Zimbabwe’s longtime leader Robert Mugabe, who has compared himself to Adolf Hitler, declared nearly a decade ago, “Only God, who appointed me, will remove me – not the MDC [opposition party], not the British. Only God will remove me!” It turns out that God did not have to remove Mugabe. Zimbabwe’s military has removed the 93 years old ruthless dictator from power and placed him under house arrest. Although denying that they had engaged in a military coup, the army also took over the state broadcaster ZBC headquarters and blocked access to government offices.
Mugabe earned a reputation as a freedom fighter against British colonialism and white minority rule. After serving a ten year jail sentence for “subversive speech,” he led guerrilla forces in a battle for independence from Great Britain of what was then known as Southern Rhodesia. After independence was achieved in 1980, with the country taking the name Zimbabwe instead of Southern Rhodesia, Mugabe served as its prime minister until 1987. Then Mugabe became Zimbabwe’s president. He has ruled Zimbabwe ever since with an iron fist, while plunging his country into an economic wasteland with an unemployment rate presently of over 90 percent. The military has protected Mugabe all these years. Rigged elections, rampant corruption, economic meltdown and severe crackdowns on dissent did not matter to the military. However, Mugabe’s poor health and his moves to place his wife on a fast track to succeed him finally caused the military to turn on him.
Zimbabwe’s Major General SB Moyo tried to downplay the military’s action. “We are only targeting criminals around him who are committing crimes that are causing social and economic suffering in the country to bring them to justice,” he said.
What may have been the last straw for the military was Mugabe’s decision to fire Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa last week on the grounds that he was allegedly plotting against Mugabe. Mnangagwa had been considered Mugabe’s most likely successor until Mugabe fired him and began purging his supporters, which Mugabe reportedly did to clear the way for his wife Grace Mugabe to succeed him. The head of the armed forces, Constantino Chiwenga, had warned of the possibility of military intervention to end the purge of supporters of the ousted vice president. “We must remind those behind the current treacherous shenanigans that, when it comes to matters of protecting our revolution, the military will not hesitate to step in,” Chiwenga said in a statement read to reporters on Monday.
The old guard from the independence era resented Mugabe’s plan to have his much younger wife succeed him rather than Mnangagwa. Mnangagwa, aged 75, dates back to Zimbabwe’s fight for independence and was until recently considered an ally of Mugabe. “Before November’s takeover, some army generals publicly said that they will not allow someone who did not fight in the independence war to rule the country after Mugabe, seemingly a reference to Grace Mugabe,” _Aljazeera_ reported. They apparently believed that Mugabe’s wife Grace, 52, was manipulating him to get rid of any rivals who might stand in her way of taking over the reins of government.
Although Grace Mugabe is popular within the powerful youth wing of the ruling ZANU-PF party and has led the women’s division of the party, some Zimbabweans resent her extravagant lifestyle and political ambition. Back in 2014, she declared at a rally, “They say I want to be president. Why not? Am I not a Zimbabwean?” Just recently, on November 5th, she said that she was prepared to succeed her husband. On November 6th, Vice President Mnangagwa, her last remaining rival to succeed her husband, was fired.
According to a statement purporting to be from the ruling ZANU PF party, the ousted Vice President Mnangagwa has assumed the leadership position at least for now. The statement reads as follows:
“There has been a decision to intervene because our constitution has been undermined, in the interim Comrade Emmerson Mnangagwa will be President of ZANU PF as per the constitution of our revolutionary organisation.”
“Last night the family was detained and are safe, both for the constitution and the sanity of the nation this was necessary.”
“Neither Zimbabwe nor ZANU are owned by Mugabe and his wife. Today begins a fresh new era and comrade Mnangagwa will help us achieve a better Zimbabwe.”
“There was no coup, only a bloodless transition which saw corrupt and crooked persons being arrested and an elderly man who had been taken advantage of by his wife being detained.”
There have been reports that Mugabe has agreed to relinquish his powers in return for assurances by the military that his wife will be allowed to leave the country for a “safe haven.” She may have already taken refuge in Namibia.
The Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, issued a statement calling for “all stakeholders to address the current situation in accordance with the Constitution of Zimbabwe and the relevant instruments of the African Union, including the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance.” He added that “it is crucial that the crisis is resolved in a manner that promotes democracy and human rights, as well as the socio-economic development of Zimbabwe.” The African Union had previously criticized the military’s action as “clearly soldiers trying to take power by force” and demanded “constitutional order to be restored immediately.”
The African Union’s words ring hollow in this case because under Mugabe there were no human rights or democracy to speak of, and he defined the so-called “constitutional order” as he saw fit. The African Union had no trouble rewarding this dictator with the chairmanship of its organization in 2015.
The full dimensions of the military’s action are still unfolding. So far at least, the military has been able to avoid violence, but the next few days will be very telling as to Zimbabwe’s future direction. If, as seems likely, Mugabe does not return with his full powers intact and his wife is barred from succeeding him, the country could go down the road of some sort of unity government with the opposition or it could possibly descend into civil war.