On Tuesday night, Zimbabwe’s military detained the country’s president, Robert Mugabe. They then went on air on Wednesday to say that they had taken temporary control of the country. It seemed that they had brought down Zimbabwe’s 93-year-old leader – who has been in power for the past 37 years. But the military claims what they’ve done is not a coup. FPI Fellow Kamissa Camara, who is also the Director of Sub-Saharan Africa at Partners Global, breaks it down.
FPI: What is happening in Zimbabwe?
Kamissa Camara: On Wednesday, senior officials of the Zimbabwean army took control of the state broadcaster ZBC as well as the Harare International airport. The military also blocked access to government offices in what looks like a successful military coup.
At the heart of the matter:
Mugabe’s life presidency aspirations. He’s been in charge for 37-years and is the oldest African president. He wanted to extend his hold over Zimbabwe through his wife, Grace Mugabe. Mrs. Mugabe is widely unpopular in the country – citizens spurning her arrogance and lavish lifestyle. Zimbabwe’s vice president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, emerged as a possible candidate to thwart Mrs. Mugabe’s ascendancy. He was sacked on November 6, following a rally in which Mrs. Mugabe was booed. Mnangawa’s relationships within the military have been strong and the military takeover is clearly a direct consequence of this month’s events.
FPI: Why is the military denying that this is a coup?
KC: What a mystery! The events in Zimbabwe fit the perfect description of a military coup… but the word “coup” has only been mentioned by the local and international media and not by the military leaders who took over. In a coup-like situation, it is however very rare that men in uniform qualify their actions as a “coup” in order to legitimize their actions. What is happening in Zimbabwe is a coup, no matter what the military says.
FPI: Could you talk about Zimbabwe’s role in Africa?
KC: Zimbabwe was once one of southern Africa’s most prosperous countries. With an inclusive education system and infrastructure in place, the country used to be the breadbasket of Southern Africa. In 1997, Zimbabwe was Africa’s fastest growing country. It’s shrunk since then. Mugabe’s harsh policies, which included the seizure and redistribution of white-owned land and farms, drove the country into a deep recession. Unemployment stands at 85%. Inflation is rampant. The country has become the sore spot of a vibrant Southern Africa region.
FPI: What should we expect to come over the next few weeks?
KC: It is important to remember that what is happening in Zimbabwe is not a triumphal revolution by the people, for the people. There are reasons to be cautious as to what the next weeks will look like in Zimbabwe: the military is running the show, and Emmerson Mnangagwa who is increasingly being featured as Mugabe’s successor does not embody the democratic values that Zimbabweans have been craving for. For years, the ruling party Zanu-PF has been strategizing for a post-Mugabe era; should someone like Mnangagwa take over, Zimbabwe would have replaced an old rag with another old rag. An ideal outcome would be a government of national unity – and measures to prevent a deepening of the political crisis.