Army unseats Zimbabwe’s Mugabé | Sunday Observer

Army unseats Zimbabwe’s Mugabé

Mugabe’s change in fortune!
Mugabe’s change in fortune!

Donald Trump last week returned from his lack-lustre Asian tour to an America reverberating to accusations of sexual harassment and even child sexual harassment against politicians, media and film celebrities. Meanwhile, one of Africa’s legendary anti-colonial freedom fighters was shoved aside from power in disgrace over his utterly corrupt rule in recent decades.

Robert Mugabe, the 93-year-old President of Zimbabwe, who has ruled that impoverished nation with an iron fist for nearly 40 years, was pushed out of power last Tuesday by a military coup. At present Mugabe, once revered as the ‘father of the nation’ for his leadership of the freedom war against White colonial rule, is under house arrest at his private residence in Harare while negotiations are under way within his own political party in the search for alternative leadership.

Mugabe is the last of many Black African leaders of the 1960s and 70s who led bitter freedom struggles, even insurgencies, to break out of the European colonial empires that gripped and exploited that vast continent for over 300 years. From Algeria in the north to the Senegal in the west, to Congo and Uganda in the centre and South Africa, Zimbabwe and Tanzania (among many others) in the south of the continent, those early decades after World War 2 were illuminated by powerful and flamboyant African personalities, some erudite intellectuals and others toughened guerrilla leaders who led their nations to freedom.

Mugabe rose to fame first as a Leftist guerrilla leader within the networks of liberation movements spending years in the jungles of southern Africa fighting White colonial regimes in that region. Uganda, Zimbabwe, Tanzania and Mozambique all overthrew colonial rule in the 1970s earlier than South Africa itself. The South African Communist Party’s guerrilla forces then based themselves in these neighbouring countries to continue with their struggle to end European domination under Apartheid.

The African National Congress (ANC) which has governed South Africa since the Apartheid is a unified coalition of progressive parties under the leadership of the SACP of Nelson Mandela. Mugabe was a respected comrade of Mandela and other African leaders in that network of liberation movements.

But since coming to power in 1980 under a British-style pailiamentary system, Mugabe proceeded to transform Zimbabwer into a ‘socialist’ one-party state and thereby cemented his rule for the next several decades. This ‘permanence’ in power ultimately served to corrupt not just Mugabe but also the ruling political party, the Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF).

By the 1990s Mugabe’s crude ‘socialist’ model was collapsing from corruption, mismanagement and poor planning, a stark contrast with the equally socialistic but far better planned economies in those countries around it. By the 2000s, inflation was over 100 per cent and soon went even higher.

What was once a prosperous colonial economy reliant on export crops and minerals was reduced to a tourism economy as productivity collapsed due to gross mismanagement and corruption. The ruling party managed to remain in power because of its reputation for progressive social reform in the immediate post-colonial years which saw rapid improvement in health, education and land ownership.

It was this social development that really sustained the ZANU-PF’s popularity and ensured Mugabe’s hold on power.

In the past year, however, much of his own party as well as his former guerilla comrades now in the leadership of the Army, became impatient with Mugabe’s seeming desire to install his second wife as his successor. Second wife Grace Mugabe, some 32 years younger, had been a typist in the President’s Office when Mugabe decided to marry her on the early death by illness of his first wife. Grace Mugabe had never been part of Zimbabwe’s freedom movement – being too young – and hence did not win the respect of the party or the armed forces.

When Mugabe chose to expel some of his political rivals in ZANU-PF, including potential political successors, to make way for Grace Mugabe, that prompted the Army to act last week. First the military leadership publicly accused of ‘criminal elements surrounding the President’ of corrupting and misguiding Mugabe and then acted to arrest these ‘criminal elements’ namely corrupt party officials of younger generations grouped around second wife Grace.

Given the close anti-colonial relations among their leaderships, the countries of southern Africa, led by South Africa, are now intervening in Zimbabwe to ensure that there is a smooth transition of power that leaves out Mugabe but does not uproot the ZANU-PF regime as a whole.

The Army’s move has received popular support from millions of Zimbabweans whose once flourishing economy was in a state of collapse. The Army itself has indicated that it was wanted to hand back power to a civilian regime once a successor leadership has been negotiated. Certainly, Grace Mugabe has had to give up her illegitimate aspirations to rule.

Many observers are noting that China, Harare’s biggest backer, may have played a quiet role behind the scenes in ensuring the removal of Mugabe who has been one of their staunchest allies in Africa but whose clinging to power had deeply undermined the economy. It is likely that Beijing realised that ditching Mugabe was better than sustaining an unpopular and unsuccessful dictatorship that could upset everything.

Meanwhile, in the United States, President Donald Trump has to deal with mounting charges of sexual misconduct by his Republican Party’s senatorial candidate for a crucial US Senate seat for Alabama state. One-time state judge Roy Moore whose Repuclican candidacy was originally seen as a winner, is now confronted with charges of sexual harassment, including sexual advances to under-age girls, and his poll ratings are declining.

Trump, whose own presidential race was marred by similar accusations of sexual harassment by over a dozen women, now finds himself unable to defend Alabama candidate Moore due to his own guilt. This now hold up the prospect of a possible Democrat win of the Alabama seat in the US Senate, thereby tilting the vote in the upper house in favour of Democratic Party.