23 December 2017

Zimbabwe: 2017 - the Year of the Crocodile

FOR the Chinese, whose influence on Zimbabwean society, politics and economy is by no means insignificant, 2017 was the Year of the Rooster. For many Zimbabweans, the rooster has long signified long-serving ruler, Robert Mugabe.

For eleven months, 2017 looked set to be the Year of the Rooster as well, with ominous signs 2018 could be the Year of the skittish Hen. All this changed dramatically when the rooster was supplanted by the crocodile. In a turn of events as swift as the giant reptile swoops on its prey, 2017 ends as the Year of the Crocodile. The year had begun well for the now deposed Mugabe. For the first time in years, the morbid annual rumour of his death did not rear its head as he holidayed into 2017. As usual, February, brought a big party to mark Mugabe's 93rd birthday.

"It's not always easy to predict that, although you are alive this year, you will be alive next year," a reflective Mugabe told supporters attending his birthday rally in Matobo on February 25. The veteran politician, who also frequently declared that only God would remove him from his position, could also never have predicted that he would be deposed by his allies nine months later.

At Matobo, as had become a recurring theme at his rallies amid growing internal party dissent over his extended rule, Mugabe had even taunted those pushing to succeed him. "Some in their little groups are saying 'Mugabe must go'. Where must I go?," he asked. "If ZANU-PF says 'you must step down', I will step down," he continued. On November 21, with ZANU-PF having secured by-partisan support to impeach him in Parliament, Mugabe did indeed step down. But this was not before army tanks rolled into central Harare, sealing off his offices and Parliament building on November 14.

Another tank blocked the way to Mugabe's private residence, as the military, for long a vital pillar propping up Mugabe, intervened in a brutal ZANU-PF fight over his succession. Seven days later, it was over. Mugabe, one of Africa's few remaining 'Big Men', was gone with little more than a whimper. His wife Grace, to many the catalyst for her husband's unceremonious ouster, once described him as "a moving encyclopedia ... very amazing at the manner in which he grasps issues, be they political, social, economic or cultural".

But he failed to decipher the barely encrypted code telegraphed by the military from as far back as 2015, with devastating consequences for his lengthy political career. A candid confrontation with the generals on the sidelines of the Victoria Falls ZANU-PF annual conference in December 2015 was followed by the as yet unexplained 'plot' to bomb Mugabe's Gushungo diary in Mazowe, now believed by many to be a ruse by military intelligence. February 2016 saw the former first lady accusing the military of plotting against the Mugabe family, widening the wedge between the former president and his commanders.

That July, war veterans who enjoyed the support of their erstwhile comrades still serving as senior officers in the military, issued a stunning document essentially denouncing Mugabe in terms of the reminiscent 1976 Mgagao Declaration which deposed ZANU's founding president, Ndabaningi Sithole. Using terms previously unheard of within the ZANU-PF and war veterans system, the document, accused Mugabe of 'dictatorial tendencies' and charged that he had hogged all the spoils of the 1970s liberation war. All the while, Mugabe maintained that war veterans were just an affiliate of ZANU-PF and that serving veterans in the military were also subordinate to the party.

Politics, Mugabe's mantra went, would always lead the gun. Intermittently, serving commanders, particularly Defence chief Constantino Chiwenga, would issue a nuanced rejoinder -- politics only led the gun if it stays true to ideals of the ZANU revolution. The military, Chiwenga and his comrades argued, remained the ultimate stockholder of the revolution. There was a scarcely veiled caveat in Chiwenga and the military's position -- concern that Mugabe was straying. As far as ZANU and its successor ZANU-PF is concerned, there have always been consequences for straying off the revolutionary path.

It is hard to believe Mugabe did not see the signs. It is easier to assume he believed he could still control the fall out. As Mugabe's last Foreign Affairs Minister Walter Mzembi said recently, the military had sent several warnings before its decisive intervention. Matters came to a head when Mugabe fired long-time ally Emmerson Mnangagwa as vice president, and appeared to clear the way for the elevation of his wife, Grace, to replace him. A little over a week after Mnangagwa's November 6 dismissal, the tanks rolled into Harare.

Another week later, Mugabe had been forced to resign, with Mnangagwa as his replacement. Mugabe's exit after an overt military operation scarcely raised any objections over constitutional considerations from the international community, showing the level of impatience both regional and global leaders had developed over his seemingly interminable rule. Locally, the fragmented opposition cheered Mugabe's ouster and, for a fleeting moment, contemplated joining Mnangagwa's government in what would have been a transitional administration to fix the economy and prepare for fresh, unimpeachable elections. Mnangagwa, however, set about cobbling up a government drawn solely from ZANU-PF as he seeks to heal the deeply divided party and prepare it for elections. He has also undertaken to ensure a clean vote, a key demand by the western powers he seeks to re-engage.

Zimbabwe

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