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‘What happened in Zimbabwe is nothing but change in continuity’


Prof. Bola Akinterinwa

History was made in Zimbabwe yesterday when Emmerson Mnangagwa took over the mantle of leadership as President of the country, with the resignation of former President, Robert Mugabe, on Wednesday, following the intervention of the military, after 37 years in office. Mnangagwa, 75, would complete Mugabe’s term as until election in August next year. With many observers saying the new government is like a new wine in an old bottle, Mnangagwa having been part of the old order from inception, DEBO OLADIMEJI spoke to former director general of Nigerian Institute for International Affairs (NIIA), Lagos, and the chief executive of Bolytag Centre for International Diplomacy and Strategic Studies (BOCIDASS), Prof Bola Akinterinwa, on the situation in Zimbabwe and the solution to its beleaguered economy, among others.

How would you described what led to the new government in Zimbabwe?
That is what can be considered to be an unconstitutional legality, in the sense that the Army, as led by the army chief of staff, decided to remove an elected President from office.

The regulation, the guiding principle of the African Union (AU) is that under no circumstance would any forceful change of government, particularly government that has been democratically elected. be allowed. So, the action of the military is essentially illegal or unconstitutional.


But the issue is that they called it a non-coup. They say it was not a coup, as we understood it in Africa, because the military will not come to power to govern. In that sense, they gave a new meaning to coup. And I have said yes, if you say it is not a coup, it is still a coup d’état. It is a coup against the state. It is not against the individual, because you removed an elected President and you put him under house arrest.

Now, the legality there is that when Robert Mugabe was removed, he ended up voluntarily resigning. That is legal, which now paved the way for the appointment of his successor, President Emmerson Mnangagwa, his former vice president, who was about two three weeks ago removed from his position. Many observers have pointed to one argument that can at best be described as an accidental factor or sustained the augment that the profound rationale for the coup in Zimbabwe is not that.

Many people have argued that Mugabe wanted his wife, Grace Ntombizodwa, to succeed him as the next president, and that this has angered the military to stage a coup d’état. I think this argument must be taken with much caution. There are elements of truth in it, but people have forgotten that the Vice President who succeeded Mugabe yesterday has been having disagreement with Mugabe and was appointed by Mugabe as minister for National Security in 1980.
People have forgotten that he was also the secretary of the administration of their political party, the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front, (ZANU-PF). So, already the relationship between Mugabe and Mnangagwa has been that of hide and seek all along. They have even forgotten that the Mnangagwa, before he was made vice president, has been struggling from the position as administration secretary of the party.

Even when he was minister, he has lobbied for the position of the vice president. Being a lawyer himself, Mugabe has been putting him in strategic positions to sustain his administration. So, right from time, Mnangagwa himself has been eyeing not just the position of the vice president, but also the Presidency himself. He has been the right hand man of Mugabe.

Mnangagwa was trained as a lawyer and he was in the United Kingdom (UK), but he returned home to fight the colonialists and worked very closely with Mugabe, to the extent that when he was caught and tried, the colonialists convicted him to capital punishment, death penalty. But he was quite young at that time.

On compassionate ground, his death sentence was commuted to 10 years. He was one of the youngest people in the anti-colonialist struggle. That was what played in his favour and that was why Mugabe appointed him as minister for National Security in 1980, and he has occupied several other positions.

But the point I want you to note is that there is what we called the Gukurahundi massacre. Mnangagwa was the one who directed the massacre and they described it as a brutal crackdown on opposition supporters. Thousands of lives were taken in Matabele land and mid-land provinces.The last point on him is that the new President was given a nickname as a result of that: Ngwena, which simply means the crocodile. You know the popular saying, ‘Don’t shed the crocodile tears.’ They call him crocodile because of his fearsome power and ruthlessness. Those are his two main characteristics.


What is happening in Zimbabwe is nothing but change in continuity. Change of guards, personnel and actors. Nothing more than that! And the problems of Zimbabwe continue. At the end of the day, he was sworn in yesterday after he was sworn in as leader of ZANU-PF, which is the party in power.

You could see at the end of the day, he has said no trial, no embracement for Mugabe. They have provided for his retirement benefits and allowances. Dress benefit and all entitlements due to the President as constitutionally provided. They have given him all.And in this case, you could see that when they removed him from power, he was not put in any detention; they put him under house arrest, so he had his freedom. Even while he was under house arrest, he was still able to go to a university and take a befitting honour.

Even though he was made to resign and able to resign on time, he appealed to all Zimbabweans to come together. He said he was voluntarily resigning because he didn’t want to generate controversy. He didn’t want to make the transfer of power violent. It could be called old wine in a new bottle or new wine in an old bottle. All these are quite tenable. But the election of a successor would not likely solve the problems of Zimbabwe on the permanent basis.This is my take on your first question.

What do you think should be the focus of his government?
The assignment of the new President is how to begin well in advance, Zimbabwe without Mugabe.The argument is that he (Mugabe) had stayed for too long in power. Mugabe had supporters as well all that long period of staying in power. It is not that all Zimbabweans are against him. So, he has people who are still enjoying his existence as a Zimbabweans’ former president and are looking forward to him.

That means that the new President will have his own supporters. So, you will have two groups of followership that will be fighting and struggling.The way forward is for the incumbent leader to make proper pronouncements that he is the President of all Zimbabweans, including those who are with him and those against him. He is the President of everybody. That is how he should begin.He said he wants to create jobs, jobs, and jobs. Yes, but the problem is not as simple as that.

What should be the nature of his relationship with the international community?
The new President is lucky, because the international community was against Mugabe. They are giving him support because of their animosity vis-à-vis Mugabe.So, the relationship in the immediate future is likely to be quite rich. But in the distance future, Zimbabweans will quickly recognise that there is no smoke without fire.


The westerners have their own agenda. They have their own interests to protect, which to a great extent Mugabe put a barrier to. I think that in the foreseeable future, the international community is more likely to want to give support to the new President.

What should be the nature of his economic policies?
The GDP per capital of Zimbabwe declined in 2015 from $1,137 per capital income to $1,112, last year. But this year, under the same Mugabe, it increased from $1,112 to $1,150. When you look at all these points, you will discover that the economy of Zimbabwe is not in good shape. So, the new President has to take the challenge before he begins on creating new jobs. Creating new jobs is also an instrument for stabilising the economy.

What is your take on the agricultural policy of Mugabe?
His policy was so clear. What Mugabe did was to ensure that black Zimbabweans got good land. Before he took over as President in 1980, the colonialists divided land into five categories. Foreigners owned the most fertile lands, but he changed the law and gave the good land to Zimbabweans. The new President has no choice but to continue with Mugabe’s agricultural policy.

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