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Wednesday, 22 November 2017

‘Fake’ Coup in Zimbabwe

‘Fake’ Coup in Zimbabwe

Army chief Constantino Chiwenga (R) has openly threatened to intervene in Zimbabwe's politics

In an unusual coup that has been desperately downplayed by the Zimbabwean military forces, Robert Mugabe, long-time president of Zimbabwe, was last Wednesday placed under house arrest. The army later marshalled the streets and took over the state broadcasting service.

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In its address to the people, the army vowed that it only intended to weed out criminals within the Mugabe government while assuring that the president and his family were safe and sound.

It is widely believed that the military action was directly connected with the ambition and activities of Grace Mugabe, the first lady. The first lady had been engaged in some heavyweight politicking uncommon to wives of presidents in Africa, or anywhere in the world.

The latest casualty of her assault on political rivals saw the sacking of Emerson Mnangagwa, Mugabe’s vice-president and long-time associate, who had been a favourite to succeed the aging president.

Mnangagwa’s sack turned out to be the final straw as it placed Mrs Mugabe in prime position to succeed her husband. The events following the military’s annexation of key locations in Zimbabwe now make it clear that Mugabe’s wife may have been the real target, and not Mugabe himself.

The secretary turned first lady had racked up resentment for herself in many quarters for her outspoken nature, lavish lifestyle and unmasked thirst for power.

However, the military action rumoured to have been orchestrated by Mnangagwa “the crocodile”, opened the lid on the festering discontent which may have developed overtime against Mugabe’s rule within his ZANU-PF party.

The bubble of support that Mugabe enjoyed within the party finally burst and the party ousted him as its head on Sunday, replacing him with Mnangagwa. Interestingly, the party also gave Mugabe an ultimatum to resign as president by noon on Monday or face impeachment.

There are several talking points from the sequence of events that unfolded in Zimbabwe last week. First, it is symbolic that military interference was again the catalyst for change. Just like in Egypt and many other African countries that have been under the hand of a dictator, the army was again instrumental in breaking the stranglehold.

While many Zimbabweans rejoice at the military intervention, the point to note is that military solution is never a constitutional solution and it sends worrisome signals in the 21st century.

Also, this time, if the military is to be believed, the ‘soft coup’ was fashioned to make changes within the government while maintaining the current structure and power arrangement. This is no cause for celebration.

The world has come to recognise and somewhat support the idea of a “Guardian coup”, especially in Africa with its many dictatorships, which entails the sacking of an oppressive regime by the military, provided that democratic elections are quickly organised freely and fairly.

What may be more sinister and destructive of the whole idea of democracy is a caretaker arrangement, in this case, where the military appears to be at liberty to make changes to the democratic order as it deems fit.

In that case, supreme power lies with the military and all elected representatives of the people would serve at the pleasure of their military overlords. Therefore, if the military event of last week was not a coup, it was something worse and the Zimbabwean people and other foreign leaders must be made to realise this.

While Zimbabweans and people around the world still struggle to understand the pattern of this coup, Mugabe successfully pulled off a last minute turn-around on Sunday at a nationwide broadcast.

As a military chief turned the pages of his speech, Mugabe acknowledged that the country would be “refocused” but said nothing about his resignation. The speech, therefore, cast further mystery into an already unusual coup, if there was one at all.

Like a lot of past world leaders, Mugabe came into power on the back of an uprising, as a freedom fighter. He then planted himself in power like they usually do and has been there for over 37 years. It is a classic scenario, where a ‘messiah’ uproots a totalitarian regime only later to become a tyrant himself.

Even Fidel Castro did not escape the aspersions of tyranny but he may have enjoyed enough support because his anti-American stance was shared by a good portion of Cubans. Mugabe’s anti-West posture had won him similar support in Zimbabwe and ensured his perpetuity until now.

As the Zimbabwean economy slumps lower and lower and key alliances with the West becomes more crucial, so has Zimbabwe’s anti-West sentiments dissipated. This perhaps explains how Mugabe lost the confidence of his party.

Coupled with the apparent influence of his secretary-turned wife, and his embarrassing old age, the party had enough to have acted before now.

Like in most African countries, they lacked the resolve and have now only made some cosmetic changes that could have been initiated without a military intervention.

This speaks to their sincerity of purpose and concern for the future of Zimbabwe. Maintaining the status quo must have been more profitable than doing what is right and reclaiming the respect of the world by sacking a president that routinely falls asleep during world conferences.

In Africa, self-interest is the key motivation in politics, and the protection of this self-interest, perhaps, led to this half-baked coup, the expulsion of Grace Mugabe from the party and Mugabe’s refusal to resign as expected.

If the examples of Mobutu Sese Seko of Congo, Muammar Gaddafi of Libya (albeit with external influence), Laurent Gbagbo of Ivory Coast and most recently, Yahya Jammeh of the Gambia are to go by, Mugabe may have to be forced out of power, even at this juncture where he has a golden opportunity to salvage some dignity in his exit.

Like all of them and many others, he is predisposed to clinging to power as he probably cannot imagine a life outside power, even at 93, after spending so much time at the helm.

His attempt to install his wife as leader of the country after him betrays the same politics of inheritance that has bastardised democracy in places like Congo, Togo and even somewhat in Kenya.

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His tenure is now more likely to end like that of Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and Blaise Compaore of Burkina Faso who were eventually forced to resign after initial reluctance like Mugabe now displays.

The West has labelled African leaders as power thirsty kleptocrats and African leaders continue to justify this description. Looking at the African situation, and opposed to other places, it would seem that shame is the missing ingredient for true democracy.

Leaders elsewhere resign for far less than many African leaders are ready to live with and it is therefore no surprise that many African leaders have to be practically forced out of office.

There are more long term African leaders on the continent – in Cameroon, Togo, Uganda, Equatorial Guinea etc – who have cemented their rules and are likely to exit through the same forceful routes. I guessed they should be on guard now.

It is a shame that tanks have been rolled out to the streets of Zimbabwe to expel the president’s wife. It is a greater pity that such a firebrand revolutionist of Mugabe’s stock could be easily sucked in by the “inner bosom” of a woman, who was married and his secretary at the time she started sharing the president’s (master’s) bed.

It adds to the farce of African political history and the ZANU-PF party needs to see this through if the military will not. The problem is that Mnangagwa himself is cut from the same cloth as Mugabe and this may just be motion without movement in the end.

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