•Ex-Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe
A coup d’état is the least expected circumstance to unseat one of the longest-serving rulers in Africa. The ‘military takeover’ of Zimbabwe government took all by surprise, because of the strong grip Robert Mugabe has exhibited for decades. Although the military in a video broadcast desisted from calling the ambush a ‘military takeover’, there seems not to be any other word to express the unimaginable situation that took President Robert Mugabe off his feet. Rather, the army has chosen to explain the event as a political sanitisation to “pacify a degenerating political, social and economic situation of the country.”
Regardless of the diction, what has come to settle with the global populace is the sudden realisation that the thirty-seven-year journey of the world’s oldest ruler has ended. And it ended at a critical season in the history of the nation. Zimbabwe’s political scene of recent has been flooded with several mind-boggling events. And for observers, it must have been both thrilling and saddening.
What really happened?
The scene opened with the convergence of all opposition parties into a united force – Movement for Democratic Change – aimed at stopping the ‘fragmentation’. Tendai Biti had announced, “We owe it to the thousands of Zimbabweans to make sure that in our lifetime we can remove the beast called ZANU-PF”. The alliance was more than forming an opposition, but a determined and indomitable fraternity vowing to unseat Mugabe at all cost. Following the unexpected coalition, the only thing Robert Mugabe could frame from the looming war against his continued dictatorship was that the opposition is a “creature of the west.” No one knows where he got that from since he is fond of saying things.
Probably, because of old age or political drunkenness, the 93-year-old ruler has long binned democracy for autocracy. He had earlier announced that Grace Mugabe, his wife, and his vice, Emmerson Mnangagwa are his candidates for succession. It is obvious that Mugabe has never dreamt of leaving power soon, as he has already been named by Zanu-PF as its presidential candidate for the 2018 polls. Meanwhile, the anointed candidates have been locked in an increasingly acrimonious fight over who will take over power when Mugabe dies. Like Delilah, through seduction and enticement, 52-year-old Grace has been pestering her husband to name a successor. She became increasingly active in public life in recent months, and she now leads the Zanu-PF women’s wings.
Unfortunately, Grace’s lust for power, which has resulted in the removal of her husband, was heady and devastating. She has been on a collision course with the military for trying to supplant Mnangagwa. She accused the military of trying to impose Mnangagwa as her husband’s successor, and therefore manoeuvring the dismissal of the Vice President. The coast was clear. Mugabe can now impose his wife as successor. She was due to be installed as Zanu-PF and the country’s vice president at the party’s congress scheduled for mid-December. This eventually forced the military to step in to end Zanu-PF’s purges against party members with military background.
Now that the worst has happened, and the exiled vice president has returned standing in relief as a serious contender for the presidency, there are several complications to be addressed. At this stage, the concern is not about the bloodless removal of the president but who takes over power after the military. I share the same worry with Boris Johnson, the British Foreign Secretary who said, “Nobody wants simply to see the transition from one elected tyrant to a next.” The main question now is about the transition of power. Perhaps, this is the expected revolution in Zimbabwe, which is yet to be justified, but who will captain the ship? And another crucial question: will the military eventually leave power? If yes, then when?
Whether Gen Constantino Chiwenga leaves power now or later, Zimbabwe will remain suspended in a bottomless uncertainty and fear for the next few years. The military may take advantage of this moment to usurp the country. A foreshadowing of what a military rule will look like in the country is already playing out in how aggressive soldiers were seen on the streets threatening citizens. They have taken over the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC), journalists and workers in the corporation were manhandled and driven out. Whether or not they were Mugabe’s mouthpiece, this action is a challenge to the freedom of expression which may last for heaven knows when. With this development, the hope for the release of US citizen, Martha O’Donovan, and four other Zimbabweans who were caught in the web of Mugabe’s Cybersecurity decree has become bleak.
Furthermore, the military announced that its targets are the criminals around former President Robert Mugabe. However, they are yet to clarify who the targets are, or how they intend to deal with them. We can only hope that there would not be killings upon killings in the guise of flushing the state. The implication of this will be chaos, violence, and at worst a civil war, which the country is not prepared for, considering how the country has plummeted into economic depression caused by Mugabe’s disastrous handling of the nation. There is enough violence in the country than stepping on the cobra’s tail.
Another main concern is the uncertainty of the interest of the military. It is unclear if the military’s action is to favour the former vice-president Emmerson Mnangagwa, whose is also known around the corridor of power as “The Crocodile”, or the political peace of the country. The voice of the military has been loud in a collision with the Mugabe’s wife who was said to be out to supplant Mnangagwa. Also, the timing of the military takeover is questionable. No action was taken by the military despite the violence that has drowned the country for years until Mnangagwa was fired and Grace Mugabe announced to replace him. Moreover, “The Crocodile” is close to the army chief.
It seems that the military’s action is for the Lacoste faction of the Zanu-PF, to depose the allegedly Grace Mugabe-led G40. The uprising is still from the ruling party. Unfortunately, the hopes for the “establishment of a stable, democratic and progressive nation-state” by the opposition may not be realistic.
Meanwhile, the removal of the “Grand Old Man” is a quick alert to other African leaders who have become gods on the seat. From Equatorial Guinea to Angola, Cameroon, Congo, Uganda, Chad, Sudan, and so on, these leaders should understand that no political ruler is paramount.
Finally, it is pertinent that the people of Zimbabwe drive this political change instead of leaving it in the hands of western powers who have for donkey years tried to depose Mugabe without success. Mugabe who had a running battle with everything western will be favoured by history if this attempt at democratic government fails, and the country embraces chaos. If this change can be masses-oriented, and not another charade of establishing a Western-style democracy that has left countries like Libya, Syria, and Iraq a shadow of their former selves, only then can Zimbabwe truly boast of true liberation.
•Ogunsola Victor wrote this piece from Lagos, Nigeria, before Mugabe’s resignation and emergence of Mnangagwa as Zimbabwe’s new President. Ogunsola can be reached via email@example.com