The post-Mugabe era in Zimbabwe
The apparently seamless and bloodless transition programme in Zimbabwe, which has stunned the world, is one more testimony that Africa is indeed rising in positive direction. Most powers outside the poorest continent expected Zimbabwe to be bloody last week. Thankfully, such expectations were cut off because of the remarkable skills the soldiers and power elite just displayed in the southern African country. Yes, in Zimbabwe where the world’s oldest head of state was resourcefully removed after 37 years in office and power. It is significant still that no life was lost. No one was detained. No fatal accident occurred. No sporadic shots were fired during the most bloodless coup making in African history.
What is more intriguing, even while the power-must-change hand coup was being executed in Harare, the nation’s capital, soldiers were seeing cuddling, playing and taking selfies with children and their mothers in the streets where armoured vehicles were placed by military and defence authorities. This is why the global authorities should recognise the special, peace-building and conflict resolution skills of the military, that same military establishment, which allegedly sustained Mugabe the teacher, the revolutionary and tyrant in office.
We say this given what some military authorities elsewhere have done to democracy with their corruptible, correcting fluid. In some cases, the military after seizing democratically elected powers in bloody coups, stayed put for so long, to the extent that another set of coup makers would seize powers from overstayed coup makers and turn their countries sometimes into army republics. Not so for the Zimbabwean army the same Mugabe nurtured. They did not seize power. They defended even a rickety democracy and the constitution of the country, which the former President Mugabe failed to respect when he arbitrarily sacked his deputy, Emmerson Mnangagwa who was sworn in as President last Friday in Harare. The soldiers, not many had known did much more: they worked through the ruling Party, ZANU-PF, they allowed to sack the then president and expel his inordinately ambitious wife from the party, which had earlier begun an impeachment process in Parliament before Mugabe resigned.
Besides, while this strange coup was on, the soldiers did not sack Mugabe from office. They all0wed him to preside over a graduation (ceremony) in the country. They did not withdraw all courtesies and full protection due to the power-drunk president. They respected Mugabe while this drama lasted as the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces until he resigned. Never in the history of coup making has this happened anywhere in Africa, a hotbed of palace coups and all anti-democracy influences.
This is not a celebration of military politicians in Africa. It is just some recognition of a fact that there is a strange military and defence system in Zimbabwe, which respects the African Union’s Constitutive Act that prohibits forceful overthrow of an elected government. No, it is not an endorsement of military establishment role in political development. This is to draw attention to something we all can learn from in the traumatised continent where soldiers have become bogeymen and bugbears to democracy and good governance.
Besides, Zimbabwe, despite all the blight in Mugabe years, is still teaching us that a military system can be a defence mechanism for a stable democracy in the military coup-prone continent. The political event in the former Southern Rhodesia, therefore, underlines why most African leaders should begin to reform their military and security institutions to reflect professionalism that the Zimbababwe’s military establishment has showcased to the world.
That is not all about the complicated story of Zimbabwe. In the main, the rise and fall of Mugabe, the man, and Mugabe the institution may have created an interesting challenge for chroniclers and leadership study modules. And so the peaceful removal of Zimbabwe’s legend has inevitably triggered an opportunity for the ‘Office of the Citizen’ in the country to nudge the new regime towards democracy, reconciliation and development.
Before his ouster, the 93-year-old institution became an international byword for corruption, state-sponsored murder and staggering incompetence that turned his once prosperous country into an economic basket case, especially in the western media. But the history of the pariah status of Zimbabwe cannot be obliterated in a twinkling of an eye.
Mugabe came to power in 1980, after waging a successful guerilla war against Ian Smith’s white-minority government in what was then Rhodesia. He was jailed for 10 years over an alleged “subversive speech” he made in 1964. After his jail term in 1974, Mugabe’s spirit was not broken: he relocated to a neighbouring country, Mozambique to continue his crusade for freedom of his people. He was even in Ghana, West Africa as a teacher and student in Kwame Nkrumah’s Ideological Institute where he honed his skills for liberation struggle. At Independence in 1980, the teacher and revolutionary was elected prime minister and six years later, he was elected president.
It should also not be forgotten that Mugabe’s first decade in office remarkably improved the lives and welfare of his people. And the world highly regarded the freedom fighter as a worthy leader of his people. He was also credited at the time with remarkable investment in education leading to a rating of Zimbabwe as one of the highest literacy levels in the continent.
Besides, it should not be forgotten too that trouble actually began for Zimbabwe and Mugabe in 1979 when the Lancaster House Accords agreed to an equitable compensation in the distribution of farmlands that were held by mainly the British in the country. Despite justification for the policy, the British government failed to honour its own part of the agreement. And so when Mugabe resorted to self-help in defence of his people’s heritage, did his own land reform, other western powers joined Britain, demonized Mugabe and subsequently imposed severe sanctions against Zimbabwe. But the freedom fighter began to lose steam here when absolute power began to corrupt him so absolutely and refused to organise his party for succession politics.
He thus fell into the hand of adversaries over land matters as the old man became intolerant and repressive. Behold, when the sanctions began to bite hard, even the new landlords could not invest in and benefit adequately from the fruits of the land. What is more complex, the more the international pressure was piling on Mugabe and Zimbabwe on the land issue, the more the old man became desperate about the expediency of regime protection, sadly at the expense of the wellbeing of his people.
What is worse, at this juncture, the power elite represented by other leaders tagged as “war veterans” who have curiously believed it is their birthright to rule Zimbabwe forever because they fought for its independence fervently backed Mugabe. These are part of the complications in the Zimbabwe chronicles that most young ones in the continent may not understand, in the circumstances.
Meanwhile, at a time, Mugabe spoke of racial reconciliation and was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize but followed up with a violent land grab of Zimbabwe’s white-owned farms, which he handed over to Zimbabweans as he had promised. That is also why a young South African commentator at the weekend wrote a short, comical but significant line, which puts in some context the significance of the controversial land reform of Mugabe to Zimbabweans. According to the anonymous South African, ‘‘Mugabe left his people with land and resources, Mandela left us with quotes and poems.”
This is just part of the long history of Zimbabwe, now being reported as a land of lost opportunities. But there is a glimmer of hope as a new helmsman, a very experienced and educated member of the old setup, Emmerson Mnangagwa has been sworn in as president.
Despite his long association with a brutal government that presided over Zimbabwe’s decline, the former vice president promised democracy and reached out to other countries for help last Friday.
The new president has also promised he would create jobs and make efforts to attract foreign investors. He said land reforms that led to the violent seizure of thousands of white-owned farms from 2000 would not be reversed, but promised compensation.
Promises are not so credible in this continent of so many unimpressive leaders. So, the new leaders in Zimbabwe should hit the ground running in this period of rebirth for the country. They should acquire a great deal of emotional intelligence that will allow them to reconnect with the suffering people who need food, shelter and jobs at this time. The new leaders at all levels should note that the people of Zimbabwe would not tolerate another affliction from their leaders anymore.
In the main, the new Zimbabwean leader, Mnangagwa who has promised the people free and fair election should keep this covenant with the people. Besides, party and political leaders should note that they will be exalted if they are excited to hand over to a younger generation that can rebuild the country’s broken walls. And so, they should not fall prey to the temptation that has afflicted the Cuban Revolution where development seems to have been arrested by failure of character of their late hero, Fidel Castro who handed power over to his brother instead of a brand new generation that can drive development and innovation in Cuba. All told, Mnangagwa should at 75, be concerned about reconstruction, reconciliation and nation-building governance issues, not politics of self-succession and elongation through amendment of constitution and electoral laws. That is an ignoble way of most African leaders who should learn some lessons too about the life and times of Mugabe who actually did not end well, despite his revolutionary efforts for Zimbabwe.
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