Globe: Is There Hope for Zimbabwe?

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Zimbabwe is one of those countries condemned by history. After liberating itself from a white oligarchy, the newly named Zimbabwe chose its first leader – Robert Mugabe. His reign would prove a vile one. The Marxist prime minister then president would kill off thousands of his own countrymen in ethnic cleansing campaigns, suppress basic civil liberties and seize land from farmers, amongst other atrocities. He committed crimes against humanity and became universally despised, save of course from the United Nations, which attempted to make the African despot a World Health Ambassador. In a continent where coups come with the change of the seasons, Mugabe was able to stay in power up until his early 90s. It would seem that Robert Mugabe would remain in power until death – just to have another despot take his place. But then the coup happened.

On the evening of Nov. 14, 2017, a man in a military uniformed appeared on Zimbabwean TV screens to address reports of military activity in the capital Harare. “This is not a coup,” the military official said. He went on to explain that normalcy would resume once the “criminals” responsible for Zimbabwe’s socio-economic situation had been dealt with. A typical rule with coups though: if someone in a military uniform says there is not a coup, chancers is that there is a coup. Meanwhile, Robert Mugabe was put under house arrest. The tyranny of Mugabe had ended.

Less than a year later and the city of Harare is celebrating. Men filled a Harare stadium boasting a scarf with Zimbabwe’s national colors. They were celebrating the election of their new president, Emmerson Mnangagwa. Mnangagwa was previously vice president under Mugabe and was instrumental in the coup that deposed his former boss. He was at the center of tensions between Zimbabwe’s ruling ZANU – PF party.

Even though Mugabe proved to be a skilled dictator, he was nonetheless in his early 90s and Zimbabwe needs to prepare for a new leader. The ZANU – PF party was divided; on one side stood supporters of Vice President Mnangagwa. Amongst his backers was the Zimbabwean military. On the other side was Grace Mugabe: the aging dictator’s wife supported by the Generation 40, an informal faction of younger politicians that wanted to replace the older generation. But “political power grows out of the barrel of the gun” as Mao once said, and the military faction proved victorious with the coup. Many members of the opposing G40 were subsequently expelled from the ZANU – PF party. Emmerson Mnangagwa had won.

In July, Zimbabwe had its first election since Mugabe came to power. It would be Emmerson Mnangagwa versus Nelson Chamisa of the MDC. A notable supporter of Chamisa was Robert Mugabe, who said he would vote against the party he led for decades. There was a general feeling of hope in Zimbabwe. There was the first free election is Mugabe’s ascension, Zimbabweans did not have to cross checkpoints to travel, and Zimbabwean were allowed to express their political views. The African nation seemed to finally be turning for the better, after decades of colonel and ethnic rule, then dictatorship. This sense of optimism would not last long.

Emmerson Mnangagwa purportedly won the election 50.6% of the vote, but the opposition party would not concede. They claimed that the election results were not released on time and that votes were cooked. Protestors took to the streets in Harare, where the military suppressed them. Six people were killed in the protests. Chamisa challenged the election results in the Constitutional Court, but his challenge was thrown out: the Court declared Mnangagwa the victor of the election.

The first election in the post-Mugabe Zimbabwe did not go the way the country hoped. Fighting amongst political coalitions continues to grow. The election results were not accepted by the losing party, which resulted in thousands protesting in the capital city. The military responded with violence and six Zimbabweans lost their lives. It is clear that Zimbabwe is a nation divided. While Emmerson Mnangagwa has brought unprecedented freedoms to that country, the future of Zimbabwe remains uncertain. Whether Zimbabwe goes against the odds and prospers under democracy, or plunges into political violence remains to be seen. The future is not set for Zimbabwe.