A spark of hope in Zimbabwe

Protesters demanding President Robert Mugabe stands down march towards State House in Harare, Zimbabwe Saturday, Nov. 18, 2017. In a euphoric gathering that just days ago would have drawn a police crackdown, crowds marched through Zimbabwe's capital on Saturday to demand the departure of President Robert Mugabe, one of Africa's last remaining liberation leaders, after nearly four decades in power. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)

Liberator-turned-dictator Robert Mugabe gloated about ruling Zimbabwe until ‘God says come’. Even his wife, Grace, said he is irreplaceable and if he dies before the election, he would be ‘fielded as a corpse’. But early this week, the 93-year-old’s party, ZANU-PF, and the military showed him the door.

Reason: “They wanted to prevent the wicked old man from making his dreadful wife his heir,” South African author Sisonke Msimang wrote in The New York Times. But this just acted as a catalyst for his ouster.

Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s first Prime Minister since its liberation in 1980 and its President from 1987, plunged one of Africa’s most promising economies into decline – currency shortage, hyperinflation, rocketing imports, unemployment, poverty and oppression. “He turned into an A-grade African monster, slaughtered his enemies and reduced a prosperous country into a ruin,” adds Msimang.

Land of Hungry

Mugabe, the man who brought independence for Zimbabwe by ending the white-minority rule turned the breadbasket of Sub-Saharan Africa into a basketcase during his 37-year rule. Production crumbled with output volumes falling to two-thirds in 2008 as compared with the peak levels in 2000.

The country that had one of the highly-educated people in Africa became a land of hungry people. There are as good as no jobs and many have moved to South Africa and Britain for a career. Mugabe’s forceful takeover of white-owned farms aimed to bolster popular support, crippled foreign exchange earnings from agriculture, points out Reuters. The economy has fallen by half since 2000 and it doesn’t even have its own currency since 2009, when hyperinflation killed the Zimbabwean dollar. The country now relies on US dollar and South African rand.

“With no local currency, money supply became entirely dependent on inflows of dollars, depriving the authorities of control over monetary policy. In a desperate measure to introduce liquidity, the government introduced ‘bond notes’ in 2016. These were theoretically backed by hard currency but have quickly deteriorated in value. Money supply surged 36% in the past year and the notes plunged 80% on the parallel market, threatening yet higher inflation,” says the Financial Times.

Of late, a liquidity crunch has strangled the once regional powerhouse. “The economy is in very bad shape. Even if I have $10,000 in the bank, my bank can only give me $20 a day. The liquidity crunch is severe,” says Welshman Ncube, a prominent opposition leader.

Silent Coup

The economic situation turned so bad that the government found it difficult to pay its officials and soldiers, sowing the seeds of the ‘slow-motion military coup’ last week.

But Mugabe sacking long-time friend and Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa (probably to make place for wife Grace) was the final straw for General Constantino Chiwenga, leader of the country’s armed forces to ‘step in’.

On November 14, Zimbabweans woke up to military personnel guarding the streets, shops, malls and airports. The military took control of the State-run broadcaster at capital Harare and a day later, placed Mugabe under house arrest. Amid overwhelming military pressure and impeachment proceedings, Mugabe finally resigned. Zimbabweans rejoiced the exit of the tyrant but replaced him with another.

A Flawed Figure

Emmerson Mnangagwa now holds the reins of a collapsing nation. But he doesn’t have an impressive human rights record. Back in the 1980s, he as the Defence Minister in Mugabe’s government, carried out the infamous massacre of the ethnic Ndebele people, killing 20,000.
“He (Mnangagwa) will manage to get elected using fear or many tricks, and then we’ll have a succession from one tyrant to the next,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s representative for Africa, Guenther Nooke said recently.

Nooke’s comment doesn’t come as a surprise because the new President aided Mugabe in stifling democracy. Mnangagwa also had a major role in the violence directed at the growing political opposition in Zimbabwe, reports The Guardian. He is blamed for repression during the 2008 election campaign, which was so intense that the opposition candidate eventually dropped out of the race, leaving the way clear for Mugabe to remain in power.

A UN report accuses him of plundering diamonds when Zimbabwean troops intervened in the civil wars of the Democratic Republic of Congo in the 1990s, according to The Independent.
Years of cunning with Mugabe and, learning how to seize and use power got him the nickname ‘The Crocodile’.

Riding on Hope

But in his first speech after returning from a two-week exile, 75-year-old Mnangagwa said Zimbabwe was witnessing a ‘new and unfolding democracy’. “The people have spoken. The voice of the people is the voice of God. Today we are witnessing the beginning of a new and unfolding democracy,” he said in a carefully worded address that focused on jobs and growth of the economy.

On Friday, he made a range of promises at his swearing-in — tackle 37 years of corruption, reach out for more foreign investment, schedule democratic elections from next year and reimburse the farmers whose land was seized under Mugabe.

There is a whiff of hope in the country, but political analysts and human rights groups warn that it will take more than replacing Mugabe to change Zimbabwe’s fortunes. “Mnangagwa isn’t exactly a fresh face. He’s been with Mugabe since 1976. He was the chief hatchet man for Mugabe on and off for 40 years. That’s a fact that hasn’t suddenly become irrelevant,” The Guardian quoted historian Stuart Doran.

Yet the people of Zimbabwe have enough reasons to be hopeful. The Independent points out that “the country is naturally rich – it’s got a temperate climate, fertile soil, national parks, majestic landscapes, wildlife that normally attract hordes of tourists, Victoria Falls, a fine commercial tradition built on the trade in commodities and cash crops such as tobacco, a comparatively united people across ethnic lines and friendly neighbours.”

If Mnangagwa means what he now says and is sincere about changing his and his country’s track record, Zimbabwe could begin the journey towards redemption.

A spark of hope in Zimbabwe