The bloodless coup is being greeted with celebrations in Zimbabwe and recognition from around the world. But beware of empty revolutions that produce no democracy.
What is happening in Zimbabwe is not a revolution. Revolutions are led by people with vision. Rather, it is an outcome of a power struggle gone awry within Zimbabwe’s ruling party, after a leadership bid by the wife of the ailing President Robert Mugabe prompted a sacked Vice President to launch a countermove with the support of the Army.
Here is another African political upheaval that overthrows one dictator to bring in another. Hopes of a democratic order may soon wither away just as the Arab Spring in Egypt. Don’t get deceived by the military’s smile. In Egypt, too, the soldiers smiled, but soon they became the villains of the revolution and leaders of the counter-revolution.
In Zimbabwe, if Mugabe was the oppressor, the Army, which was founded on the independence struggle that Mugabe led, was his instrument. It was the fear of the Army that prevented the people from taking to the streets after Mugabe robbed the election victory of the then Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai in 2013.
Today, the sacked Vice President, Emmerson Mnangagwa, will take over as the interim president. But he is not a Nelson Mandela. Far from it.
A spymaster and loyal henchman of Mugabe, who resigned on Tuesday after ruling the country for 37 years, 70-year-old Mnangagwa has been associated with the Mugabe era human rights excesses. Human rights activists say it is unlikely that Mugabe could be hauled before the law, because Mnangagwa and the Army are equally responsible for the crimes.
Dewa Mavhinga, the director of the African division of Human Rights Watch, says, “Now that the military has been at the forefront of deposing one of its own, we should be mindful that Mnangagwa, the military leadership and Mugabe are cut from the same cloth. These are comrades and allies who have just turned against each other but whose system remains and continues....” Perhaps, the only difference could be that Mnangagwa, who is named in a UN investigation for the illicit exploitation of mineral resources in Congo, is identified as an advocate of liberal economic reforms. Apart from an expression of anti-incumbency feeling, the wild celebrations highlight Zimbabweans’ hope for prosperity which Mugabe failed to deliver. Nicknamed the “crocodile” because of his political shrewdness, Mnangagwa, in his speech on Wednesday, upon his return to Zimbabwe from a brief exile in South Africa, said, “We want to grow our economy, we want peace; we want jobs, jobs, jobs.” He declared that a new democracy was unfolding.
The capitalist world, where Mugabe has been demonised by the corporate media, is delighted in the hope that Mnangagwa will open the doors for transnational companies (TNCs) to exploit Zimbabwe’s minerals, its diamonds, gold, platinum, coal, iron, chromium, nickel, copper, lithium and tin.
Remaining as an obstacle to the capitalist’s invasion of Zimbabwe was Mugabe, a school teacher who rose to become a visionary freedom fighter before he developed a narcissistic personality disorder as he continued to cling on to power as president.
Mugabe felt that his socio-economic reforms programme would suffer, if he were to step down. He feared that those who wanted to oust him would hand the country back to neocolonial forces. In Zimbabwe, the whites owned 70 percent of the arable land. Mugabe’s social reforms included taking over the white-owned lands and redistributing them among the landless natives.
This does not mean Mugabe is an African messiah. He would not mind being called a Hitler by the West. “I am still the Hitler of the time. This Hitler has only one objective: justice for his people, sovereignty for his people, recognition of the independence of his people and their rights over their resources. If that is Hitler, then let me be Hitler tenfold. Ten times, that is what we stand for.”
Sadly, his vision became embroiled in his desire to remain in power and of late by his nepotistic bid – perhaps linked to a senile confusion -- to let his manipulative wife to take over the leadership. A meme by a Zimbabwean wag aptly proclaimed, “Leadership is not sexually transmitted.” However, Mugabe is widely respected in Africa. Now under house arrest along with wife Grace, he had been an icon in the 1960s and the 1970s. How many of us do remember white supremacist Ian Smith, from whom Mugabe, a committed Marxist, salvaged his country? Zimbabwe was an uncontaminated land with a civilisation dating back to many millennia. Southern Africa’s peace was disturbed in 1889 by the arrival of the white colonialists led by Cecil Rhodes of the British South Africa Company. Parts of Southern Africa were named Rhodesia after this native-killing, land grabbing, resource robber.
In 1923, Rhodesia became a self-governing British colony. In 1963, the northern parts of Rhodesia comprising the present day Zambia and Malawi broke away. This led to the white racists in southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) hardening their rule. On November 11, 1965, Ian Smith proclaimed a unilateral declaration of independence. But Britain, the colonial master, refused to act against him.
It was during this period that the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) led by Mugabe and the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU) led by Joshua Nkomo, operating from bases in Mozambique and Zambia, led their war of independence. The guerrilla war forced the Smith government to cave in and grudgingly offer independence in 1979. Mugabe’s ZANU-PF (Patriotic Front) won independent Zimbabwe’s first free election in a landslide.
Mugabe promised a Utopia for Zimbabweans, but it never came because of his outdated idealism, large-scale corruption and economic sanctions imposed by the West. More than 75 percent of the Zimbabweans are living in poverty. Many have left for South Africa and other neighbouring countries to escape the miserable life. The economic hardships have pushed the people to clamour for change. But Mugabe was adamant. In the aftermath of the political crisis following the 2013 elections, he declared, “Only God can remove me.” Unlike the West, China had been a staunch supporter of Mugabe since his revolutionary days. Apart from growing economic ties, the leaders of the two countries were also ideologically close. So much so, during a visit to Beijing in 1980s, Mugabe publicly chided Deng Xiaoping for undermining Mao Zedong’s policies.
But of late, China has found that Mugabe had become a difficult customer. Beijing was not happy with Mugabe’s indigenisation law, which required all foreign companies to be controlled by Zimbabweans.
China has welcomed the power transition to Mnangagwa, who had his guerrilla training in China. It is also significant that the Zimbabwe’s bloodless ‘coup’ came days after Army Chief Constantino Chiwenga returned from a visit to China. However, Beijing has dismissed reports that it had a hand in the removal of Mugabe.
For Zimbabweans, the party has just begun and it will go on till the presidential election in September 2018. But to prevent abuse of power, they should demand more checks and balances in the constitution.