Zimbabwe’s Political Breakthrough

Marie Gerges ‘19, Staff Writer

HARARE, ZIMBABWE—President Robert Mugabe ruled Zimbabwe for thirty-seven years before his resignation on November 21st. Beginning in 1980, the same year that Zimbabwe declared its independence from Great Britain, Mr. Mugabe’s presidency spanned the entirety of the nation’s post-colonial history. The abrupt end of his tenure arose as a result of a feud between rival political factions and increasing disaffection among citizens.


The Power Struggle

On November 6th, Mr. Mugabe fired his vice president, Emmerson Mnangagwa. A few days later, he attempted to arrest Zimbabwe’s top military commander, General Constantino Chiwenga.

After learning that Chiwenga would soon return from China, Mr. Mugabe dispatched a police force to the airport. There, Chiwenga’s troops, disguised as baggage handlers, overwhelmed the police and aborted Chiwenga’s arrest.

Mr. Mugabe’s attack on two figures connected to the military raised fears that he would crack down on Lacoste, a political faction composed of military backers and war veterans. Lacoste’s rival faction, G-40, was led by Mr. Mugabe’s wife, Grace Mugabe. Fearful that Mr. Mugabe would attempt to pass the presidency to his wife by eliminating her opponents, soldiers stormed the Mugabes’ house and sentenced the couple to house arrest.

On November 19th, government officials expelled Mr. Mugabe from ZANU-PF, Zimbabwe’s dominant political party, on the grounds of cronyism and corruption. The officials threatened to impeach Mr. Mugabe unless he resigned by the following day.

In a twenty-minute televised speech, Mr. Mugabe conceded that Zimbabwe was “going through a difficult patch,” but refused to resign. The next day, thousands of citizens took to the streets of Harare, rallying against Mr. Mugabe. Finally convinced that his long-standing power was slipping away, Mr. Mugabe announced his resignation.


Zimbabwe’s Uncertain Future

In a surprising reversal of fortunes, Mr. Mnangagwa , who was previously fired as vice president, was appointed as Mr. Mugabe’s successor on November 21st, 2017. The announcement of Mr. Mnangagwa’s appointment attracted thousands to the capital city of Harare, where civilians marched with soldiers in a rare show of solidarity.

On November 24th, Mr. Mnangagwa addressed sixty-thousand overjoyed Zimbabweans at the National Sports Stadium. Mr. Mnangagwa promised to purge the country of its “poisoned politics” and represent “all citizens, regardless of color, creed, religion, tribe, totem or political affiliation.” Mr. Mnangagwa also specified several objectives he intends to fulfill to save Zimbabwe’s economy, including the protection of foreign investment and the creation of jobs through subsidized businesses.

As the shock of Mr. Mugabe’s resignation subsided, however, some citizens expressed skepticism regarding their new leader. Mr. Mnangagwa had, after all, worked with Mr. Mugabe for decades. In 1982, Mr. Mnangagwa had participated in the government’s massacre of thousands of dissenters, because of which opponents call him the “Crocodile.” Mr. Mnangagwa also assumes control of the country at a financially catastrophic time; unemployment stands at 90%, and interest and inflation rates are soaring.

In order to help his nation recover from economic depression, Mr. Mnangagwa must address domestic issues while earning back the support of the international community. Mr. Mugabe’s brutal repression of opponents, particularly members of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), caused the E.U. to sanction Zimbabwe and prompted the Commonwealth to expel the African nation. Mr. Mnangagwa has pledged to hold fair elections in 2018; he must remain committed to his word if he wishes to elevate Zimbabwe’s reputation and promote democratic ideals.

Factions and political opposition, two inevitable facets of a state, resulted in the military coup and, ultimately, Mr. Mugabe’s resignation. When tempted to follow in the footsteps of his predecessor by suppressing opponents, Mr. Mnangagwa must remember the role that opposition played in his ascent to power. As James Madison wrote in The Federalist No. 10, “the causes of faction cannot be removed…relief is only to be sought in the means of controlling its effects.” Unless Zimbabwe’s politicians learn to cooperate with rivals for the welfare of civilians, the nation will remain mired in economic depression and political strife.