ZIMBABWE’S UNREST: THE ‘CROCODILE’ ASSURES DEMOCRACY
Author: Suparna Mukherjee
College: University of Calcutta
“We must remind those behind the current treacherous shenanigans that when it comes to matters of protecting our revolution, the military will not hesitate to step in.”
- Zimbabwe Army Commander
Robert Mugabe, the world's oldest head of state, is the only president Zimbabwe has known for the past 37 years, as a ruthless dictator. His rule since independence in 1980 has been defined by charges of corruption and abuse of power. On winning power after British rule, he ordered a violent crackdown leading to massacring opposition strongholds. However, his ruthless policies impoverished the country, dwindling its flourishing economy and agricultural output and spawning inflation.[i]
The military has been a key pillar of Mugabe’s power since independence from white minority rule in 1980. However, recently this South African country witnessed an open rift between the same military and the 93 years old Mugabe.[ii]
Zimbabwe’s current political uproar was triggered when Mugabe, exercised his powers[iii] to relieve Honorable Vice President E.D. Mnangagwa, of his position as Vice President of the Republic of Zimbabwe with immediate effect on 6th November 2017, accusing him of plotting to take power, inconsistency in discharging duties towards his official responsibilities, disloyalty, disrespect, deceitfulness and unreliability.[iv]
Mnangagwa’s release appeared to position the first lady to replace Mnangagwa as one of the country's two vice presidents at a party conference next month. Mnangagwa enjoyed the backing of the military and ruling party ZANU-PF leaders as a potential successor of Mugabe while the first lady was unpopular among many Zimbabweans for her lavish lifestyles. Mnangagwa fled the country after his removal claiming threats to him and his family. Over 100 senior officials allegedly supporting him were listed for disciplinary measures by a faction associated with Mugabe’s wife, Grace Mugabe.[v]
Mnangagwa’s sacking made the generals and war veterans feel sidelined. The whole idea that the military was always the chief broker in Mugabe's ruling party, but there were attempts to sideline the military by G40, is what led to the political chaos in Zimbabwe.[vi]
On 13th November, the army commander made an unprecedented statement criticizing Mugabe for pushing aside veterans of the liberation war, which was condemned by the ruling party as “treasonable conduct". On 15th November, the army sent armored personnel carriers into Harare and seized control of the state broadcaster and other strategic points, including Mugabe's residence.[vii]
Critics of the government, Zimbabwe’s war veterans, and the Opposition party urged Mugabe to step down quietly; agreeing that he should end his attempts to remain in office after the military seized the power as he had no longer any regional diplomatic support to stay in power. This military intervention is expected to establish a national unity government after 37 years of Mugabe rule and also present an opportunity to put Zimbabwe on a path to peace and prosperity.[viii]
Amidst several protests to step down peacefully, Mugabe repeatedly claimed himself the legitimate ruler, resisting the pressure to resign. However, as pressure grew, Mugabe finally resigned on November 21, lest he is impeached.[ix]
Mnangagwa emerged in the public on November 22, two weeks after his escape, to be elected as the third leader and second President of Zimbabwe since their independence. He ensured a dawn of democracy in Zimbabwe and fair elections, a stably better economy, self-sufficiency, reshaping Zimbabwe into a more inclusive nation across the lines of race and political affiliation and re-engagement with the international community. However, his tarnished reputation as an ally of Mugabe and his role in ethnic massacres in the 1980s, intimidating the opposition, precedes him. A laborious time has arrived for him to cleanse this image and gain the trust of masses, a feat answerable by times to come[x]
Despite repeated insistence that it wasn’t a coup at all, the situation bore all the hallmarks of a coup, with seized control of the state broadcaster ZBC in Harare, soldiers deployed at the city's international airport, and the President under house arrest. However, there were no street curfews, no violent crackdowns and no appointment of a military junta to take control of the levers of power. Helpfully for the military, Mugabe gave his seal of approval to their actions, declaring the takeover legitimate[xi]. Also, it was stated from the beginning that soon after the settlement of Mugabe’s resignation, the situation would return to normalcy; making this military takeover the strangest of all in the world.
[i] McKenzie D. Swails B. Dewan A.(2017). CNN:Zimbabwe is under military control after army seizes power from Mugabe. Decades under Mugabe. See http://edition.cnn.com/2017/11/14/africa/zimbabwe-military-chief-treasonable-conduct/index.html, last visited on 28/11/17.
[ii] Unrest Growing in Zimbabwe as Tanks Close in on Capital, see http://time.com/5023550/zimbabwe-robert-mugabe-harare-tanks/, last visited on 27/11/17.
[iii] In accordance with the Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment Number 20 Act of 2013, Section 329, 6th Schedule, Paragraph 14, Sub-paragraph 2
[iv] The Herald, Tuesday, 28th November 2017, VP Mnangagwa fired from Govt., see http://www.herald.co.zw/breaking-ed-mnangagwa-fired/.
[v] Time, Unrest Growing in Zimbabwe as Tanks Close in on Capital, ibib.
[vi] Zimbabwean analyst Alex Rusero.
[vii] Chicogo Tribune, After 37 years, Robert Mugabe's rule of Zimbabwe appears to be over, see http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/ct-zimbabwe-political-unrest-20171114-story.html, last visited on 28/11/17.
[viii] Botswana President Ian Khama.
[ix] CNN, political Upheaval grips Zimbabwe, see http://edition.cnn.com/2017/11/15/africa/gallery/zimbabwe-political-unrest/index.html, last visted on 27/11/17.
[x] NEWS/ZIMBABWE, Who is Emmerson Mnangagwa, Zimbabwe's 'Crocodile'?, see http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/11/emmerson-mnangagwa-zimbabwe-crocodile-171124062910487.html, last visted on 27/11/17.
[xi] CNN. Mackintosh E.(2017). Zimbabwe's military takeover was the world's strangest coup, see http://edition.cnn.com/2017/11/20/africa/zimbabwe-military-takeover-strangest-coup/index.html?iid=ob_article_organicsidebar_expansion, last visited on 27/11/17.
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