A lot has been going down in Zimbabwe, which before this week was so politically stagnant it was the butt of jokes only among policy wonks, and not even all of those. But Zimbabwe’s 93-year-old President Mugabe has now been forced to resign after 37 years – the entire independent history of his country – in power. How did this happen?
The general consensus is that Mugabe’s generals – his comrades-in-arms from the revolutionary struggle, who are the key stalwarts of his political party, and who still profess loyalty to him personally – enacted a bloodless coup to get Mugabe out of power, before he could transfer the presidency to his wife, rather than the vice president. What is so objectionable about Grace Mugabe, now the former first lady, that the incredibly loyal military was willing to make so public a move?
Although widely reviled by the public for her generally undiplomatic mannerisms and especially her extravagant spending, the military’s problem with Mrs. Mugabe was mainly her lack of revolutionary credentials and lack of loyalty to the revolutionary cadre, aka the military. Where she is now is not known, and what will happen next to Robert Mugabe will involve money and immunity, though the which is better than other deposed leaders often get.
For all those celebrating in the streets in Zimbabwe and globally, however, cheering is likely not going to last long. This coup is not in service of democracy, for all that it was bloodless, party and government impeachment procedures were initiated according to law, and the vice president has now been officially sworn in as president. The vice president, now the new president, was President Mugabe’s enforcer for years and has almost as strong a military/revolutionary pedigree. He is known as the “Crocodile” and as is generally true of any leader whose best allies are the military, free speech and democratic freedoms are not necessarily the likeliest next steps. Hopefully, though, economic improvements will be, which is likely why the military clearly got regional and global allies on board before moving for regime change. Stay tuned!