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Zimbabwe: After Mugabe, Looking Forward

AfricaFocus Bulletin
November 27, 2017 (171127)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

"While Zimbabweans understandably embraced military intervention because it led to the ouster of Mugabe and prevented his wife Grace from succeeding him, they must also embrace the fact that it comes with further, less palatable consequences. The episode demonstrated once again that the military is a critical arm of the state which has become the kingmaker in Zimbabwean politics." - Alex T. Magaisa

The trend lines for searches for Zimbabwe and for Mugabe both rose dramatically in the last two weeks (see for a Google search graph). Predictably, global attention has begun to decline. But the juxtaposition of hope and pessimism has been a recurrent theme, with varying degrees of nuance and depth.

While the consensus now seems to be that the transition primarily features continuing control by ZANU-PF and the military rather than more far-reaching changes, new President Emmerson Mnangagwa faces formidable challenges of economic crisis and high public expectation for meaningful change. Key tests over the next months are likely to be whether the new administration begins to address day-to-day economic issues and whether it refrains from closing off the space newly opened for free expression by the press, civil society, and ordinary Zimbabweans.

The two AfricaFocus Bulletins released today contain a selection of links and excerpts from commentators who provide insights going beyond most news coverage, both looking back and looking forward.

This Bulletin, looking forward, includes a summary report from Harare from IRIN News, additional links particularly on the economic challenges ahead, and excerpts from an essay written after the inauguration of the new President Emmerson Mnangagwa by commentator Alex T. Magaisa.

Another Bulletin, looking back, highlights a Reuters special report on the events leading to Mugabe's downfall, an article by Sarah Ládípọ̀ Manyika on the best (fiction) books of the Mugabe years, a short personal essay by Petina Gappah, one of the authors cited by Manyika, followed by excerpts from an extensive historical review by Paul Tiyambe Zeleza and from a passionate personal reflection by Leon Jamie Mighti. It is available on-line at

Also a very useful overview analysis is Tim Scarnecchia, "The New Old Man in Zimbabwe," Nov. 25, 2017 – direct URL:

This statement from civil society groups expresses widely shared sentiments, but implementation will be at best piecemeal. "Expectations of and Requests to the Emerging Government of Zimbabwe From the Civil Society in Zimbabwe," (Harare), Nov. 23, 2017

For a detailed news report on the economic situation facing Zimbabwe, see Felix Njini and Michael Cohen,"Mnangagwa's Task: Rebuild Zimbabwe's Economy From the Ground Up," Bloomberg, Nov. 23, 2017

Also including commentary and links on the economic options facing Zimbabwe is Patrick Bond, "Zimbabwe witnessing an elite transition as economic meltdown looms," Pambazuka News, Nov. 23, 2017

For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on Zimbabwe, visit

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++

Is Zimbabwe's new president up to the task?

IRIN, 24 November 2017 - direct URL:

President Emmerson Mnangagwa. Credit: IRIN file photo.           

Harare - After a tumultuous two weeks of political brinkmanship, Emmerson Mnangagwa was sworn in today as Zimbabwe's new president, replacing the ageing Robert Mugabe who has led the country since independence.

In his inauguration at a packed national stadium, Mnangagwa delivered a positive speech promising to "rebuild our great country", to crack down on corruption, strengthen the "pillars of democracy", attract foreign investment, and to hold elections as scheduled in 2018.

"He gave reassurances that he would re-engage international partners," said political analyst Ibbo Mandaza. "That is all because the international community is insisting on that because it's backing him."

But how much change is really on the cards and what are the major challenges ahead?

Mnangagwa, 75, will lead a deeply divided party, seemingly bankrupt of fresh ideas, but with the weight of the country's hopes for better times on his shoulders.

Mnangagwa served Mugabe for four decades as his enforcer and heir apparent, but after a spectacular falling out and dismissal as vice-president, he left for South Africa until a palace coup cleared the way this week for his return.

He arrived in Harare on Tuesday to rock star status as jubilant crowds cheered Mugabe's resignation – but it was novel celebrity standing for a man more usually feared as a former spy chief and ruling party hardliner.

Mnangagwa himself seemed swept up in the moment. He told supporters at ZANU-PF party headquarters: "I appeal to all genuine, patriotic Zimbabweans to come together; we work together. No one is more important than the other. We are all Zimbabweans."

Despite trying to cultivate a new, kinder image, the lawyer and former guerrilla leader repeated the same old revolutionary slogans at party headquarters, including "Pasi nemandu!" or "Death to the enemy!"

"Mnangagwa has a lot to prove," said Kuda Hove, a Harare-based lawyer. "People are already sceptical, because it's still ZANU-PF in form and deed."

Mugabe's exit "certainly represents the end of a painful era, but then it is also possible that Mnangagwa's entry could usher in a new error", he added.

National unity?

ZANU-PF looks set to govern alone. Mnangagwa has now spurned calls for the repeat of a coalition with the Movement for Democratic Change that led to a period of economic stability after deeply flawed elections in 2008.

The country's trade union movement and the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, a 115-member civil society grouping, had both urged the creation of a broad-based transitional administration until fresh elections.

"It is time to open a new page," said trade union secretary-general Japhet Moyo, and condemned what he fears will be the retention of "career ministers" by Mnangagwa, some of whom were well known "thieves and thugs".

Will next year's elections be free and fair?

"The military has helped steal elections before and there is no reason to suspect that it will not help [to do so] in future elections, whenever they are held," noted Mandaza.

Opposition MDC spokesman Obert Gutu said political reforms are urgently needed to remove the "pillars of repression and oppression" put in place by Mugabe, but added that he was "cautiously optimistic" that this could be achieved.

University of Zimbabwe political science researcher Eldred Masunungure told IRIN that any changes, especially to the working of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, would need time to be "internalised and institutionalised".

He said he feared Mnangagwa might "put big and heavy spanners in the reform works".

Elections next year could not come at a worse time for the MDC. Veteran leader Morgan Tsvangirai is gravely ill, and the succession issue within his party is far from settled.

he biggest challenge for Mnangagwa is the state of the economy. Zimbabwe has been in crisis for close to two decades. Unemployment is sky-high (90 percent is the oftencited figure, although the data is disputed), and there are biting cash shortages and crumbling social services.

Between 2000 and 2008 Zimbabwe's GDP nearly halved, the sharpest contraction of its kind in a peacetime economy, according to the International Monetary Fund. As a consequence, one in five Zimbabweans lives in "extreme poverty".

Mnangagwa recognises the challenge. "We want jobs, jobs, jobs!" he told the crowd at ZANU-PF headquarters. "We need also the cooperation of our neighbours in [the regional development bloc] SADC, the cooperation of the continent of Africa; we need the cooperation of our friends outside the continent."

The problem is that the structural reforms needed to attract foreign support will be painful.

The World Bank has called for a sharp reining in of public spending, including cuts to public sector salaries and moves to tackle Zimbabwe's debt. The country owes $9 billion to foreign lenders and has been in default for nearly 20 years.

"It looks like workers' woes might persist," said Tafadzwa Choto, who heads the Zimbabwe Labour Centre, a pro-workers NGO. "There is need to reconfigure parastatals (state-linked companies) and remove cronyism and nepotism, but this will not be easy for [Mnangagwa] because he has too many people to accommodate in the new dispensation."

Zimbabweans are expecting free – and improved – social services. Years of neglect have starved a once-proud health service, and left power and sanitation systems unable to cope with demand.

Rudo Gaidzanwa, a sociology professor, has a list of what she considers "essentials" for the government to spend its money on, and it's long – from better transport to refuse collection.

"The new government must also be able to provide free medical care and schooling up to secondary school, in addition to [better] housing and other infrastructure," she told IRIN.

Such high public spending would be diametrically opposed to the cost-cutting regimen the IMF and the World Bank has in mind.

Matabeleland massacre

The people of Matabeleland are a constituency Mnangagwa will struggle to win over. As minister of state security, he was responsible along with Mugabe and current Defence Minister Sydney Sekeramayi, for the killing of an estimated 20,000 Ndebele people between 1983 and 1987.

The campaign, known as Operation Gukurahundi (the rains that wash the chaff), was carried out by the North Korean-trained Fifth Brigade made up of mainly Shonaspeaking soldiers.

Whole villages were purged with incredible brutality for the merest suspicion of supporting a small dissident armed group backed by apartheid South Africa.

It still remains an emotive issue in Zimbabwe between the Shona and the minority Ndebele, who make up roughly 20 percent of the population.

"It is very important for the administration to acknowledge and address the issue of the Gukurahundi massacres as we have never felt a part of the nation since the genocide," explained civil society campaigner Dumisani Nkomo.


If Mnangagwa is to make headway with this long list of challenges, he is going to the need political support. But ZANU-PF is badly divided. The succession issue pitted Grace Mugabe and her so-called Generation 40 supporters against Mnangagwa's Team Lacoste. Key G40 members were on the military's arrest list when they rolled their armoured vehicles onto the streets.

The split within the ZANU-PF is also along regional lines. It was Mnangagwa's Masvingo and Midlands Karanga powerbase that challenged the continued rule of Mugabe's Zezuru Mashonaland-based clan. The Karanga are the largest Shona clan.

There are also concerns that the military's decision to step in to support Mnangagwa – despite their insistence (with one eye on the region and the other on Western donors) that it was not a coup – has reinforced its already influential position.

The hard truth emerging for many Zimbabweans is that they're already seeing strong similarities between the Mnangagwa era ahead and the Mugabe era that just ended, or as Mandaza put it: "The securocrats will remain in charge of state systems and processes, and the politicians will serve at their pleasure, as has been the case for a long time."


Legal charade threatens new government

Big Saturday Read, November 24, 2017

Alex T. Magaisa – Direct URL:

[Excerpts only]

November's drama

In Zimbabwe, November is known as Mbudzi, the month of the goat. Traditionally, it is a sacred month. No rituals can be performed during the month of Mbudzi. No matter how big the event, tradition prescribes that the month of Mbudzi must be avoided. However urgent it might be, it has to wait. It is ironic that the most dramatic political transition in a generation chose the sacred month as one mighty figure fell by the wayside, while another rose to take the throne.

Emmerson Mnangagwa became Zimbabwe's new leader at a grand ceremony in Harare on 24th November 2017. The event completed a dramatic series of events that began three weeks earlier when he was sacked as Vice President by his then boss, Robert Mugabe when he was President of the country. Mugabe stayed away from his protégé's crowning moment. The veteran politician's world collapsed on Tuesday 21st November when circumstances left him with no choice but to resign. After 37 years in power, his own party had commenced proceedings to remove him from office. It was a dishonourable end to a long and controversial career.

Mugabe's resignation followed an extraordinary military intervention on 15th November. There were mass protests on Saturday 18th November in Harare and Bulawayo, calling for Mugabe's resignation. On Sunday, Mugabe stunned the world when, against all odds, he refused to resign. This prompted an ultimatum from his party to resign or face impeachment. The party also sacked him from his position as leader. Unable to hold the tide, Mugabe was eventually forced to jump, his letter arriving midway through the joint parliamentary seating which was considering his removal.

Mnangagwa, who had taken temporary exile following his sacking, returned home on Wednesday 22nd November. Two days later, he was sworn into office as president. It completed a dramatic power struggle in the ruling party, ZANU PF, which revolved around Mugabe's succession. On the one side was G40, a faction which backed President Mugabe's wife, Grace and on the other, there was Lacoste, which favoured Mnangagwa. For a while, it seemed G40 had won the political battle, with Lacoste seemingly buried after Mnangagwa's sacking. Lacoste then made a stunning comeback when it invoked the force of the gun as the military intervened. In the end, the gun led the politics.

Rented power

While Zimbabweans understandably embraced military intervention because it led to the ouster of Mugabe and prevented his wife Grace from succeeding him, they must also embrace the fact that it comes with further, less palatable consequences. The episode demonstrated once again that the military is a critical arm of the state which has become the kingmaker in Zimbabwean politics. While the drama that accompanied the latest intervention surprised many people, it was by no means the first time that the military had played a decisive role in Zimbabwean politics. In 2008, the military intervened after Mugabe was defeated by his nemesis, Morgan Tsvangirai. The intervention ensured that Mugabe retained his position as president, but it also meant he would forever be indebted to the military. Despite the charade of elections, Mugabe's source of power was no longer the people but the military, who refer to themselves as "stockholders".

However, Mugabe seems to have forgotten this and when he saw the huge crowds that attended his rallies, he thought it was out of love and respect. He did not realise the majority of these people attended out of fear or coercion. He forgot that the power he was renting had landlords who could evict him at any time. They had stopped Tsvangirai in 2008 and now they evicted him and installed their own choice at a time when Mugabe wanted to promote his wife. ...

Futility of elections?

More importantly, the events of the past three weeks are a grim reminder of the reality that the military will step in to determine the course of politics, including the outcome of the next election. After taking such drastic measures to protect Mnangagwa, stretching and in some ways, breaking the boundaries of the law, it is impossible to imagine the military standing by and watching their preferred candidate lose an election and power. Not after taking such risks. Their intervention in 2008 was critical and without their intervention last week, Mnangagwa would not have taken the oath of office yesterday. The difference is that the 2008 intervention was widely condemned while the 2017 intervention was generally accepted and celebrated. Should it become necessary to intervene again if their preferred candidate lose in 2018, there will be nothing to stop them.

Nevertheless, the military might not even need to intervene in 2018 if Mnangagwa plays his cards right and does not squander the opportunities between now and the next election in less than 10 months. For someone who has come to power through a tenuous legal path, Mnangagwa is enjoying a huge amount of goodwill both among Zimbabweans and the international community. After years of suffering under Mugabe's rule, there are many Zimbabweans who are willing him to succeed because his success would translate into material benefits for them. They are tired of the politics and want to get on with their lives. Nations within the international community are also trying to place themselves strategically in relation to the country. Thus, there is promise of re-engagement between Zimbabwe and the West after years of a toxic relationship. China, Zimbabwe's all-weather friend is also hoping to maximise on its established position.

Opposition's new challenge

In addition, the irony of what has happened in the last three weeks is that it is now ZANU PF that has undergone radical renewal while the opposition is now stuck with the negative label of failing to embrace change. With Mugabe now off the stage, the "Mugabe Must Go" slogan is gone too. With the 93-year old gone, the argument that ZANU PF is led by an old man has also lost traction. ZANU PF is experiencing a new verve that it last enjoyed in the eighties, after a victorious liberation war. It is the opposition that is now lumbered with accusations of failing to renew and embrace change. The fact that ZANU PF has undergone leadership change is now placing enormous pressure upon the opposition to also consider a similar path.

Indeed, if Mnangagwa walks the talk and manages to create a picture of a country that respects the rule of law, property rights and civil liberties, he will begin to appear like a born again democrat in some eyes. In particular, if Mnangagwa delivers on the economic and social front, he could well win the next election without having to rig or rely on the gun. But rest assured, the gun will always be there in reserve, should it become necessary to prevent the loss of power. This belief that he can turn things around and the might of the gun behind him have given Mnangagwa the confidence to declare that elections will be held as scheduled – less than 10 months after assuming a long-awaited office. It's the conduct of a man who knows the momentum is with him. The opposition must now reorganise itself because this election will be a lot harder against Mnangagwa and the new ZANU PF that it would have been against Mugabe and decaying and disaffected ZANU PF.

Legal oddities

One of the most conspicuous features of these dramatic three weeks has been the persistent struggle that the authors of Mugabe's ouster have had over the legality of their actions. Right from the beginning, they have endeavoured to create a veneer of legality even where the boundaries of the law have been straddled. Hence, when took over the television station and announced their intervention, they included a disclaimer that it was not a coup. Even as Mugabe told South African President Jacob Zuma that he was under house arrest, the military still maintained a façade of civilian control. They allowed him to participate in the rituals of his office, including officiating at a graduation ceremony and even calling a Cabinet meeting when it was an exercise in futility. This performance was designed to demonstrate that the President was still in charge and that there had been no unlawful change of government, notwithstanding the fact that the military was the de facto authority.

However, efforts to create the veneer of legality continued even on the day that Mnangawa was inaugurated. Over at the courts, the Judge President, Justice George Chiweshe issued two court orders which can be summed up collectively as a legal oddity. The represent a desperate effort to present a façade of legality over the events of the past three weeks.

[detailed explanation in full article at The two court orders refer to nullification of the sacking of Mnangagwa by Mugabe on 6 November and to another court judgement that "effectively endorses an interpretation given by the military generals to section 212 of the constitution that it permits military intervention in the affairs of the executive in order to defend the constitution."]

All in all, if they are allowed to stand, both judgments may come to haunt Mnangagwa's government. The second order is more sinister because it gives an odd interpretation to the constitution and upsets the constitutional order by effectively legalising military intervention in the affairs of government. It says the military can take over governmental functions that would still be constitutional and legal. In the extreme form it is tantamount to legalising a coup. This is a dangerous precedent which upsets and undermines the command structure as provided for under the constitution. It is hard to imagine why any president would want a command structure that is upside down, where he must always look behind his back to check what the boys in uniform are doing.

It is prudent for the new government and any other rights groups to defend the constitution by referring this matter to the Constitutional Court, which is the highest court in the land, for a definitive and wiser interpretation. Otherwise, in a misguided effort to legalise the new government and sanitise the military intervention, this judgment actually creates a dangerous concoction which could poison the government from the very beginning.

AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

AfricaFocus Bulletin can be reached at Please write to this address to suggest material for inclusion. For more information about reposted material, please contact directly the original source mentioned. For a full archive and other resources, see

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