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November 24, 2017

Exit Mugabe


November 24, 2017

The streets of Harare were flooding with celebrations after Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe resigned on Tuesday. The optimism on display is rather strange. Mugabe has been responsible for the economic misery of a country and the repression of political freedoms there. But responsibility for that must – in all fairness – be shared at the very least by 93-year-old Mugabe’s closest advisers. It is here that all the optimism must be dampened. Power has been transferred – via a military intervention – to Mugabe’s former right-hand man, Emmerson Mnangagwa, himself on the wrong side of the eight decade of his life. But it is not his age that is at issue. Mnangagwa is hardly a symbol of hope. In fact, he can be seen as a symbol of some of the worst excesses of the Mugabe regime. One of Mugabe’s old comrades from the liberation war that led to Zimbabwe’s independence, Mnangagwa was and is a key figure within Mugabe’s party, ZANU-PF. He has also served as the country’s spy chief and was vice president until Mugabe’s wife Grace ousted him two weeks ago in a Machiavellian manoeuvre that very evidently backfired. He escaped to South Africa while his close connections in the Zimbabwe Defence Forces orchestrated a military intervention.
The ZDF intervention – a bit too guarded to be called a direct military coup – was not about getting rid of Robert Mugabe. It is an ouster, but the aim is not to seize power for the military, but to transfer power to another member of the ruling ZANU-PF. Power is being kept within the narrow elite that has ruled Zimbabwe over the past decades. In the absence of any concrete progress on a unity government, which includes the opposition, there is little real change that can be expected. The Zimbabwe economy has been on the brink of collapse amidst sanctions since the early 2000s. The currency crisis in the country is only the tip of the iceberg. The country is trying to run on a mix of US dollars and Zimbabwe bonds,

both of which barely exist in the formal market. This is not an easy problem to fix. And Mnangagwa’s promise of job creation itself makes little sense without a fix to the currency question. It is a strange world now for Zimbabweans. No longer having his shadow over them is perhaps enough to give them hope. There was much to admire about Mugabe once; but there was also much more to despise. Knowing when to let go of power is an art, one that Mugabe never understood. At the end, Mugabe became a symbol for all that has become stale in Zimbabwe. The removal of that symbol might usher in more substantial change sooner than we might expect. Elections are scheduled for next year.

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