Two armoured vehicles were parked beside the main road from Harare to Chinhoyi, about 20 km from the city. The news was received with scepticism and confusion. A military coup taking place in Zimbabwe seemed premature at best. But it was true. Reports that after 37 years, the Mugabe regime had come to an end were greeted with celebrations all around the world. Only a few days earlier, Zimbabweans had been infuriated when one of the President’s sons filmed himself pouring hundreds of pounds worth of champagne over his diamond-encrusted wristwatch, all the while unemployment remains high and the health system collapses.
Reactions from politicians were muted and calm at the time. Britain’s foreign minister refused to be drawn into the Mugabe succession debate, but instead called for free and fair elections to be held as scheduled next year. Chair of SADC (Southern African Development Community) and South Africa’s president Jacob Zuma sent an envoy into Zimbabwe and is believed to have talked to Mugabe whilst calling for calm and restraint. African Union chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat urged the crisis to be resolved in a responsible manner, but also argued that the AU was against “any unlawful takeover of power anywhere on the continent.”
Zimbabwe celebrates as Robert Mugabe resigns / BBC News
Amid the joy of now having ended the 37-year rule of Mugabe, there was some sense of caution. Zimbabwe’s armed forces commander, General Constantine Chiwenga, had kick-started a process that means Zimbabwe is now one of 40 African countries that have seen coups. Chiwenga held a press conference attacking the manoeuvres by Grace Mugabe that took Emmerson Mnangagwa from the post of vice-president proclaiming that, “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.” Three days later, General Sibusiso Moyo read out a statement on the state broadcaster stating, “What the Zimbabwe defence forces are doing is to pacify a degenerating political, social and economic situation in our country, which if not addressed may result in a violent event.”
The rationale the army is using to justify their actions creates more questions about the future of Zimbabwe than answers. Zimbabwe has been in free fall politically and economically since the late 1990s, reaching fever pitch in 2008 after it is believed Mugabe had lost the presidential elections. Why did the army not intervene during the 2008 general election period, to pacify an unstable political situation which left more than 100 … dead, 200-plus abducted and missing, hundreds more jailed on spurious charges, thousands beaten and tens of thousands forced from their homes? Was the death of so many people in 2008, not a “degenerating political, violent event” as stated by Major General Moyo? There were also a number of reports that in 2008 instead of stopping the violence during that period, Chiwenga reportedly told Mugabe, ‘We can’t lose elections. We can’t hand power to the MDC. We are going to obliterate them,” amid reports that Mr Mugabe was going to accept defeat.
Chiwenga’s statement read at the press conference blatantly reinforced the army’s argument which they have repeated every election year since the rise of the opposition in Zimbabwe, that they will not accept, let alone support or salute, anyone without liberation war credentials. The opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai criticised this logic in 2002, saying it was tantamount to intimidation.
Many people will argue that the country has got rid of the biggest obstacle to democracy and peace by the ending the Mugabe regime. However, the replacement chose by ZANU-PF assisted by the army could continue the situation Zimbabwe has been in for the last few decades. The belief among academics and analysts who know of Emmerson Mnangagwa is that there is a little chance that he will walk away from power after two terms (according to Zimbabwe’s constitution) after he is sworn in today in Harare.
Zimbabweans will celebrate the end of the Mugabe regime and rightly they should after all these decades. For many Zimbabweans, Grace Mugabe becoming president would have been the worst thing to happen for the country. However, the army has taken away a raw moment of celebration and freedom from the Zimbabwean people and given them an illusion which could dissolve into more years of despair. Emmerson Mnangagwa did not receive the nickname ‘the crocodile’ for his pacifist persona. As history has shown us, coup leaders don’t always live up to the promise of instilling democracy, and many coups result in an upturn in human and constitutional rights abuses.
Find out more:
Zimbabwe is free of Robert Mugabe, should the world celebrate? | The Economist
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.
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