Reflecting on Zimbabwe after the Coup

When President Mugabe’s resignation letter was read by the speaker of Zimbabwe’s parliament, the news ignited mixed reactions. Whereas a section of Zimbabweans hoped this would be an end to an era of massive corruption, poverty, economic instability and dictatorship, others saw this as a mere change of guard.

Few weeks after being sworn in as the second indigenous president in Zimbabwe’s history, Emmerson Mnangagwa announced his cabinet, for which he has been criticized. Mr. Mnangagwa’s appointment of several army officers to key positions has cast him in the shadow of wanting to reward the military for successfully executing the November coup. In November, the military commanded by General Constantino Chiwenga, besieged the president’s private residence and overthrew the ruling order, which initiated talks that led to Robert Mugabe’s resignation. A week or so after announcing his cabinet, Mr. Mnangagwa appointed General Chiwenga as his vice, which affirms the latter allegations. Yet not many are happy with continued military influence in Zimbabwe’s political affairs.

“We are now dealing with a junta. We have the answer to if the coup was done to give Zimbabwe a chance or to protect the private interests of certain individuals and the ruling party,” Biti Tendai, an opposition leader, said.

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What led to the Coup?

About a week before the coup, President Mugabe had dismissed his then Vice President and war comrade, Emmerson Mnangagwa allegedly on grounds of disloyalty, disrespect, and deceitfulness. Some critics saw this move as intended to pave way for the president’s wife, Grace to become Vice President and eventually succeed his 93-year-old husband. This sparked controversy, especially after a campaign seeking the appointment of Grace Mugabe went viral.

In the afternoon of November 14, 2017, tanks were seen moving towards Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare. This followed a warning by the army chief, Constantino Chiwenga that the army would not hesitate to step in, in case politicians in the ruling ZANU-PF party continued to purge those he termed as ‘members of the party with a liberation background’.

Shortly after occupying the capital, the military proceeded to take over the country’s state broadcaster, ZBC. They would later declare, in a rare fashion telecast, that their Commander in Chief was safe, and that their operation was only targeting criminals around President Mugabe, who was now under house arrest.

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What followed were the arrests of the Finance Minister, Police Chief, Higher Education minister, ZANU-PF’s Youth leader, among other key allies of the former first lady.

Attempts by the SADC to send an envoy to help both the army and former President reach a peaceful resolution raised anxiety; however, they later paid off, through mediated talks, which led to a peaceful transition. But it should be remembered that the military played a key political role of mobilizing members of the ruling ZANU-PF party, who pressured President Mugabe; firstly, by divorcing him as their leader, and secondly, by organizing protests in the streets of Harare, which made big international headlines.

Way Forward?

In his inaugural state of the nation address, Mr. Mnangagwa pledged to revive the declining economy by opening Zimbabwe to investors and by fighting corruption.

“Corruption remains the major source of some of the problems we face as a country, and its retarding impact on national development cannot be over emphasized. The goal of my government is to build a new Zimbabwe based on the crown values of honesty, transparency, accountability and hard work,” said Mnangagwa, in his address to the nation.

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Officials of the country’s main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change, viciously criticized the president’s address, saying it lacked detail. According to them, Mnangagwa’s approach of only targeting his possible political opponents, especially Grace Mugabe’s G40 faction within the ruling party instead of focusing on fixing the economy, is time-wasting.

“Mere promises and threats are not good enough to restore sanity within the business sector. Concrete measures and steps have to be immediately put in place in order to protect vulnerable groups of society from the ravages of skyrocketing prices,” remarked Obert Gutu, spokesman of the MDC-T.

The opposition has also accused the president of curtailing media freedom, of not allowing other political parties to freely express themselves through the state media.

“The MDC is thoroughly unimpressed with the half-hearted commitment that the Mnangagwa administration has so far shown towards opening up the State-owned print and electronic media,” said Mr. Gutu, adding that Zimbabwe’s state broadcaster, ZBC and its affiliate radio stations remained virtually closed to all other political parties except the ruling ZANU-PF party.

Thus, the question of whether Zimbabweans and the world were not duped into hoping that Mugabe’s fall would bring a new flame, a new chapter, a new era, is inevitable. The president’s pledges could be somewhat promising, but plans without action are meaningless. Mr. Mnangagwa is faced with the task of delivering free, fair and credible general elections in 2018. Our hope is that his government stops ignoring the quest to reform the electoral laws and guidelines, which would then guarantee a justifiable elections outcome.

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