By Ojo Maduekwe
As one who only months ago became an observer of the politics in Zimbabwe, I had wondered why Zimbabweans, following decades of impoverishment brought upon the entire country by President Robert Mugabe’s government, failed to pull an Arab Spring on one of Africa’s longest serving presidents.
Over the years there were pockets of protest but none strong enough to topple the government. The reason is simple. During his reign, Mugabe had the backing of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces, ZDF, headed by Gen. Constantino Chiwenga, a long time ally, and had always used the ZDF to crush dissents.
Gen. Chiwenga was one of the least expected people you’d think would go against Mugabe, not to mention lead the military to topple his government. For many, what seemed like the ‘right’ calculation was that a deputy to be handpicked by Mugabe himself would succeed the president at his death.
It is why the news of the coup in Zimbabwe came as a shock to many. It’ almost certain the coup will pave way for Mugabe to step down, but, what is not certain is if his stepping down will lead the country back to democracy.
There are reports that a post-Mugabe Zimbabwe will usher in a transition government to be led by sacked former vice president Emmerson Mnangagwa. With a five year lifespan, the responsibility of this government will be to return Zimbabwe to economic prosperity and conduct a national election.
This arrangement sounds good, except that Mr. Mnangagwa and the military seeking to hand him the country uncontested are an integral part of the rot in Zimbabwe. Although welcomed by many in and outside of Zimbabwe, the coup was not done in the interest of the people, or was it to return the country to democracy; rather, it was done to protect the military’s interest.
It was the plan of Grace Mugabe to succeed as president that led to the coup. Mnangagwa, a veteran of the 1970s independence war, was likely to succeed Mugabe, until Ms Mugabe began leading a faction of the ruling ZANU-PF party known as the G40, and pushing for older members to be replaced.
The “Generation 40” is comprised of younger members of the party with little regard for entrenched interests like the influential war veterans, which through harassment, intimidation and violence has been able to suppress oppositions to Mugabe after the president appeased their threat of bloodbath by increasing their pensions in 2000. Like the war veterans, the military was also fed fat and so they fear that a Grace Mugabe would stop the flow of funds.
Even though the coup has the semblance of an internal party wrangling, there are hopes that the processes to returning Zimbabwe to normalcy will give back power to the rightful owners, Zimbabweans, since members of other political parties are expected to form part of the incoming transition government.
While Zimbabwe’s civil society organisations have called for a “clear and implementable road map”, for a “peaceful and constitutional resolution of the situation and the immediate return of Constitutional order and democracy”, former vice president Joice Mujuru has said that the only way Zimbabwe could transition was “through free, fair and credible elections”.
Anything short of this would return Zimbabwe to the Mugabe days and so must be resisted by Zimbabweans and the entire international community.
The military must return the country to the people; first through what is being rumoured to be an inclusive transition government, followed by a free, fair and credible election where Zimbabweans will elect their leaders.