Zimbabwe’s protracted political crisis reached a crescendo earlier this month when President Robert Mugabe sacked his Vice President, Emmerson Mnangagwa.
A battle to succeed the 93-year old nonageranian and freedom fighter-turned president was already brewing within the ruling Zimbabwe’s African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) with the military backing Mr. Mnangagwa, himself a freedom fighter and ‘Generation 40’, a group of young leaders supporting Grace, Mugabe’s 53-year old wife.
Mrs Mugabe is known for her extravagant, domineering and interfering lifestyle and had since been vocal about her plans and ambitions. Grace was Mugabe’s former secretary. She is 40 years his junior. It appears the main goal of the coup was to prevent Mugabe’s wife from succeeding him.
But whether or not he goes, it may mark the end of the country’s dominance by Mugabe, the last of Africa’s state founders still in power from the era of the struggle against colonialism.
The dethroned Zimbabwean leader is still seen by many Africans as a liberation hero, but the West views him as a despot who destroyed one of Africa’s most promising state.
Mugabe was believed to have endorsed his wife when he sacked his bosom friend, Mnangagwa, on November 6. The poor old man, who before his exit was the world’s oldest ruler, administered Zimbabwe since 1980, the year the nation got independence.
Many believe that the ousted Zimbabwean leader erred on two points. First, he underestimated the political prowess, connection and, of course, influence of Mnangagwa in the government. And second, he exaggerated his own power in a country which independence he fought fiercely to attain.
In those days, former President Mugabe ruled his country with an iron grip on his people. But he failed to realise that those days were gone. Age and health challenges had depleted his hold on power, while there was a groundswell of anger and opposition among his people over economic mismanagement.
Mugabe left little doubt that he was acting from a position of political vulnerability, when he turned against a man long seen and prepared by the establishment as his successor. This gave the military the impetus and confidence to turn against him. They made it unambiguous that they didn’t want a Mugabe dynasty.
Curiously, the military doesn’t want to name its action a coup d’etat for very obvious reasons: a coup would attract international denunciation and may possibly engage sanctions.
It is explicit that the Zimbabwean army chief, Gen. Constantino Chiwenga, is in charge. His plan, as it emerges, is to compel Mugabe to resign to install a transitional government perhaps to be headed by Mnangagwa until elections are held.
If the former guerrilla fighter doesn’t resign, it will complicate the process. And since he has not been seen after the army take over, any attempt to hurt him could backfire. Even if he agrees to resign the transition may not be smooth.
However inept and dictatorial Mr. Mugabe’s regime had been, a coup will remain a coup regardless of what the plotters call it. This will raise questions of legitimacy about the new government.
And don’t forget, Mugabe still retains his popularity and support among the black working class which has always protected him against anger from his people. This is a huge advantage for him which he could tap into.
Not only in Zimbabwe is he regarded as a hero, even across Africa he is seen by many as an anti-colonial cavalier. However, his successor will inherit huge challenges such as bad and dysfunctional economy, massive unemployment, a shattered ruling political party and a united opposition.
By staging this coup successfully, civilian supremacy over the armed forces is severely questioned. Therefore, the biggest challenge to the new leader is to ensure that the military remains in the barracks.
By: Arnold Alalibo.