Mr. Robert Mugabe has been president of this Southern African country for 37 years. Now aged 93, he hss been boasting that he would cling to power “until God says ‘Come’”. Clearly, he believed that he would die in office. However, God and the country’s military had other ideas.
Last week, the military, led by the army’s chief of staff, Gen. Constantino Chiwenga, staged a show of force in the capital, Harare, that effectively confined Mugabe and his power-hungry wife, Grace, 52, to house arrest. Soldiers then poured into the streets, seizing the head offices of the state-owned broadcaster. Many believed a coup d’etat was in the offing. However, the military leaders quickly assured that it was not a coup, but a move to get rid of corrupt officials surrounding the president. Mugabe himself was “safe”, they said.
True, the military’s muscle flexing was not aimed so much at Mugabe as his wife whom her husband has been grooming to succeed him. Evidently, she was behind Mugabe’s sacking of former vice president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, two weeks ago. Meanwhile, she leads a powerful political machine called G-40 that she uses to silence ruling Zanu-PF elements opposed to her presidential ambition. Mugabe the military and the majority of Zimbabaweans could tolerate till he dies eventually, but not his wife, who has no part in the country’s heritage of decades of liberation struggle.
Evidence that what happened last week was not a carefully planned military putsch began to emergence few days after the frenetic troop manoeuvres of the first day. These have have reduced to a slow-match, an indication that the military were more interested in protecting one of their own, Mr. Mnangagwa, himself a former military chief, and to stop further purge of dissenting voices within the governing Zanu-PF, instigated by Mrs. Mugabe. That goal achieved, their next move was to persuade Mugabe to voluntarily give up power and they were prepared to give him time. That is why they let him attend a university graduation ceremony, protected by troops, in the capital on Saturday and make a broadcast on television on Sunday.
At the same time, the soldiers went to work on the ruling party to put the squeeze on Mugabe, an indication that they did not trust him to surender power easily. Its central committee voted this week to dismiss Mugabe as the leader of the party. He was then asked to step down as president or be impeached. Impeachment was something the opposition had atempted unsuccessfully severally. This time, however, it will be easier with Zanu-PF holding a comfortable majority in both houses of parliament.
There are several factors responsible for the military not going for an outright takeover of power. One, in spite of Mugabe’s dictatorial rule, he does enjoy cult followership inside Zimbabwe. His liberation war exploits have not been blemished by misrule and a crumbling economy resulting therefrom. Since independence in 1980, Zimbabaweans have not known any leader but Mugabe. Secondly, coups are not fashionable in the Southern African region. Indeed, coups are anachronistic on the entire African continent, made so by the popularity of democratic rule, warts and all. That is why the African Union did not waste time to denounce last week’s military intervention in Zimbabwe.
Thirdly, there is the big question of who to hand over power to once Mugabe is thrown out. The opposition in Zimbabawe is splintered and too weak to contend for power. The main opposition party, Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) of Mr. Morgan Tsvwangarai, backed by the country’s rich white farmers, does not appeal to black African voters. It was for those reasons that the military opted for a low intensity involvement but, instead, make the whole thing look like a power struggle within Mugabe’s Zanu-PF. It is instructive that the same meeting of the party’central committee earlier this week nominated Mnangagwa, a strong party apparatchik, as its presidential candidate for the 2018 general elections.
Coup or no coup, whatever method would rid rudderless Zimbabwe of its ageing but power drunk captain, without bloodletting, is welcome. Mugabe must go NOW.