Time to put people first in Zimbabwe

‘Bloodless correction’ by the military has brought no celebrations and even with the likely end of the Mugabe era there is little reason for hope

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 18 November, 2017, 1:26am
UPDATED : Saturday, 18 November, 2017, 1:26am

The likely end of Robert Mugabe’s 37-year presidency should have brought Zimbabweans to the streets in celebration. Instead, the nation has been eerily calm and for good reason; there has been no dramatic shift of power back to the people. The military’s seizing control was not about it taking charge; it is an integral part of the ruling ZANU-PF party and its intervention was to end faction fighting. There is no suggestion ordinary citizens will be allowed a say in their future – yet that is the only way the crisis-hit country can move beyond the mess political incompetence has mired it in.

Coup was not a word the military wanted used for its actions. “Bloodless correction” was among the phrases its officers voiced for the house arrest of Mugabe, 93, the detention of associates and the encircling by soldiers and armoured vehicles of parliament and other key buildings. To have admitted to staging a coup would have meant Zimbabwe’s suspension from the African Union and Southern African Development Community, deepening the nation’s troubles.

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Mugabe’s misguided policies and the corruption of his government led five million citizens to leave, the economy to halve over the past decade and unemployment and poverty to soar. His decades of autocratic governance that ruthlessly eliminated rivals and ensured a weak opposition meant democracy was a facade.

Concern about the lack of an obvious successor has only increased with his failing health. This week’s dramatic events were triggered by his sacking of vice-president Emmerson Mnangagwa to pave the way for his unpopular wife, Grace, 52, who has a reputation for being unpredictable and vindictive and is not ashamed of flaunting her wealth.

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The coup was seen by some Zimbabweans as necessary, even though it further eroded what little was left of the country’s democracy. But the prospect of Mnangagwa becoming leader would also not be a joyous occasion; he has been a staunch backer of Mugabe’s policies. The best hope is enlightened rule that finally puts the people first, ensuring elections due in the first half of next year are truly democratic.