from Africa in Transition

Facing Impeachment, Zimbabwe's Mugabe Resigns

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe during the summit of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) in Johannesburg, August 17, 2008. Mike Hutchings/Reuters

November 21, 2017

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe during the summit of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) in Johannesburg, August 17, 2008. Mike Hutchings/Reuters
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Robert Mugabe

Sub-Saharan Africa

Robert Mugabe resigned by means of a letter to the speaker just as parliament began debating his impeachment today. Earlier today, President Ian Khama of Botswana penned an open letter to Mugabe urging him “to do the honorable thing by voluntarily relinquishing power.” Khama was blunt: “the people of Zimbabwe have for a long time been subjected to untold suffering as a result of poor governance under your leadership. It is therefore my conviction that by vacating the Presidency, this will usher in a new political dispensation that will pave the way for the much needed socio-economic recovery in Zimbabwe.” As Khama acknowledges, an open letter is “not the normal method of communication between leaders.” Nor is it normal for one African chief of state to criticize publicly another. Botswana, it should be noted, is also a democracy conducted according to the rule of law, unlike Zimbabwe.

Emmerson Mnangagwa, the vice president whom Mugabe fired, also called on the president to respect the “will of the people” and resign. Contrary to earlier reports, he remains outside of Zimbabwe at an undisclosed location. He is saying that he fled because of a plot against his life, and that he will not return until his personal safety is guaranteed, by whom was left unsaid. Now he will likely return post haste, as he is slated to be sworn in as president in the coming days.
Negotiations between the military, led by General Constantino Chiwenga, and Mugabe had been underway since he was placed under house arrest. Speculation had been that whatever deal was reached would include the return and reinstatement of Mnangagwa as vice president. One scenario had been that at a decent interval, perhaps at the December ZANU-PF congress, Mugabe would resign and Mnangagwa would become president. But such was the pressure on Mugabe from elements within the military and his party, as well as from the Zimbabwean people, that Mugabe concluded that resignation was the only way out. The fate of his wife, Grace, and his sons remains unclear. Mugabe’s resignation provides the military with a much-needed fig leaf of legality to cover what had in fact been a military coup.

Up to now, the coup and Mugbe’s future have been an internal matter within ZANU-PF, but there were increasing popular demonstrations in Harare calling for Mugabe to go. The military and Mugabe himself may have concluded that it was no longer possible for ZANU-PF to keep the Zimbabwean people out, and the popular demonstrations indicated that they wanted him to go; this was confirmed by celebrations in the streets and in the house of parliament after learning of his resignation.

President Khama of Botswana is correct in his assessment of the Mugabe regime. The ZANU-PF, formerly led by Mugabe and soon to be led by Mnangagwa, resembles in some ways a criminal conspiracy or a Mafioso organization. Most of the leading ZANU-PF actors in the Zimbabwe drama are under U.S. and EU sanctions for human rights violations, including Mugabe, Mnangagwa, and some 200 other political and military figures and their affiliates. However, the coup and Mugabe’s departure shows that change is possible, even as Mnangagwa, cut from the same cloth as Mugabe, is set to succeed him. It is too soon to tell what direction Zimbabwe will now take, but in the short term, continuity of governance is the most likely. 

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