Zimbabwe’s upcoming president may be worse than the last
Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe has resigned, and his wife Grace Mugabe, who was being positioned to succeed him as president, has now been expelled from Zanu-PF party.
It was Grace who persuaded Robert Mugabe to sack two vice presidents in a row in order to take the job herself. This is what triggered the army’s intervention, because her second victim, Emmerson Mnangagwa, is an extremely powerful politician with close connections to the military. He had expected to succeed Mugabe when the old man finally died, and he took his dismissal personally.
Mnangagwa went into exile in Mozambique for a week, but then the army intervened on his behalf and the current crisis erupted. The generals hoped that they could get Mugabe to resign voluntarily, because they could then pretend that their action was not a military coup.
That was important, because the African Union no longer tolerates military coups in its member states and might even intervene against the generals. But Mugabe has tricked them, using his live television speech to declare that he plans to stay in power—and the soldiers are bound to conclude that it was Grace who put him up to it. She probably did.
Not knowing what was to come, I wrote a piece about Grace Mugabe and her ambition to take the presidency when Robert Mugabe finally dies. But she is hated in the party and deeply unpopular with Zimbabweans in general because of her greed and arrogance. I ended the article by saying: “Once he dies, she will be lucky to get out alive.”
For a moment there, when the army intervened, I thought she might escape that fate. Uncle Bob would be offered a dignified exit from power, she would be excluded from the succession, and they would both go off to a comfortable retirement in Singapore or some other city where they already own very comfortable homes.
Well, that’s not going to happen. She has encouraged the old man to deceive the generals and cling to power, which wrecks their plans for a semi-constitutional transfer of power that doesn’t look like a coup. He will still be ejected from power, but no longer with dignity. They won’t kill him, because he is a hero from the time of the liberation struggle, but she is in mortal danger.
Emmerson Mnangagwa is now back in Zimbabwe, and will shortly be the president. He is known as “the crocodile,” and he has no reason to protect Mugabe. Her best hope is exile, but she had better take the exit soon. And what Zimbabwe will get is not an end of the dictatorship, but just a new dictator.
What is happening in Zimbabwe is not a popular revolution but a power struggle inside the ruling Zanu-PF party, and Mnangagwa is no democrat. He is a brutal political operator who directed the massacre of at least 20,000 people in the early ‘80s, when the Ndebele people of southwestern Zimbabwe resisted the takeover of the whole country by Mugabe’s party.
Mnangagwa was also in charge of the military intervention in the 2008 election, in which so many civilians were assaulted, imprisoned or killed that the opposition leader withdrew his candidacy to save lives even though he had beaten Mugabe in the first round. Zimbabwe has always held elections, but there has never been any doubt about the result.
The Zimbabweans are celebrating Mugabe’s impending departure in the streets now, but there is no cause to believe that things will now get better for them. The same elite that has looted the country and run its economy into the ground will still be in power, led by a man more ruthless and violent than Mugabe.
Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss.