Too soon to celebrate downfall of Mugabe in Zimbabwe

Pressure must be kept on ruling Zanu-PF party if free elections are to be achieved

Zimbabwe's new leader Emmerson Mnangagwa told a cheering crowd in Harare that the country was entering a new stage of democracy following Robert Mugabe's removal as president after nearly four decades in power. Video: CCTV/Reuters


The collective elation and satisfaction of Zimbabweans at the decision taken by long-standing dictator Robert Mugabe to finally resign must be shelved quickly if real change for the country is their end goal.

While the country’s new president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, has in recent days made encouraging statements – he has told Zimbabweans they are “witnessing the beginning of a new democracy” and “we want to grow our economy, we want peace” – his political party has no democratic pedigree.

If Zimbabweans really want free and fair elections next year then stakeholders must keep up the pressure on the ruling Zanu-PF party to embrace the principles of good governance; otherwise, the country could slide back to dictatorial rule, because embracing notions such as doing what is right and fair, and being honest and telling the truth, are not things to which Zanu-PF officials are accustomed.

In addition, there is a worry that mobilising Zimbabweans to keeping their leaders in government honest is more easily said than done. The ruling regime has effectively oppressed its citizens for nearly four decades, so it is not like it has had any recent success in this area on which to draw.

Even Mugabe’s demise after 37 years in power cannot be attributed to the mass protests undertaken by the public calling for his resignation, or the pressure applied by opposition political parties, during the week-long military takeover.

Zanu-PF power struggle

Although the media outlets that beamed the unfolding events in Zimbabwe around the world used the country’s beleaguered citizens as a central plank in their story’s narrative, the people had little bearing on the political outcome that was achieved.

What the world witnessed was nothing more than the culmination of a long-standing internal Zanu-PF power struggle involving ruling party elites.

What happened was essentially this: the Zimbabwean army’s intervention was designed to tie Mugabe’s hands so he couldn’t continue to defend his untenable position, using state resources, from enemies within his own party.

Zanu-PF’s independence war veterans proceeded to take out a faction in their movement that had gained Mugabe’s favour and was threatening to usurp their grip on power. This faction, called Generation 40, was comprised of younger individuals who wanted to install Mugabe’s unpopular wife, Grace, as the country’s next president.

When Zimbabweans woke to a military takeover last week, the party that had oppressed their democratic and basic human rights for decades and had destroyed the local economy was still in power.

Mnangagwa is a Zanu-PF hardliner and a man whose intentions are notoriously difficult to read. To secure the legitimacy his presidency needs to gain international acceptance and investment, he must become a reformer, at least to some degree.

It really is too early to gauge the direction in which Mnangagwa and his supporters want to take the country. He has indicated that he will prioritise jobs and grow the economy, which will partially sate Zimbabwean’s craving for change.

Eddie Cross, Movement for Democratic Change MP for Bulawayo, wrote shortly after the military takeover started in Zimbabwe that Mnangagwa was not known as a corrupt individual and he had a clear understanding of what was required to get the country back on its feet.

“He also knows that for this to happen will require the support of the international community, which will not be an easy call,” he surmised.

Regional diplomatic sources told this reporter that many countries were willing to re-engage with Zimbabwe economically and politically if its new leadership showed clear signs of a willingness to embrace democracy.

This would involve Mnangagwa and the security forces establishing the rule of law, and then whatever transitional process is put in place in the short term would need to support the establishment of free and fair elections in the near future.

However, a huge obstacle to achieving these economic and political goals is the 75-year-old has been accused of overseeing appalling human rights violations over the years.

Many people believe he was the strategic mastermind behind the party’s disputed election victories in the 2008 and 2013, which were polls Zanu-PF stands accused of rigging. The earlier of the two elections involved widespread state-sponsored violence that left more than 200 opposition supporters dead.

Matebeleland massacres

The man nicknamed “the Crocodile” because of his ruthless nature is also believed to have orchestrated the Matebeleland massacres that Mugabe unleashed in in the 1980s, which effectively snuffed out the rival Zapu party.

Over a two-year period from early 1983, when Mnangagwa was Zimbabwe’s state security minister, at least 10,000 Ndebele civilians living in the south of Zimbabwe were murdered by the national army because of their perceived affiliation with Zapu.

He denies any involvement in these incidents. Nevertheless, Mnangagwa has a lot to lose if the International Criminal Court feels empowered by the country’s return to democracy and is called upon to investigate the allegations that have been made against him.

So is a man who is backed by the army and security services – as evidenced by the recent military takeover – likely to make himself vulnerable to prosecution by agreeing to hold free and fair elections next year?

Despite getting rid of Mugabe, Zanu-PF would do very well to stay in power if free and fair elections were held. The party is not popular.

Maybe the bitter pill that Zimbabweans will have to swallow is that to get both economic growth and free and fair elections over the next few years, then members of Zanu-PF and the military who were involved past human rights abuses will have to be allowed to get away with their crimes.

Bill Corcoran writes for The Irish Times from southern Africa

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