ZIMBABWE, THE SAME OLD AFRICA STORY
Africa, more than anywhere else across the world, events tend to
turn into a farce. In Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, labelled by some as
the “old elephant”, was finally demoted after 37 years in power by
his former deputy president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, known as the
“crocodile”, or ngwena in Shona. While Bob’s wife, Grace Mugabe,
dubbed “Gucci Grace”, lately “Dis-Grace”, whom he had chosen to
succeed him, has fled to Namibia.
Bob is 93. Increasingly senile, he didn’t want to give up power and planned to pass it on to his young spouse, a former secretary of his and 41 years junior of his husband. That’s why he kicked his deputy out to pave the way for the advent of Grace. But the military stepped in and the old elephant was defeated by the crocodile. During the days of the liberation struggle Mnangagwa was illiterate and is now 75.
The three main actors of this African comedy are responsible for the tragedy affecting Zimbabwe. 95% of its citizens are unemployed and 70-80% live below the poverty line. Mugabe, whom to date has been the only president of Zimbabwe since independence in 1980, leaves a country in shatters. But the next in line has been at his side for the past four decades, sharing his policies, the misappropriation of the country’s riches, the abuse of power. Emmerson Mnangagwa is a resourceful individual, he has been capable of siding with the winners all the time, that is until he came at odds with the president’s wife.
What is happening in Zimbabwe is nothing new under the sun in Africa. The continent is full of dictators, autocrats that enrich themselves while the people stay poor. These same rulers choose to perpetrate their grip on power and pass it onto their families, turning into odd monarchies. Some of these dictators rule until their death, like Omar Bongo in Gabon, who was replaced by his own son, while others find a premature end, as Muammar Gaddafi. Others instead, like Tunisia’s president from 1987 until 2011 Ben Ali, manage to escape before it’s too late. Ben Ali took off with yet another young spouse with a penchant for luxury, Leila Trabelsi.
Unfortunately Robert Mugabe didn’t make it to the top of the list of long-standing rulers. With his 37 years in power, he is in the good company of Gaddafi and Bongo, both leading with 42 years at the helm. But we all know records are there to be beaten. A good candidate is Teodoro Obiang in Equatorial Guinea, who leads the country with the iron grip since 1979. He is followed by Sudan’s Omar Bashir, in power since 1987 and who continues to rule his country despite an arrest warrant by the ICC nobody wants to enforce, and by Chad’s Idriss Deby.
Although Africa has witnessed all sorts of rulers, Mugabe is still a world apart.
The betrayal of the heroes
Robert Mugabe led his country to independence against the racist Rhodesia ruled by Ian Smith. He was a marxist revolutionary and a political opponent who spent time in jail before evolving into a “moderate” and a “democrat”. He gradually began to betray his own people by sliding into a repressive and corrupt regime, where the State’s coffers were his own and impunity for the ruling elite became the rule. The delirium reached its climax when he chose his wife to replace him.
The opposition to Mugabe outside the ruling party was embodied by the MDC, the Movement for Democratic Change, led by Morgan Tsvangirai. He had won the presidential election in 2008, but vote rigging, threats and repression forced him to back down to prevent a bloodbath. Tsvangirai tasted his dose of incarceration, beatings, torture and even escaped an assassination attempt. This convinced him that it wasn’t wise to go on a head-on-collision with the old elephant.
But now that Mugabe is at the end of his run, will life improve for the people of Zimbabwe? It would be hard to be worse than Robert Mugabe. But you never know.
His successor, Emmerson Mnangagwa, has been in government for decades: Minister of Security, Defense, Justice, Public Housing, Parliament Speaker, Secretary of the ruling ZANU-PF (Zimbabwe African Patriotic Union – Popular Front) and, since 2014, vice president of Zimbabwe. His political faction was known as “Team Lacoste”, possibly to emphasize that he was indeed the crocodile.
It is hard to believe Mnangagwa will change the way the country is ruled. He was part of Mugabe’s despotic and authoritarian rule for too long. It is likely he will just do as his old boss did. It is also significant to note how he promised Robert Mugabe both immunity and a safe conduct for his wealth. After all, you never know what might happen in the future and such a good deed could turn out to be useful. What we all wonder is: what will happen to the Rolls Royce Gucci Grace just purchased in South Africa? Will the Mugabes still be able to use it?
The advent of the crocodile
Emmerson Mnangagwa was not democratically elected and his rise to power is the result of a power struggle withing ZANU-PF. Gucci Grace was despised by many, while Mnangagwa was in good terms with both the military and the intelligence agencies that forced Mugabe to resign. There is also a tribal element to take into account. Emmerson Mnangagwa is part of the Karanga clan, who represent about 30% of the population, while Mugabe was from the Zezuru, who account for 25% of the people.
Mnangagwa also took part in the liberation struggle; he was arrested and tortured and allegedly committed a series of atrocities in return. So, if need be, he knows how to deal with opposition. One could ask MP Blessing Chebundo from the MDC, who defeated Mnangagwa in the Kwekwe Central electoral college. He survived because the hitmen sent by the Crocodile weren’t able to light up Chebundo, who was soaked in gasoline.
This shows how ruthless Emmerson Mnangagwa can be. Some sources allege that, after he was removed from the vice presidency, he was poisoned with an ice cream and decided to flee to South Africa. Robert Mugabe accused him of being disloyal, dishonest and unreliable. He also added a snake should be hit on the head before its too late. But poor old Mugabe was dealing with a crocodile, and a simple knock on the skull was not enough to kill it.
Robert Mugabe leaves an internationally isolated country in economic decline, subject to hyperinflation, food crisis, where life expectancy is 59 years, birth mortality is around 30% and AIDS affects 14% of the population. There is no doubt that the people of Zimbabwe should deserve much more than a crocodile.