By Okechukwu Keshi Ukegbu
Africa is in the news again. This time around, for negative reasons. Elements in the Zimbabwe Defence Forces in the evening of 14th November gathered in the nation’s capital, Harare, and seized some major institutions in the city, including Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation. Though the military have denied any coup intentions, political pundits are yet to come to terms with the intentions of the military seizing major institutions in the capital, and placing the president under house arrest.
The experience in Zimbabwe is one out of multiple situations where tendencies for serving African leaders to perpetuate themselves in power have generated tensions which have degenerated to either full blown wars or civil unrest. It is either the politics is partitioned along ethnic lines or the serving leader would want to perpetuate himself in power or cede power to either his spouse or ward when he is quitting the stage.
Africa had not recovered from the Kenyan political imbroglio when another political upheaval erupted in Zimbabwe. In Kenya, politics is defined by ethnic tensions.
This characteristic has been a major feature of Kenyan politics since the country achieved independence in 1963. The situation came to a head when in 2007, tribalism was so played up that over 1,000 persons lost their lives and thousands of others were displaced internally after national elections that were vehemently disputed. Since then, Kenya has remained a fragile political environment.
Today, emphasis and attention are shifting to Zimbabwe, where Africa’s longest-serving despot, Robert Mugabe, has held sway since 1980. Mugabe is a classical study in perpetuity in power. Tension had been brewing in Zimbabwe over who would succeed this 93-year old leader in power between two major contenders, embattled Vice-President, Emmerson Mnangagwa, who is allegedly backed by the army, and Mugabe’s spouse, Grace Mugabe, who is allegedly backed by the G40 faction.
In Zimbabwe recently, it has been intrigues and power play. A situation that led to the firing of Mnangagwa and his subsequent forced exile to South Africa. There has been rumoured poisoning of Mnangagwa during an August 2017 political rally led by the president and his airlifting to a hospital in South Africa for treatment. Though Mnangagwa pledged his loyalty to the ZANU–PF party and President Mugabe, adding that “the story spread by his supporters that Grace Mugabe had ordered the poisoning via a dairy farm she controlled was untrue”, Grace Mugabe was not satisfied with Mnangagwa’s refutal as she described Mnangagwa’s poisoning claims as ridiculous. She stressed that his comments about the August incident were part of an attempt to weaken the country, the power of the president, and divide ZANU–PF, since doctors had actually concluded that stale food was to blame. The jostle over who succeeds Mugabe had become so intense that Grace Mugabe claims that her supporters were constantly receiving threats that if Mnangagwa did not succeed Mugabe, they would be killed and that the faction backing Mnangagwa was plotting a coup d’état.Mnangagwa was also alleged to have consistently exhibited traits of disloyalty, disrespect, deceitfulness and unreliability.
The situation in Zimbabwe has divided the people along political lines. Mnangagwa has the strong support of the Zimbabwean army, which insisted that only a veteran of the war for independence would succeed Mugabe. It will be recalled that Mnangagwa was one of Mugabe’s last political allies who had stayed with him since independence in 1980.
The Zimbabwean army had earlier fired a warning shot, when during a press conference on 13 November, the Army Chief , General Constantino Chiwenga, had warned at the military headquarters that the army would intervene if their historical political allies continued to be targeted. He described recent events as treacherous shenanigans, adding that the military would not hesitate to step in if that was necessary to protect the Zimbabwean revolution. Chiwenga, while urging people to attend the December 2017 ZANU–PF party congress to exercise their democratic rights, said that the party had been infiltrated by counter-revolutionaries. He added that the infighting and purges in ZANU–PF had led to chaos and that there had been no meaningful development in the country for the past five years.
The situation in Zimbabwe has generated mixed reactions. Some political analysts are not comfortable with the excuses offered by the army- “ that they were targeting criminals around Mugabe responsible for the country’s socio-economic problems, and that after they achieved their aims, the situation would return to normalcy”- as a valid and genuine claim for striking. This is because of the antecedent of the military in intervening in power in Africa.
On various occasions, the military in Africa have offered reasons of bringing normalcy to the political system as a basis for their intervention in politics and afterward, they perpetuate themselves in power. A strong warning has gone to the Zimbabwean army to utilise this opportunity to supervise and midwife a transparent and credible transition process in Zimbabwe, to ensure that a democratically-elected leader is enthroned in the country. The same appeal goes to the Africa Union (AU).
This is also an ample opportunity for African leaders to have a rethink and shed any tendencies to perpetuate themselves in power. The sit-tight syndrome had in the past plunged most African leaders into untold disaster and should be discouraged.
Ukegbu writes from Lagos