change in the future as stronger ties are made between Africa and not only China but also foreign students who hope to make an impact in the continent. The very nature of education on the continent could be transformed if more local universities are led by the demand of foreign students to create courses to facilitate their needs. The participation of both African and foreign students in these courses prepares both groups for the global village.


Membership of blocs and unions has contributed greatly to some of the recent progress in the African education sector. Taking a note from the history books, it is important for African states to consider the detrimental effects of internal conflicts on the direction of their education systems. Distracting effects of internal conflicts can blind promising nations to their obligations towards not only the development of the youth but also the development of a continent upon which so much of the world’s future economic growth depends.

It is not only a duty to the African youth that must be fulfilled but also a duty to investors in the continent with much belief in the future of Africa, as it progresses towards a stronger position on the global stage. Understanding the cultural influences in each African state will remain of great importance for states and organisations looking to influence the educational system in Africa.

Education within the continent must be sensitive to its cultural implications in order to ensure that students’ pride remain intact. With pride in their heritage, young visionaries may be more confident in turning dreams into reality. They may be more prepared to accept external influences in ways that lead Africa on its path towards strengthening its strategic partnerships on the global stage.

Strategies chosen by each region for education will depend on their respective demands and industries. The number of universities may not be the issue, but rather accessibility, quality, and the experiences of staff. Like any region in the world, continuous improvement is paramount to ultimate success.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. David Williams

    January 16, 2017 at 9:58 PM


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Zimbabwe’s Economy: Can It Restore Its Splendour?

 10 min read / 


These days, when people think of Zimbabwe, they think of this failed third-world state until a few days ago was run by a brutal dictator. Little do they know that this nation was, until the mid-1990’s, one of Africa’s better-performing economies.

Former Tanzanian Julius Nyerere, not long after Zimbabwean independence, is reported to have told Robert Mugabe that “You have inherited a jewel, keep it that way”. Needless to say, this advice was not kept. As the world has seen, this jewel was allowed to be scratched, dropped, then left to collect dust.

There are serious problems that require serious investment and economic reform to allow Zimbabwe to prosper. Infrastructure needs serious investment, with the Kariba Dam in danger of collapsing, the transport network likewise has been neglected with poorly paved roads and trains from the colonial era being brought back into service.

But the biggest problem, alongside corruption, has to be government interference with the economy as a whole, with centralised economic planning and state ownership proving to be a disaster. But while there is doom and gloom, there is hope.

The Case for Optimism

This jewel, as badly damaged as it is, is still a jewel. It just needs tender love and care. When it comes to mining, the nation is rich in raw resources, particularly gold, platinum, diamonds and coal.

The education system, one of Mugabe’s few positive acts, is one of the best in Africa. Agriculture is an area with a future, with history proving it can be one of the strongest economic sectors in the country. Furthermore, there is an opportunity to kickstart the tourism sector, with promising growth in recent years. It is worth identifying strengths to build on, and weaknesses to repair if Zimbabwe wants to recover.

Left to Rot

The Kariba Dam was once the showpiece of the white minority government, with the artificial lake behind it becoming a tourist and recreation attraction in its own right. However, this dam, constructed in the 1950s, has been neglected over the decades, so much so it has been likened to Mosul Dam in Iraq.

Although not at immediate danger just yet, due to drought and overuse culminating in a regional water crisis, it is feared as sudden flood, of which the Zambezi Valley region is known for, could spark a cascading tsunami. The BBC argues that, should the dam collapse and cause a tsunami, it would destroy the downstream Cahora Bossa Dam in Mozambique, which would have a serious impact on Southern Africa’s hydroelectric capacity as well as put up to 3.5 million lives at risk.

It is a similar story across the country. While not threatening to cause a regional catastrophe, Zimbabwe’s infrastructure all round is in a serious state of disrepair. The national road network has itself become a death trap. 21 people were killed when a truck carrying mourners collided with a tanker in October 2013.

In July 2014, a collision between a truck and a minibus killed 16. In June 2017, 43 were killed when a bus crashed into a tree. It may seem horrific, but when the conditions of the roads are examined, such accidents are waiting to happen. The state newspaper, The Herald, acknowledged that the lack of funding was of a serious concern in 2012.

It is a similar story when it comes to rail. Zimbabwe is lucky as it is situated in a choke point between South Africa and the rest of Eastern and Central Africa. However, little investment has been made, with only 3077km of rail tracks, of which all but 313km is electrified and all but 28km is dual track.

Whilst it is argued that this is sufficient as long as it is well maintained, this has not occurred, with the Railway Association of Enginemen referring to the rail network as a ‘death trap’. Diesel shortages have also seen the return of steam engines, primarily for safari excursions and shunting in the railyards of Bulawayo. The government-owned operator, National Rail Zimbabwe, was close to collapse in 2010, with salary cuts of 50% in 2016, displaying that the situation is still precarious.

The Problem

The root of this rail calamity, as is with much of Zimbabwe’s critical infrastructure, is government interference and bureaucracy. Now considering that the governing party, ZANU-PF, is a strong advocate of nationalisation, this is no surprise.

However, its application has proven to be disastrous. The Land Reform programme was such a debacle that even Mugabe himself admitted it was poorly orchestrated.

Indigenisation, the policy where 51% of a foreign business in Zimbabwe must be owned by a local partner, is said to be scaring away much needed foreign investment. Parastatals such as NRZ are said to be seriously mismanaged, causing friction with the workers, while haemorrhaging its budget.

All this begs the question, if, as the government line has been consistently, nationalisation has been implemented to redistribute wealth to ordinary Zimbabweans, why are they not receiving the benefits, instead dealing with failing infrastructure? The answer to that is clear – corruption, fed by mismanagement and patronage.

On the issue of opulence, for a president who was claimed by his supporters to be one of the worlds poorest, Mugabe lived a life of extravagance while in office. The Land Reform programme was abused by the ruling class – by 2010, The Guardian estimated that 40% of land seized from white farmers had been distributed among Mugabe and fellow cronies.

Considering its financial woes, NRZ has ordered a forensic audit to examine the extent of embezzlement. Corruption has become such a problem it is considered the norm, creating a two-tiered system. Its been argued that Zimbabwe loses $1 Billion annually from corrupt practices, though that figure could be higher.

Can Zimbabwe Rebuild?

It might be argued that Zimbabwe lacks a bright future, that it is stuck in an endless cycle. However, that would be ignorant of its many strengths. One of the reasons NRZ has been keen on using steam locomotives is the abundance of coal. There is reportedly estimated to be up to 26 billion tonnes of coal reserves.

Although this claim is contradicted by international organisations who argue it is only half-a-billion, it is still a significant amount for a small economy. With extraction per annum around the 3 million tonnes mark, the market is prime for a sustainable increase. Likewise, gold, diamonds and platinum are ripe for exploitation.

Considering the rise of the burgeoning Asian middle class, these are areas worth exploring however, there are several handicaps. With gold, there is a culture of small-scale mining.

Despite gold-mining being the third-biggest market, a lack of ability for these small miners to explore, as well as the amount of unused mine claims, hampers development. As for platinum, it is known the nation has the second largest reserves on earth, and the Marange Diamond fields are said to be one of the worlds largest.

Despite this opportunity, state-ownership has restricted the ability for Zimbabwe to encourage mining. The market is heavily politicised, with the Parastatal organisation the Zimbabwe Mining Development Commission unable to rehabilitate older mines due to the cost. Accusations of plundering by the ruling elite and the ever-present threat of nationalisation contribute to foreign investors’ fears.

Education-wise, the primary, secondary and tertiary systems are a source of pride for Zimbabweans. While the colonial-era private school system still educates the nation’s elite, the decision by Mugabe to invest in the education system has contributed to a well-educated populace, with a literacy rate of 87%, putting it among the top-20 bracket in all Africa.

Some concerns do linger, however. There has been a decline in standards in recent years, no doubt tied to the enduring financial crisis, to the point it is claimed that 51% of men have never had a formal education. And while the education system is by principle free and compulsory, tuition and other material fees are an obstacle for many.

However, by African standards, Zimbabwe’s progress is remarkable. While in the colonial era there were only two universities, today there are fifteen. But this creates its own challenges. Because of the high unemployment rate, there is a mass exodus of graduates across the Limpopo in search of better opportunities. Since 1996, students at
university have to pay tuition fees – around $500.

This may sound a pittance to western readers, but considering the unemployment rate and the fact that Zimbabwe’s average salary is $253 per month, this is a lot. For many Zimbabweans, even being well educated does not even come close to guaranteeing a future.

Other Sectors

It would be silly to conclude without mentioning the agricultural and tourism sectors. Tobacco is a cash crop, with the industry being the second largest in Africa.

Despite a drastic collapse resulting from land reforms, the industry recovered to achieve its third highest harvest in 2014. China is by far the largest market, with 54% of all exports headed to Chinese consumers.

However, this is just one bright spot. Maize has not recovered from land reforms, with an annual yield of 400,000 tonnes well short of the estimated 2.2 million needed to keep the nation’s stomachs full. As for tourism, this is one of the big earners. Blessed with sites such as Matopo National Park, Hwange reserve, Victoria Falls and Great Zimbabwe, this is a tourism mecca.

However, this industry naturally declined with the rest of the nation once the economy began to decline. Despite the industry boosting the economy by $890m in 2016, it needs improvement. Overpricing and the behaviour of the police are said to be major contributors toward scaring tourists away, combined with the general confidence, public perception and a fragile hospitality sector.

Overall, this is a country with endless opportunity. There are underutilised sectors which, if utilised to their fullest extent, can rebuild the nation. However, the story is the same. Corruption and government mismanagement are causing major headaches. The decision to ditch the Zimbabwean Dollar in favour of foreign currency stabilised the economy after hyperinflation, but the creation of ‘bond notes’ on par with the USD only just restarted the panic.

This sort of government interference, as is the case with almost every industry, is hampering Zimbabwe’s development. And while Zimbabwe is hardly ready for a laissez-faire economy which would likely increase the gulf between rich and poor, the government needs to be more receptive to free market concepts.

Foreign investment is needed; policies such as nationalisation and indigenisation do nothing but scare it away. As for corruption, cleaning up an ingrained practice is extremely difficult. It is a well-known fact that nations with the least corruption are the most successful, but it is easier said than done. It can be done – Singapore eradicated corruption after independence, emerging as a leading financial destination. But it requires a collective will, and the total removal of the corrupt.


As said earlier, Zimbabwe may be a battered, neglected and dust-collecting jewel, but it is still a jewel. The question, however, is whether this jewel will shine again.

Zimbabweans want a brighter future than the one they have endured for the past two decades. However, government policy, enacted on the premise it would benefit the masses, has only made life harder.

Furthermore, leaders making these decisions have engrossed themselves at everyone else’s expense. A bright future, whilst always within grasp, requires the focus and determination of all Zimbabweans not just to grasp, but to hold on and rebuild.

Keep reading |  10 min read


Oscar Pistorius’ Sentence Extended to 15 Years

 1 min read / 

Pistorius Sentence

The former South African athlete’s sentence has been increased to 15 years for the murder of girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp on Valentine’s Day 2013. The athlete has served a year and 7 months and has 13 years and 5 months remaining.

The South African appeals court ruled that High Court Judge Thokozile Masipa’s decision to reduced the sentence to 6 years, based on the athlete’s state of mind, was wrong. Two of Judge Masipa’s rulings during the trials of Oscar Pistorius has been overturned by the appeals court. While gaining fame during the trials, she has been the subject of significant criticism on this topic. 

Other famous sports figures charged with murdering their partners include former NFL player O.J. Simpson and boxer Rubin “Hurricane” Carter.


Photo By Jim Thurston [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Keep reading |  1 min read


Zimbabwe: Life After Robert Mugabe

 7 min read / 

Robert Mugabe

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.

Zimbabwe’s Economy

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.

Mugabe’s Legacy

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.

Keep reading |  7 min read