An autocrat’s rule ends

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by Hans Dembowski

The military, not Mugabe is now running Zimbabwe

It looks like the Robert Mugabe era is coming to an end in Zimbabwe. The military has taken control, but its leaders deny that they have toppled the autocratic president who has been in power since 1980. His rule has definitely not been benign.

Indeed, Zimbabwe should be a sub-Saharan leader. It has fertile soils, comparatively strong infrastructure and an educational system with a good reputation. 37 years ago, at the end of the liberation war that brought to power Mugabe’s party, which is now called Zanu-PF, the outlook seemed promising. In retrospect, however, it has become obvious that Mugabe was a curse, not a blessing. His track record includes mass murder, hyperinflation and a cholera outbreak. Zimbabwe suffered stagnation and failed to grasp the development opportunities it quite evidently had.

It is too early to tell whether Mugabe, who is 93 years old, will formally stay on as head of state. It is quite clear, however, that he is no longer in power. The army claims it has taken him  to a “safe and secure place”. Whether he consented or not, is not known. What is known, is that Zanu-PF has lately been fracturing. One faction is led by his wife Grace, who obviously wants to become his successor. Military leaders do not consider her to be competent. Most recently, Emmerson Mnangagwa, the vice president, was removed from office and fled abroad. His ties to the military top brass go back to the independence war, just as Mugabe’s do.

The Army now claims it is targeting criminals who surround the president. Such statements surely indicate that the president himself is no longer in control. According to the Financial Times, a military spokesperson has said things will return to normal once the Army’s mission is accomplished. This is standard rhetoric during a military coup, so it doesn’t mean anything. Tanks on the streets of the capital city speak a clearer language.

Earlier this week, General Constantine Chiwenga, the Army commander, had announced that the military would not hesitate to protect the revolution. Apparently, he did not trust Mugabe, the revolutionary leader, to do so anymore. Nonetheless, he may want to keep the old man as a fig leaf.

It is impossible to predict where Zimbabwe is heading to now. Military coups normally cause more harm than good, but this time may be different. On the other hand, the country might also descend into chaotic violence.

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