Whats next for Zimbabwe after the “coup”

22 Min Read

By now almost anyone with an interest in African politics is aware of the “coup that is not a coup” that occurred in Zimbabwe nearly two weeks ago. On November 14th, 2017 members of the Zimbabwe Defense Forces (ZDF) detained President Mugabe and his family and some other Mugabe loyalists and commandeered the national broadcasting system in an action the ZDF dubbed “Operation Restore Legacy”.

This action was aimed at preventing the capture of the ruling party by former First Lady Grace Mugabe and her loyalist. It was also triggered by the firing of former Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa from his position as Vice President and his expulsion from the ruling ZANU-PF party the previous week.

The “coup that is not a coup” resulted in the removal of long time President Mugabe as the premier of Zimbabwe a position he held for 37 years and ushered the country into uncharted waters, leaving the people of Zimbabwe in a state of uncertainty tempered by hopeful anticipation.

The days following the coup were understandably followed by analysis of the causes of the military intervention, the main players and how it happened. Analyses have now moved to who are the winners and losers of this action and whether this transition will bring about positive and meaningful change to Zimbabwe.

The losers

This transition process could not have come at a worse time for the twenty plus political parties that make up the opposition in Zimbabwe.

The main and widely recognized opposition parties are the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T) led by former Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, and its splinter group Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-N) led by Welshman Ncube.

These and a plethora of other lesser known parties were gearing for upcoming elections in 2018 and were in various stages of creating alliances in an effort to defeat the ruling ZANU-PF party.  Campaigning and voter registration was underway.

However, there were indications of voter fatigue. Most people were unmoved to register to vote as they felt registering to vote and voting was futile as Mugabe’s ZANU PF would win the election.

ZANU PF was expected to win because the opposition is weak, fragmented and not as strategic and as organized as the ruling party whose election machinery has withstood the test of time.

Even though the various opposition parties have formed alliances in an attempt to gain critical mass, some of the alliances have been short lived and plagued by infighting

The opposition is notably the clear loser in this current state of affairs. The transition has left the opposition in an awkward and weakened position.

Firstly, for a long time, the opposition’s rallying cry has been “Mugabe must go” so now, with his removal this formerly uniting cry is no longer relevant. Opposition now has to regroup and develop a new strategy of engaging the citizens and winning voters to their cause.

Secondly, Zimbabwean have been in despair for quite some time and were resigned to essentially waiting for Mugabe to die in office before seeing any political change. Never in their wildest dreams did anyone expect Mugabe to step down so soon.

Given this expectation to endure for a long Zimbabweans will seize this option for change enthusiastically and will be more willing to give President Mnangagwa a chance to turn things around in Zimbabwe.

If Mnangagwa sticks to the previously announced elections schedule and allows the elections to proceed as planned, the odds will be in his favor and is most likely to win and win with a huge margin. The new president has advantage as he can ride the wave of goodwill that comes with the removal of Mugabe.

The elections were scheduled to occur as early as March 2018 and as late as August 2018. This very short time frame favors the new President and his ruling party. His party already has election structures in place.

The reduced lead time works against the opposition and further reduces their campaign time as they scramble to build a new campaign strategy against a new opponent whose strategy and appeal is not fully known thereby consuming precious time.

Zimbabweans celebrating the resignation of Mugabe at the Embassy of Zimbabwe in Washington DC

With Mugabe’s ouster, MDC would be best served by changing the leadership because the current leader Morgan Tsvangirai is seen including many in his party, as clinging to power Mugabe style and preventing the development of younger party leaders.

With this type of stain on him, rightly or wrongly, Tsvangirai’s party would be in no position to compete with a ZANU PF led by a brand new leader. Without change, MDC would have to be three times as good in the campaign ground game to defeat ZANU-PF.

MDC has to show stellar organizational skills, clear vision and effective communication of the said vision, and world class execution to sway voters otherwise they have no chance. In discussions with Zimbabweans in the diaspora the overall feeling is that the opposition failed to capitalize on this internal ZANU-PF succession struggle.

When details surrounding the coup started trickling out the day after the coup, a well prepared opposition would have taken to social media and other independent media outlets to educate the citizens on the implications of the military intervention and on the legality and constitutionality of use of the military and national resources, to settle an internal party fight.

This is very important because many ordinary Zimbabweans assumed the fall of Mugabe also meant the fall of ZANU-PF and would pave way for a government of national unity similar to that of 2008.

Had the opposition jumped on this earlier, there may have been a clearer understanding of the situation and tempered celebrations and not the jubilant scenes.

The African Union and Southern African Development Community (SADC) and is regarded as toothless and ineffective when compared to Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) a regional body with a similar mandate.

When it counts ECOWAS has stood firm is supporting the removal of despots as they did with Lauren Gbagbo in Ivory Coast in 2010 and more recently with Yaya Jammeh in Gambia.

Both AU and SADC claim to promote among others good governance, transparency and rule of law yet even in the face of Mugabe’s failure to manage the country both AU and SADC did nothing to bring about change.

With the exception of Botswana’s President Ian Khama who has spoken out against Mugabe, the SADC head of states have essentially allowed Mugabe to overstay even though.

Many Zimbabweans will never forgive Thabo Mbeki for propping Mugabe’s government for an additional 9 years after the 2008 elections.

It is widely believed that ZANU-PF lost this election however Thabo Mbeki, then South African premier and SADC mediator pushed for an election runoff and government of national unity rather than allow MDC be declared the winner.

It is not surprising that during negotiations during the military take over a petition demanding that SADC stay out of Zimbabwean affairs circulated. Zimbabweans were worried that SADC would step in and “mess things up” once more.

The winners

Clearly, the major winner is the ruling ZANU-PF party in general and in particular the party’s pro liberation credentials old guard and new President Mnangagwa.

The removal of Mugabe and the elevation of Mnangagwa as party leader and President given the party a new lease of life, an option to stay in power for a longer while, with a much younger leader compared to Mugabe.

For some time now ZANU-PF has been on a destructive path characterized by in fighting, factions, patronage, wide spread corruption and violence. Members of the party have developed an entrenched culture of entitlement and wanton disregard for the nation’s constitution.

ZANU-PF could not have continued on this destructive path and be effective. The much needed cleansing was very timely and provided the party with opportunity to renew and reform itself.

In his inaugural speech Mnangagwa alluded to addressing corruption and encouraged unity and togetherness. One may ask why would ZANU-PF be interested in changing its modus operandi that has successfully served the Party for 37 years.

Answer is because the old ZANU-PF way of doing things is not sustainable and leads to factionalism that was witnessed by all. With this new lease on life ZANU-PF must move away from prioritizing liberation credentials over performance within party structures and government.

As it stands currently, the liberation credentials faction of the party feels it has bested the younger faction of the party. If left unaddressed this fissure can once again develop into a deeper chasm that may rupture violently in the near future.

The party would be wised to reject the business as usual way of doing things and choose a path of reform and bring meaningful change to the country.

The military is the other undisputed winner. In the thirty-seven-year history of this ZDF, they have always been in the background, always seen and never heard. Which is why the military intervention came as a surprise to many Zimbabweans and I am sure, to many rank and file soldiers.

This recent action will definitely put the spotlight on the armed forces for many months to come as they are seen as the king makers. The power now rests in the barracks and not within the State House and there is always the possibility that if the army becomes disaffected with the new president, they can always stage another intervention.

The military will undoubtedly enjoy remunerative perks such as salary increases, improved equipment and peripherals as reward for a job well done. it is in the new President’s best interest to maintain the election schedule and get elected sooner to acquire legitimacy and not depend on the military to solidify his position.

The genie is out of the bottle and the likelihood of the army pulling the presidential strings behind the scenes is high the longer they are allowed to protect an unelected president. From the many selfies with “soldier bae” shared on social media, the military’s popularity with citizens is undisputed and ZDF will be riding the popular wave for a while.

The people of Zimbabwe fall in both the winners and loser’s category. Zimbabweans are winners in finally succeeding in getting Robert Mugabe to vacate the president’s seat after nearly four decades at the helm.

There is great hope and anticipation of change. The majority of Zimbabweans at home and abroad are optimistic that the new President will pursue sound policies that will result in improved economy, healthcare and the general well-being.

There is hope that the sound policies especially in the realm of human rights will result in the lifting of economic sanctions imposed on the country and finally bring Zimbabwe out of the cold into the fold where it’s a respected member of the community.

When it became evident that the military had indeed intervened and resulted in Mugabe’s resignation, many were overjoyed that at last the arch nemesis of progress was on his way out, however, what many of those celebrating failed to realize was that were pawns in a game of chess.

It was only after several days and many celebrations later that the reality hit them and left many with feelings of having been used by the army and the party to legitimize the removal of Mugabe. In this aspect we are losers.

Of course, this is not the case with all the celebrants. Many Zimbabweans worldwide, myself included took to the streets in support of the military intervention because they were just relieved and excited to see Mugabe step down, so quickly and without too much bloodshed.  Even as we celebrated we still knew ZANU-PF was still in power and things may likely not change much.

The new man

Emmerson Mnangagwa is the man of the hour, the mastermind who best all in succession sweepstakes and engineered a coup that is not a coup. He is currently enjoying the moment and basking in his victory without being overt.

His honeymoon period may be shorter than most new presidents as the problems he has to resolve are many fold. As he aptly put in his inaugural address, he has to hit the ground running and he has to perform miracles in turning Zimbabwe’s economic situation around as quickly as possible before the 2018 elections.

Now that Zimbabweans have tasted change, they will be inpatient for more and will need to see him doing something to turn the country around. In the short term, Mnangagwa can increase the people’s good will and faith in him by solving the liquidity crisis.

With Christmas and festive season fast approaching, Mnangagwa could help forge his image as a man of action by ensuring the availability of cash when Zimbabweans go to the banks to withdraw their salaries.

Increasing the availability of medical clinicians and availability of drugs in the pharmacies and hospitals is another quick action that would be help build his bona fides among the Zimbabwean people.

Mnangagwa can also tackle the pervasive scourge of corruption within the party, and the country as a whole by aggressively pursuing corrupt party members, government officials, parastatals and civil servants.

The level of aggressiveness and extent of the corruption campaign should be wide and far reaching to party hierarchy to serve as a deterrent. Corruption is widespread and if continues unchecked there is a danger of weakening the party’s hold on power and can eventually lead to the party’s downfall.

As I write this piece social media is awash with video footage of the first casualties of the corruption probe, namely former Finance Minister Ignatius Chombo whose large portfolio of allegedly ill-gotten plots of land and homes exceeding 700 in count were exposed during divorce proceedings from ex-wife Marian.

To be fair, the arrest of Chombo and 2 others came at the hands of the military during their intervention period and before the installation of President Mnangagwa, however the military is clearly on Mnangagwa’ s side so these arrests can only be seen as tacit approval by the new president.

Many ordinary Zimbabweans are not concerned about the arrest of Chombo as this is seen as long overdue, however some are concerned that Chombo’s human rights were violated after he was detained longer than the mandated 48hours without being charged.

If the 2018 elections are held as scheduled and if Mnangagwa wins, his medium to long term goals should be to address the Gukurahundi massacres and set the framework to heal the country. In his maiden speech Mnangagwa alluded to letting bygones be bygones.

However, the country has been through a traumatic 37 years characterized by massacres, human right violations, destruction of property and forced disappearances of people; all this cannot be forgotten without the proper therapeutic process.

Many are skeptical that the new President’s words are more than the usual empty rhetoric of his predecessor.

To distinguish himself and acquire a bit of credibility Mnangagwa, would be best served by pushing for a restorative justice commission similar to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that was convened in South Africa after the fall of apartheid or the Rwandan Gacaca courts established after the 1994 genocide.

Such an act would be most meaningful to the Ndebele population who mostly suffered from the Gukurahundi massacres and would also signal the seriousness of his commitment to uniting the country.

Mnangagwa also alluded to revisiting the land issue with regards to equitable redistribution of land and compensation of the white farmers. He would be best served by redistributing the land that was hoarded by land barons under the Mugabe regime and ensure one person one farm rule.

A powerful and meaningful action would be retaining government ownership of 13 of the 15 farms owned by Mugabe alone and the many more owned by Mugabe’s wife Grace. This would be symbolic in indicating the seriousness of the situation.

Issuing of ownership deeds to land owners would also be a welcome change that would allow farmers to use their land titles as collateral. The creation of a commission to address the compensation of white farmers would also be beneficial.

Under the Mugabe government the policy was to compensate the white farmers for improvement to the land i.e. buildings, infrastructure etc. but not for the land itself.

Mnangagwa can make this right this by compensating for the land. As this needs money, the US and UK can finally fulfil their end of the bargain through the provision of funds for compensation, these are funds previously promised during the Lancaster House talks at the time of independence.

These are uncertain albeit exciting times for Zimbabwe. The nation is at the cusp of long overdue change and President Mnangagwa has the ability to take the country in an entirely new direction or he could opt for more of the same and continue the fail sure ways of his predecessor.

Zimbabweans are hoping and praying for a fresh start and hope Mnangagwa is up to the task of a change agent.

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