Robert Mugabe

  • Sub-Saharan Africa
    Mugabe and the Zimbabwe He Left Behind
    Robert Mugabe, who ruled over Zimbabwe for 37 years, died on September 6. His was an undeniably epic life of glaring contradictions. He was a passionate voice for the liberation of the Zimbabwean people from the injustice and humiliation of white minority rule, but a brutal oppressor when those same people sought to exercise political freedom. For a time he helped to build a widely admired national education system, empowering citizens intellectually but then punishing those who used their intellect to challenge his dominance or question his decisions. He was a fierce nationalist and advocate of “Zimbabwe for Zimbabweans” who died in far-off Singapore, having long eschewed the inadequate medical resources of his country’s hollowed-out health system and adopted the elite practice of seeking medical care abroad. He helped to create a state that he then destroyed, and a system that ultimately destroyed him. Finally, he was the indispensable man who became an irrelevance. Once sure that his dominance and the country of Zimbabwe were inextricably linked, his death is of little consequence to that country today. When military officers and leaders in the ruling party ousted Mugabe in 2017, the system of repressive governance that protects a small circle of elites overran its foremost founder, casting him aside in its own interests. Today, the system persists. Opponents of the ruling party are harassed, tortured, and sometimes killed.  For many Zimbabweans, there is little relief in sight from grinding poverty and shrinking opportunities as a consequence of economic mismanagement intended to protect the connected few. The state-dominated media publishes outright falsehoods and wild accusations, often with the aim of instilling widespread fear.  This toxic system is Mugabe’s enduring legacy.
  • Zimbabwe
    Good Riddance to Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe
    “The good die young, and Robert Mugabe will live forever.” The well-worn phrase no longer applies to the Zimbabwean strongman. On September 6, he died in Singapore at the age of ninety-five.  During his thirty-seven years in power in Zimbabwe, he committed virtually every human rights violation there is. His hands were awash in the blood of Zimbabweans. Within the “liberation movement” that drove the white supremacist government of Ian Smith from power in 1980 (with considerable, if unacknowledged, assistance from apartheid South Africa, which was fearful that the bush war in Zimbabwe might spread south), he exploited ethnic differences to destroy his political enemies. Following independence, he waged war on the Ndebele people, who supported his political rival Joshua Nkomo, using North-Korea-trained troops. Fanning and exploiting racial and class differences, he destroyed the country’s economy, once on the cusp of being one of Africa’s most developed, driving out commercial white farmers. He bought some time by exploiting the country’s diamond riches in cahoots with Chinese companies. He largely perverted the country’s domestic institutions through violence and intimidation, even attacking the Anglican Church. By the time he died, Zimbabwe was an international pariah, an economic basket case, and many or most of the country’s most educated and productive citizens had left the country. Yet, Mugabe benefited from a remarkable Teflon quality. African leaders were loath to criticize him because of the view that he was a leader of Africa’s liberation. Western reluctance to recognize how evil he was is less obvious. A Western drive for “balance” in considering Mugabe was long-standing. When he first came to power, Mugabe preached racial reconciliation and moderation. Western observers, looking for an African hero, saw him as a democrat and reassured themselves that, after all, he was a Catholic (he was educated at a Jesuit school). Whether he ever was sincere in his democracy or his religion, is hard to know. Nelson Mandela was, of course, genuine in his devotion to democracy and racial reconciliation. Mugabe clearly resented him, and has consistently criticized him as “selling-out” South Africa’s blacks to white interests. But Western reluctance to criticize him endured, especially during apartheid South Africa's domination of southern Africa. Western reluctance may, in part, have also reflected guilt over colonialism and white racism. Even the Washington Post’s headline of September 6 trumpeted that he “helped liberate and destroy his country.” Destroy it he certainly did. But his “liberation” for far too many Zimbabweans was the liberation of death. He built a repressive security state that has continued on largely unchanged after a 2017 palace coup removed him from power. The coup was led by his eventual successor (and partner in crime) Emmerson Mnangagwa.  Mugabe’s death changes little for the Zimbabwean people, at least for now. He is likely to be remembered not as a “liberation” leader but instead as a salutary reminder that a single individual with great power and some allies can destroy a country. 
  • Zimbabwe
    Why Is Zimbabwe Starving?
    Long-standing financial troubles and drought in Zimbabwe have pushed millions to the brink of starvation.
  • Zimbabwe
    Recently Evicted White Farmer Gets His Land Back in Zimbabwe
    In what may be the beginning of a major policy shift in land policy from Mugabe’s regime, the Mnangagwa administration has ordered the return of Lesbury Farm in Manicaland to the Smart family, which had occupied it for eighty years. Manicaland is 165 miles from Harare near the border of Mozambique and is the second most populous province in Zimbabwe. In June, the farm was seized by heavily armed riot police from the Smart family and turned over to Trevor Manhanga, a bishop of the Pentecostal Assemblies of Zimbabwe and supporter of then-president Robert Mugabe. With the restitution to the Smart family, Chris Mutsvangwa—a leader of the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association and an ally of Mnangagwa—said, “Land reform is over. Now we want inclusiveness. All citizens who had a claim to land by birthright, we want them to feel they belong and we want them to build new country because the economy is shattered.”  Under the Smart family, Lesbury Farm employed at least one hundred people, providing a livelihood for hundreds more extended family members of those employed. The Smart family was popular with the local people, in part because it paid its workers on time. The wholesale destruction of the commercial agricultural sector by the expulsion of white farmers gravely damaged the Zimbabwean economy and drove up rural unemployment. If the white farmers are to return to the land, commercial agriculture might quickly recover, with reductions in rural unemployment. Further, the return of farms might reassure potential investors in Zimbabwe that the Mnangagwa government will respect property rights. Such a policy shift would be particularly welcomed by the right wing of United Kingdom Prime Minister Theresa May’s Tory party, which has long supported the white farmers as a “kith and kin” issue. The June seizure of the farm followed a Mugabe speech in which the president called for all of the remaining white commercial farmers to be expelled from their land. Mugabe had made expropriation of white-owned land without compensation a central platform of his regime. According to Mutsvangwa however, with the economy again in tatters, economic pragmatism is apparently trumping ideology.
  • Zimbabwe
    Sweet Deal for Zimbabwe’s Mugabe as Allies Face Jail or Exile
    Zimbabwean media is reporting the details of the settlement negotiated by Robert Mugabe and the generals who ousted him as president. The deal includes full immunity from prosecution for Mugabe, $10 million, half of which will be paid immediately, the other half to be paid in installments over several years, full salary, medical costs covered by the state, body guards and other security, and full protection of his private property. After he dies, his widow, Grace, will receive half of his salary as long as she lives. According to Zimbabwean media, the deal was brokered by Roman Catholic priest Fidelis Mukonori and banker Gideon Gono. Many details remain unknown, such as what will happen to Mugabe’s children, who are notorious for their extravagance.  Apparently, the sweet deal does not apply to Mugabe’s former henchmen. The new Mnangagwa regime has arrested Mugabe’s finance minister, Ignatius Chombo, and two leaders of the ZANU-PF youth league. Other Mugabe cabinet members have scattered and cannot be accounted for. Patrick Zhuwao, the former minister of public service and a Mugabe nephew, has fled the country. The new regime justified its coup by saying it was moving against the “criminals” around Mugabe, not the president himself. Hence, it is likely that a few high profile Mugabe collaborators such as Chombo will be brought to trial. The lavish personal settlement for Mugabe supports the military narrative that it moved not against Mugabe but only the “criminals” around him. Over the past year, the Zimbabwean economy has collapsed yet again. Estimates are that more than 90 percent of Zimbabweans live below the poverty line. There are pockets of hunger. Estimates of Mugabe’s personal wealth—now protected—exceed $1 billion. Yet, there is no visible outrage over the size of his settlement, a reflection of his continued mystique as the senior leader of Africa’s liberation from colonialism.  
  • Zimbabwe
    Zimbabwe Cabinet Appointments Disappoint
    Friends of Zimbabwe hoped that President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s cabinet appointments would signal a shift away from the tyranny of deposed president Robert Mugabe. Instead, Mnangagwa’s appointments have signaled continuity, not change. No members of the opposition were included, and the most important positions went to military personalities. The foreign minister will be General Sibusiso Moyo, who announced the coup against Mugabe while insisting that no coup had taken place. Air Marshal Perence Shiri, the head of the air force, is to be minister of agriculture and land affairs. Like Mnangagwa, Shiri was deeply involved in the massacre of Ndebele in the 1980s. However, Mnangagwa is showing some flexibility. In the face of public outcry from the teachers’ unions, he cancelled the appointment of Lazarus Dokora and replaced him with Paul Mavina, and he also annulled his appointment of Clever Nyathi as labor minister in favor of Petronella Kgonye. It is not clear, however, whether Nyathi has been demoted. He has been appointed special advisor to the president for peace and reconciliation, an area in which he has professional expertise. While Kgonye has been involved in controversial land deals in the past, Zimbabwe’s constitution and political practice calls for consideration of gender, and Kagonye is a woman.  On the positive side of the ledger, a Zimbabwean court acquitted Evan Mawarire of charges of “subverting” the government. His #ThisFlag movement had organized large-scale protests against the Mugabe regime. Observers were watching his trial as an indicator of whether the Mnangagwa regime would respect the independence of the judiciary. It is too early to draw any conclusions regarding the Mawarire acquittal, but it is still a good sign.  Thus far, the Mnangagwa regime appears to be a continuation of Mugabe’s, albeit with slightly more flexibility. Mugabe and his ZANU-PF retains popularity in the rural areas, if not in the cities. If Mnangagwa introduces even a few reforms that are immediately visible and impact positively on daily life, ZANU-PF may win credible election when they are next held. An example might be Mnangagwa’s making permanent the replacement of police by the army at checkpoints. The police generally demand bribes, the army does not—at least up to now.   
  • South Africa
    Mugabe Falls as Zuma Struggles to Hold on
    Zimbabwe and South Africa are adjacent geographically and share a parallel history, but they are radically different polities. Not least, Zimbabwe is a tyranny, and is likely to remain so for the foreseeable future. South Africa is a democracy conducted according to the rule of law. Nevertheless, there are similarities, particularly between the two heads of state. In Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe attempted to designate his wife, Grace, as his successor, while Jacob Zuma is sponsoring his ex-wife, Nkosanza Dlamini-Zuma, to succeed him as leader of the governing African National Congress (ANC) at the party’s national convention this month. In both cases, the choices appear to have been self-serving. Mugabe likely concluded that his wife could best protect his interests, and that of their children; in Zuma’s case, his critics plausibly view his motivation as avoiding criminal prosecution once out of office and protecting his considerable assets for his children. Both Mugabe and Zuma tried to insert their family members into the more or less mutually understood succession of a vice president to the presidency. In Mugabe’s case, his choice of Grace precipitated his removal from power by a military cabal within the governing movement, ZANU-PF. Will Mugabe’s downfall significantly influence the ANC party leadership race? It might. Mugabe had appeared invincible up until the moment of his resignation. Jacob Zuma, whose patronage/clientage networks and mastery of the internal politics of the ANC has enabled him to survive despite his deep unpopularity, has also seemed untouchable. But Mugabe’s fate shows that the fall can come quickly. Unlike ZANU-PF, the ANC has a significant, democratic dimension. Zuma’s successor will not be determined by a military cabal as Mugabe’s was, but rather by a party convention that will operate according to understood procedures. Zuma’s vice president and Dlamini-Zuma’s chief rival for the party leadership is Cyril Ramaphosa, who has significant party support. (It should be noted that Dlamini-Zuma is a significant political force in her own right.) Mugabe left office in the face of the threat of impeachment, which would have stripped him of his pension and all the other emoluments of a former chief of state. There are numerous grounds for impeachment of Jacob Zuma, which becomes a potential political reality if he loses control of the party. Like Mugabe, Zuma would probably resign in the face of likely impeachment, after which he would have to face the hundreds of charges against him. Will Zuma be able to continue his control of the ANC party machinery at the December party convention? If he can, then Dlamini-Zuma will probably win the party leadership, buying Zuma the ability to fill-out his presidential term, which ends in 2019. It is also likely that if the ANC wins the majority of seats in parliament in 2019, that Dlamini-Zuma will become the president. If however, deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa is elected party leader, Zuma will probably be required by the ANC to resign the presidency, though it might take some months for that drama to play out.  
  • Zimbabwe
    Robert Mugabe: Icon and Kleptocrat
    Zimbabwe’s founding father, Robert Mugabe, ushered his country into independence, then established a tyrannical regime and presided over the destruction of the economy. He was ousted in a November palace coup.
  • Zimbabwe
    Two Wives, One Robert Mugabe
    It is in the interest of the ZANU-PF regime, now headed by former vice president Emmerson Mnangagwa, that blame for Zimbabwe’s ills be shifted from deposed president Robert Mugabe to his wife, Grace. Mugabe is a liberation icon, popular all over Africa, and his ZANU-PF regime still rules Zimbabwe. Therefore, Mnangagwa’s regime will endeavor to keep Mugabe on his pedestal, not least because of his residual icon status with other African leaders. Further, the military is representing its coup as an “intervention,” not against the president, but rather against the “criminals” that surrounded him. This is a scenario of ‘Don’t blame the king, instead blame the “evil counselors,”’ of which the most important was his wife, Grace. The impeachment charges that drove Mugabe to resign included that he had failed to keep Grace and her associates under control, not that he himself had engaged in criminal behavior. In Zimbabwe, the “wicked Grace” narrative is balanced by the “Amai” (mother) narrative of Sally, Mugabe’s first wife. She was known for her charitable work, and was as popular as Grace was unpopular on the street. According to this narrative, it was after Sally died, to be succeeded by Grace, that Mugabe went off the tracks. So, the grotesqueries of Mugabe, especially his last years, were the fault of a woman—not of himself. It is a variation of the “Adam and Eve” narrative. The snake persuaded Eve to eat the forbidden apple, and Eve convinced Adam. So, to blame for the 'Fall' are a woman and a snake—not Adam. In fact, the tyranny of Mugabe was the result of his own political skill and ruthlessness, and his tight alliance with the military and veterans of the liberation struggle, or the Second Chimurenga. Neither Sally nor Grace played much of a role in his mismanagement of the country. After 2014, however, Grace began angling to succeed her husband as president. It is when the military and the war veterans became convinced that she might succeed that they moved against Mugabe. She nominally precipitated the coup, but its root cause was Mugabe’s insistence on maintaining control even as he visibly declined with age. Grace, however, was known for her shopping, not her politics. Rather than overwhelming presidential ambition, it is more likely that she was her husbands pawn to maintain his power as his health progressively declined. He was pulling the strings, not her.  
  • Zimbabwe
    Facing Impeachment, Zimbabwe's Mugabe Resigns
    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.   
  • Zimbabwe
    Mugabe Holds On
    Zimbabwe’s ruling party, the ZANU-PF, has expelled Robert Mugabe and it is demanding that he resign by today or face impeachment. On Sunday in an address to the nation, Mugabe made no mention of stepping down, and referred to chairing the next ZANU-PF convention in a few weeks. Negotiations between the military and Mugabe, supposedly facilitated by South Africa and a Roman Catholic priest, appear to be going nowhere. Meanwhile, Mugabe’s likely successor and former deputy, Emmerson Mnangagwa, has returned from South Africa. On the day of his address over the weekend, there was a huge (by Zimbabwean standards) anti-Mugabe demonstration in Harare. More details about the coup are emerging, though they do not change the fundamental narrative. The issue was a conflict within the ZANU-PF over the succession of Mugabe, who at 93 is visibly failing. One faction is close to the military and is headed by Mnangagwa. He is called “the Crocodile” and his faction is called “Lacoste,” after the clothing logo that uses the crocodile as its symbol. The other, called G-40, supported Robert Mugabe’s wife, Grace, to be his successor and includes politicians of a younger generation. Its name refers to its members’ age bracket, in contrast to Lacoste, which is dominated by politicians and generals in their 70s. When Mugabe came down on the side of his wife, the stage was set for the coup.  The definitive moment leading to the coup appears to have been the flight of Mnangagwa, first to Mozambique and then to South Africa, to avoid arrest after Mugabe removed him as vice president. This was apparently accompanied by Mugabe’s attempt to arrest the head of the army, General Constantino Chiwenga, at the Harare airport upon his return from China on November 12. The New York Times reports that Chiwenga had been tipped off about this when his plane landed, and his soldiers at the airport prevented the police from arresting him. The coup then followed on November 13 and 14. On his trip, Chiwenga may have briefed the Chinese of the impending military intervention.  It is becoming clear that the War Veterans Association, a political proxy for the military that enables it to maintain a “non-political” stance, played a major role. Its head, Christopher Mutsvangwa, went to Pretoria and briefed South African intelligence with the goal of persuading the Zuma government not to describe the foreseen military intervention as a coup, reports the New York Times. It looks like he was successful, as no South African official statements have used “coup” to describe the events in Zimbabwe. What happens next? The ZANU-PF dominates parliament, which is voting to impeach Mugabe either today or very soon. If he is impeached, it is unclear if he would accept the parliament’s decision and go quietly. Would the African Union and Southern African Development Community, which reflect Africa’s strong opposition to military coups, accept the impeachment as legal? Or would they continue to recognize Mugabe as head of state? African opposition to coups has become Mugabe’s strongest card. Another may be the police, with which Mugabe has cultivated a close relationship. A violent confrontation between the army and police could be a disaster. The best solution continues to be a bargain between the army and police in which Mugabe steps down from power, if not necessarily from office. There are no “white hats” in this drama. Mnangagwa was Mugabe’s enforcer. He directly participated in the 1980s slaughter of Ndebele rivals of Mugabe’s Shona ethnic group, and he is widely feared. Even if Mugabe goes, his regime does not, and there is little evidence that Mnangagwa would be any improvement from the perspective of human rights and the rule of law.
  • Zimbabwe
    Responding to Coups That Aren’t Coups
    Spokesmen are insisting that the military’s intervention earlier this week in which it placed President Robert Mugabe and his wife Grace under house arrest and took over the state television station is not a coup. Instead, the military maintains that its intervention targeted “criminals,” and it has good reason to say so. The African Union (AU) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) are strongly and explicitly against coups. In some developed countries, such as the United States, a coup can automatically trigger sanctions. Hence, most American administrations are often reluctant to identify military intervention as a coup in a country of strategic importance to the United States. For example, General el-Sisi led a coup in 2013 that toppled the recently democratically elected government of Mohamed Morsi in Egypt, and the U.S. declined to acknowledge that the intervention was, in fact, a coup. Egypt is a key U.S. partner in a volatile region, and sanctions would have undermined its relationship, rightly or wrongly. Whether or not we decide to call it a coup, when soldiers in fatigues takes over the state owned television station at 4:00 a.m. and announce that the president and his wife are under house arrest, and armored vehicles block roads to government offices, parliament, and the courts, it probably is a coup: ‘if it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck.’ Furthermore, the current head of the African Union, Alpha Conde, who is also president of Guinea, has commented that what happened in Zimbabwe is “soldiers trying to take power by force.” By any reasonable, objective standard, a military coup took place in Zimbabwe. The U.S. lawmakers who have commented publicly have taken the general line that the ouster of Mugabe is welcome, but the methods are not. Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) the senior Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, commented, “We obviously don’t like coups, but it’s time for the country of Zimbabwe to move on. I hope that they will find a democratic process.” Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ), who has lived in Zimbabwe, commented that Mugabe would be remembered “as a long-serving thug.” Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said, “[Mugabe] got more attached to power, more repressive in how he treated his people,” and was party to “rampant corruption.”  The U.S. State Department’s November 16 comment reflects the difficulty of dealing with a coup, even when the outcome is desirable: “The U.S. government is concerned by recent actions undertaken by Zimbabwe’s military forces. We call on all Zimbabwean leaders to exercise restraint, respect he rule of law, uphold the constitutionally protected rights of all citizens and to quickly resolve differences to allow for a rapid return to normalcy.” It assiduously avoided any characterization of the military intervention. For now, it is likely that the international community, like Zimbabweans, will accept the November 16 coup, especially if violence by the army and the police is avoided and steps are taken toward future restoration of civilian, democratic rule.  
  • Zimbabwe
    How the Situation in Zimbabwe Could Proceed
    In the aftermath of the November 15 military intervention, there are credible rumors that negotiations are underway at State House in Harare for a deal that confirms the transfer of power from Robert Mugabe while retaining him as a ceremonial head of state. Unconfirmed rumors suggest that the negotiations are including such major opposition leaders as Morgan Tsvangirai and ZANU-PF politicians that had been previously removed by Mugabe, including Joice Mujuru and Emmerson Mnangagwa. Under one scenario, the goal would be the establishment of a transitional government that would include representatives of the formal opposition; it would function like a government of national unity and prepare for genuine, democratic elections in the future, perhaps in two or three years. It would be headed by Mnangagwa, restored as vice president. To sweeten the deal, there would be guarantees for the well-being of Robert Mugabe and his family, but corruption investigations would still likely target supporters of his wife, Grace. The minister of finance has already been arrested, and other cabinet officers associated with Grace are in hiding. Such a deal requires Mugabe’s acquiescence and there is nothing in his past that would indicate that he would accept what would, in effect, be the loss of power. Further, Grace and her supporters in the ZANU-PF would be deprived of political roles. On the other hand, the situation is entirely new for Mugabe, who has never before been in the custody of the military. He might also consider that there has been no outpouring of support for him in the streets. His wife and children, widely hated for their abusive behavior and conspicuous consumption, at least in Harare, would receive immunity from prosecution, so there is a good chance that Mugabe will deal for his and their sake. The extent to which Grace can control or influence Mugabe in unknown. Certainly, as he has become feebler he has become ever more dependent on her. Would she accept political marginalization? What are her alternatives? (There are rumors, denied by the military, that she has somehow escaped house arrest and has fled to Namibia.)  If Mugabe refuses to deal with the military, the latter will face a dilemma. It could keep him and his wife under permanent house arrest and cut them off from contact with the media, though it is still unlikely it would depose him as head of state. This move would be risky, however. Mugabe’s base of popular support in the countryside has thus far remained quiet, no doubt awaiting the outcome of the negotiations. If the perception grows that their “icon” of the struggle against white supremacy, who transferred white-owned land to Africans and thus to whom they have to thank in part for the land they own, is being disrespected or abused by the military, rural grass roots opposition may develop.  The African Union and the Southern African Development Community, the relevant regional organizations, oppose coups as a matter of principle. Thus far they have been muted about the change. If the military government drags on, it will likely be subject to increased African and Western criticism. The longer there is no clear way forward, the greater the possibility that the impressive unity on display by the military could begin to break down and that the coup and its eventual opponents could move in a radical and violent direction. There is also the risk of igniting ethnic conflict, always smoldering below the surface in Zimbabwe. Mugabe is a Shona, and that ethnic group has typically been a part of his power base. Hence, the best outcome would be a deal between Mugabe and the military that strips him of power but retains him as a chief of state with all of the due honors in a transitional government that moves toward the establishment of democratic and legal norms. Once again, however, such a favorable outcome is highly dependent on Mugabe, and even if he does cooperate, there is no guarantee that Zimbabwean governance improves after the transition.  
  • Zimbabwe
    Military Coup in Zimbabwe Remains Bloodless
    As of today, the military seems to be firmly in control of Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare, after what appears to have been a military coup. Tanks and armored vehicles have been deployed and the streets are relatively empty, though banks and shops remain open. Thus far, no elements within the military have rallied to Mugabe and his wife, Grace, who are under house arrest at their private residence, though there are growing  reports of gunfire around the city. Were some army units to rally to Mugabe, the likelihood of violence would greatly increase. The ZANU-PF youth league has already pledged it is “prepared to die” for him. South Africa’s president Jacob Zuma has been in contact with Mugabe, who said that he and his wife are fine. Within the military, it is unclear who is in charge. It has made no announcement that Mugabe has been deposed from the presidency, it has publicly guaranteed the independence of the judiciary, and Harare newspapers continue to publish. Despite professions by military spokesmen to the contrary, this is, indeed, a coup. The military has seized the state television station, and while it is treating the Mugabes well, the president and his wife are its prisoners. The finance minister, Ignatius Chombo and the head of the ZANU-PF youth league have also been arrested, according to South African media. There is speculation, which is credible, that deposed vice president Emmerson Mnangagwa is behind the coup, and it would come as no surprise to many were he to assume control of the government. Mugabe’s removal of Mnangagwa to make way for Grace to succeed him likely precipitated the military’s move. Mnangagwa’s present whereabouts are unknown, but it is widely assumed that he is in South Africa. If Mnangagwa does take charge, he is likely to retain Mugabe as a figure-head. The fate of his wife and her supporters, called the G-40, however, is more problematic, as she clearly wants the presidency for herself. Neither Grace nor Mnangagwa are popular, but the latter at least has the military on his side. Further to that point, the coup is not a popular uprising. Rather, it is a “palace coup” within the governing ZANU-PF political party motivated by a struggle between two factions. The issue between the two is not one of policy but of who gets to cut the “national cake” (i.e. distribute state largesse) following Mugabe’s incapacity or death. Vice President Mnangagwa’s removal was a clear sign that the president had opted for his wife to succeed him. The perpetrators, apparently close to the ex-vice president within the ZANU-PF, include those who led the overthrow of white minority rule in 1980 during the liberation “struggle.” The G-40, the rival faction within the ZANU-PF, is led by Grace. It is of a younger generation that did not participate in the “struggle.” Further, Grace’s G-40 coalition is primarily civilian, while the older generation has strong ties to, and is made up of, the military. For now, Grace and her supporters seem to have been defeated. The coup-makers justify their action as a move to displace the “criminals around Mugabe,” but not to remake the current political and economic system, which has resulted in widespread poverty and economic chaos. There are no “white hats” within ZANU-PF; there is no evidence that Grace Mugabe and the G-40 would be any less rapacious and self-serving than the generation of “freedom fighters” they sought to displace.  It is too early to say what the popular reaction to the military move will be, if there is one at all. Mugabe and the ZANU-PF have successfully emasculated the official opposition associated with Morgan Tsvangirai and it is prone to division. Most viable to affect change is a street protest movement associated with Christian religious leaders that has used national symbols such as the flag to try to rally the nation against the regime’s human rights abuses and bad governance. While it looks to radical change, its goals and methods are not yet clearly defined. Aspects of it recall the early days of the “Arab Spring.” Mugabe’s response has been to arrest and jail the movement’s leaders and it is unlikely that the military will respond any differently. Nevertheless, the fact that there has been a coup, and that Mugabe has, in effect, been deposed, may open the range of possibilities for popular opposition.  Many Africans like to say that the era of coups is past, but Zimbabwe is currently facing one. Mugabe is an icon of African liberation across the continent. For many, he drove the whites out and distributed the land to Africans. (The reality is much more self-serving for Mugabe and his cronies, who personally benefitted from the land seizures.) Thus far, the African Union has made no public comment, though it is on record strongly opposing military coups. There have been statements from Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari, South Africa’s Jacob Zuma, and UK Foreign Minister Boris Johnson. They in one form or another call for restraint and avoidance of violence. China, Zimbabwe’s largest trading partner, has merely indicated that it is monitoring the situation. The strongest response has been from President Zuma of South Africa, who has said he will send a delegation to Harare and involve the Southern Africa Development Community, the regional security and economic organization. What these interventions can actually accomplish remains unclear.  
  • Zimbabwe
    A Coup Could be in the Works Against Zimbabwe's Mugabe
    The era of coups in Africa is supposed to be over. Nevertheless, one may be underway in Zimbabwe against the regime of nonagenarian Robert Mugabe and his wife, Grace. Army Chief General Constantino Chiwenga, along with ninety senior military officers, gave a news conference on Monday in which he said that the army will step in unless the “purging” of the country’s ruling ZANU-PF stops. Though the general did not mention Mugabe by name, the intervention was clearly a response to the president’s firing of his deputy, Emerson Mnangagwa. The move is widely seen as an effort to ensure that Mugabe’s successor will be his wife Grace. On Tuesday, armored vehicles were seen moving toward Harare, the capital, from the military barracks at Inkomo. At the same time, a statement from the ZANU-PF accused General Chiwenga of “treasonable conduct.”  The army will not tolerate the political leadership of those who did not participate in the “liberation struggle” that led to Zimbabwe ending white minority rule in 1980. Grace Mugabe, born in 1965, was a school girl at the time and did not participate in this “struggle.” Once in the State House typing pool, she became Mugabe’s mistress and then his second wife four years after the death of his first wife, Sallie, a Ghanian who was widely popular. (Mugabe claims that on her death bed, Sallie gave her blessing to the union with Grace; Zimbabweans love the ongoing soap opera.) They have three children together. Apparently, she is rapacious for personal wealth and is often called ‘Gucci Grace.’ The power balance between Mugabe and those around him and the military is opaque and always in flux. Many senior military officers have done very well out of the wholesale looting of Zimbabwe. Emmerson Mnangagwa was a leader in the independence movement and spent time in exile during the liberation struggle. Since liberation, he served in numerous high positions in Mugabe’s government, becoming vice president in 2014. Called the “Crocodile” for his cunning, he is widely regarded as Zimbabwe’s richest man. Are there issues beyond a Mafiosi-like fight over the swag from a looted state? There are. The army leaders, veterans of the “struggle,” represent an older generation. Grace, improbable though it may seem, represents a younger generation associated with reform. All over the country, the ZANU-PF dominates patronage/clientage networks. In general, Mugabe (and presumably Grace) remains very popular in rural areas, where he is credited with expelling the white farmers and redistributing their land to those that work it, but he is deeply unpopular in urban areas. Mugabe is one of the last remaining African liberation icons and is therefore above criticism by other African leaders. For their part, these other leaders tend to appreciate his outspokenness. For example, in his speech at the UN General Assembly, he characterized President Donald Trump as a “gold Goliath” because of his “attacks” on North Korea, presumably the “David” in this tableau. Many Africans share Mugabe’s view about American arrogance overseas, but are reluctant to express it. Hence, if the military does make a move, it would likely strip Mugabe of power but could still keep him as its figurehead.