…As Mugabe’s exit looms
By Emma Emeozor
Despite having a Bachelor of Arts degree (combined honours) in History and English, embattled President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe may not be a good student of history. This explains his inability to interpret the writings on the wall and quit the arena when the ovation was loudest. After 37 years in power, the 93-year-old war hero and comrade is being booed from office.
He immediately presents a contrast to former South African President Nelson Mandela, who voluntarily stepped aside in his high noon. Though John Emerich Edward Dalberg-Acton wrote his famous “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely” in 1887, it would seem he also had in mind the likes of Mugabe and other sit-tight African leaders.
Unlike military coups in Africa when the President and his cabinet are sent packing and a new government installed, the Zimbabwean Army, which took over power Wednesday, was magnanimous to recognise him as the country’s leader and negotiate an exit with him. Zimbabweans dubbed the military action a “bloodless correction of power.” For almost six days running, there has been no advancement due to Mugabe’s defiance, insisting he remains the country’s bona fide leader. He addressed the nation yesterday but failed to resign as anticipated.
It is without argument that Africa has come of age and, therefore, military intervention as a means of regime change should not be allowed. However, the situation in Zimbabwe created a platform for the Army to act, as there were clear signs that the country was sliding into anarchy. Mugabe had thrown to the winds the pledge he made 40 years ago, when he mounted the saddle. At the time, he said: “I wish to assure you that there can never be any return to the state of armed conflict, which existed before our commitment to peace and the democratic process of the election under the Lancaster House agreement. Surely, this is now time to beat our swords into ploughshares, so we can attend to the problems of developing our economy and our society.
“My party recognises the fundamental principle that in constituting a government it is necessary to be guided by the national interest, rather than by strictly party considerations. Only a government that subjects itself to the rule of law has any moral right to demand of its citizen’s obedience to the rule of law.”
The derailment of Mugabe and the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) from the rule of law began when “Mugabe started arresting prominent opponents in 1982 and killing their supporters in 1983.” It was then clear that the government was bent on turning the country into a one party-state and installing a totalitarian regime. But how could Mugabe have easily turned himself into ‘Emperor’ and made Zimbabwe his kingdom for 37 years, to the extent that the squabble over inheritance had to tear the country apart?
Having ruled for 37 years, Mugabe’s wife, Grace, was poised to take over from him. Within a space of four years, he has sacked two vice presidents.
He sacked Vice President Emerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa on November 6. Mnangagwa was tipped as the next President to succeed the aging Mugabe. Ironically, Mnangagwa succeeded Mrs. Joyce Mujuru, the country’s first female Nice President, who was sacked in on December 9, 2014. The President reportedly accused her of plotting to overthrow him, an allegation she denied. She would later form a political party to challenge Mugabe.
What was Mnangagwa’s offence? The President had accused him of “disrespect, disloyalty, deceit and unreliability.” But Mnangagwa’s sack became the last straw, as it sent shock waves across the country, igniting outrage among supporters of the deposed Vice President, who chose to fight back.
David Blair writing in the London Telegraph had observed that Mugabe wanted to “rule Zimbabwe unchallenged for the rest of his life. His favored technique for guaranteeing his dominance was to build up potential successors only to destroy them.”
The only potential successor the President had failed to destroy was his wife, Grace. The questions that came to mind when the drama started unfolding on November 6 were: Would Mugabe’s doomsday manifest in 2018 when the country elects a new leader? Will he hand over power to his wife or contest again as was being speculated? Whatever the speculation then, analysts had argued that a coalition of Mugabe’s disgruntled ex-aides and the opposition would end his rule. Interestingly, the opposing forces gave way to the military.
How not to be First Lady
Watchers of Zimbabwean affairs, particularly the power play that provoked the military intervention, would argue that the First Lady was to blame for the ignoble fall of her husband. Apparently, Grace and her clique had taken advantage of the President’s age and failing health to position her for the office, and Mnangagwa’s sack was a ploy to clear the way for her to succeed her husband as stepping-stone to achieving her goal of being nominated as President in the 2018 election.
She had reportedly launched a scathing attack on Mnangagwa less than 48 hours before his dismissal. Addressing an audience at a church gathering on November 5, Grace Mugabe called for Mnangagwa’s sack.
She said: “His head must be crushed. I have said I will personally make sure disciplinary procedures are followed to deal with Mnangagwa, even if everyone in the party is scared. I will not be intimidated.”
Prior to the church meeting, an ugly incident had played out on November 4, when Mnangagwa’s supporters booed her as she blasted the ex-Vice President in the presence of her husband at a ZANU-PF youth rally: “I don’t care whether you boo me . . . You were paid to boo me but I will say it as it is even if you bring soldiers with guns I will say the same thing. Stop it, whatever you’re doing.
“We had previous vice presidents and we never had any problem in the party. When these two people came in (Vice Presidents Mnangagwa and Phelekezela Mphoko), there was chaos and disorder in the party. But the chaos is not coming from VP Mphoko.
“As women, we now want to reclaim our position in the Presidency. VP Mnangagwa even knows that his current position is reserved for women.”
Now, it is the President’s head that is being crushed. Mrs. Mugabe is beginning to learn new lessons in ‘political manoeuvering’as Mnangagwa and his supporters have turned the tables against the Mugabes.
Reports said since the military takeover on Tuesday night, the once cocky and boastful First Lady has not appeared in public. There were unconfirmed reports that she had fled to Namibia. She has since realised that her husband, after all, was fallible and subject to the will of Zimbabweans. Certainly, the fall of the Mugabes is a pointer to wives of African Presidents on how not to be a First Lady. It is also a pointer to African Presidents on how not to fall under the spell of their wives and turn governance to an instrument of sustaining “marital bliss.”
After his wife ended her speech lashing at Mnangagwa, the Mugabe reportedly questioned the choice of Mnangagwa as VP.
“Did I make a mistake in appointing Mnangagwa as my Vice President? If I erred I will drop him by end of day tomorrow. If he and his backers want to form their own party, so be it. We cannot have a party of friction and personal insults,” he warned.
Mugabe said this on Saturday and by Monday, Mnangagwa and eight other were expelled from the party.
At another forum, he had accused Mnangagwa of consulting prophets on his (Mugabe’s) death. He told Mnangagwa that the VP would die before him.
Today, Mugabe, who had spent his prime liberating his people from the anguish of colonialism and, therefore, deserves a lifetime honour, is being hounded from office. Fate has turned against him to the extent that even the ruling ZANU-PF, which he held firmly under an iron grip over the years, has abandoned him. Yesterday, the party formally announced his sack as its chairman. Mnangagwa was named as his successor. Also, Grace Mugabe was relieved of her position as chairman of the women’s wing. On Thursday, the party’s youth wing leader, Kudzanai Chipanga, apologised to the military for attacking it earlier for putting Mugabe under house arrest. The overwhelming support the military received from the people became an impetus for the public insistence that it’s a deal done for Mugabe to quit.
Mugabe and the army commander reportedly faced a second round of departure talks yesterday.
“This will be the second meeting as their talks continue on the long-time leader’s departure,” a report said.
The broadcaster quoted Catholic priest, Fidelis Mukonori, who was called the chairman of the negotiating team. Others on the negotiating team include acting intelligence director Aaron Nhepera and Mugabe’s spokesman George Charamba.
There was no mention of the South African envoys who took part in the first meeting earlier in the week, according to the report. Meanwhile, the country’s lawmakers have said they would pursue impeachment when Parliament resumes tomorrow.
Zimbabwe’ll never be the same again
Whatever the outcome of the on-going negotiations between Mugabe and the military, Zimbabwe will never be the same again. The country has begun its transition to true democracy. The “Mugabe Tragedy” has posed a challenge to the country’s politicians and it is hoped they will get over it and come out fully prepared to move Zimbabwe ahead. They must draw inspiration from Ecclesiastes 3, which says there is “a time to tear down and a time to build” and “a time to tear and a time to mend.”