The current travails of a highly regarded revolutionary, who has overstayed his welcome as the only president Zimbabwe has known, is a result of power play between his comrades and his wife, writes Demola Ojo
By the time you read this, Robert Mugabe may or may not be the president of Zimbabwe. The 93-year-old is clinging to power after the military rolled out tanks and placed him under house arrest last Wednesday, despite claiming it isnâ€™t coup.
The current crisis stems from a power struggle in recent months over who might succeed him – his wife Grace Mugabe or former Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
Penultimate week, Mugabe came down in favour of his wife, sacking Mnangagwa and provoking the ire of the army chiefs. Mugabe has been holding direct talks with the said chiefs over his future, meeting the army chief and two envoys from South Africa at his official residence in Harare.
The nonagenarian has refused to resign despite pressure mounting on him to accept offers of a graceful exit. He insists that he remains the only legitimate ruler of the country until elections scheduled for next year.
Mugabe, however, turned up to a university graduation ceremony in Harare on Friday, his first public appearance since the â€œcoupâ€ two days earlier. The veteran leader arrived at the Zimbabwe Open University in a blue-and-yellow gown, accompanied by his security detail, two days after being placed under house arrest.
The event was apparently designed to convey a business-as-usual atmosphere â€“ the generals pulling the strings in Harare are desperate not to give the impression they are orchestrating an unconstitutional coup.
But behind the scenes, efforts to push Mugabe aside appeared to be foundering. Mugabe was reported to be resisting a plan to oust him, and the generals were said to be frustrated about his refusal to go quietly.
The armyâ€™s takeover signalled the collapse in less than 36 hours of the security, intelligence and patronage networks that sustained Mugabe through 37 years in power.
The army appears to want Mugabe, who has ruled Zimbabwe since independence in 1980, to go quietly and allow a smooth and bloodless transition to Mnangagwa.
The main goal of the generals is to prevent Mugabe from handing power to his wife, 41 years his junior, who has built a following among the ruling partyâ€™s youth wing and appeared on the cusp of power after Mnangagwa was pushed out.
The last of Africaâ€™s state founders from the heyday of the struggle against European colonisation still in power, Mugabe is still seen by many Africans as a liberation hero.
In the past, he has been vaunted as a hero, fighting white minority rule for the freedom of his people, which is why many African leaders remain reluctant to criticise him.
The only leader most Zimbabweans have ever known, Mugabe has ruled the landlocked country for 37 years, often with an iron fist.
He rose to power as a freedom fighter and was seen as Zimbabweâ€™s Nelson Mandela. But he quickly waged a campaign of oppression to consolidate his position, extinguishing the political opposition through violent crackdowns.
He is reviled in the West as a despot whose disastrous handling of the economy and willingness to resort to violence to maintain power pauperised one of Africaâ€™s most promising states.
Zimbabweâ€™s flourishing economy began to disintegrate after a programme of land seizures from white farmers, and agricultural output plummeted and inflation soared.
Since Zimbabweâ€™s independence, most of the world has moved on – but his outlook remains the same. He has always blamed Zimbabweâ€™s economic problems on a plot by Western countries, led by the United Kingdom, to oust him because of his seizure of white-owned farms.
Friends Turned Foe
Sources say one motive for the military taking over power might have been knowledge of a plan orchestrated by Grace Mugabe and her supporters to have up to 40 senior officers and officials seen as backing Mnangagwa removed from their posts.
During his rule, Mugabe ensured the continuing loyalty of the military by offering privileges and lucrative business opportunities to top soldiers. The transfer of these to the first lady and her faction would have been a bitter blow. One opposition official said negotiations had been ongoing for several months with â€œcertain people within the army.â€
Interestingly, according to CNN, Mnangagwa has been instrumental for some time in plans to seize control from Mugabe.
â€œThis takeover was planned a long time ago by Emmerson Mnangagwa and secret discussions did take place with opposition about a succession plan including forcing out Mugabe,â€ a senior opposition leader with direct knowledge of the talks told CNN.
Mugabe, Mnangagwa and Constantine Chiwenga the Head of the Zimbabwean Military are all very good friends. The three men were in their 20â€™s when they entered the bushes and took part in the liberation struggle to free Zimbabwe from white rule.
Mugabe, who was initially the Secretary General of ZANU PF, became the head of state, with the two other men equally given plum positions of power.
Sometime in the 90s, Mugabe married Grace, his personal secretary, after the death of Mugabeâ€™s first spouse.
Grace became Mugabeâ€™s political confidant and made her way to the very centre of Zimbabwean politics, believed to have strained the relationship between Mugabe and his two comrades.
Mnangagwa, after many years of loyalty became Mugabeâ€™s Vice President in 2014, paving the way for his eventual hold on power should Mugabe retire, resign or die but Grace Mugabe also had designs of her own.
A few months ago, Mnangagwa accused certain persons in the party of trying to poison him and made references to Grace. This didnâ€™t go down well with Mugabe. In a bold move he removed Mnangagwa from the position of Vice President. Mnangagwa fled to South Africa.
Chiwenga, a friend of both Mugabe and Mnangagwa, sent a warning to Mugabe but Mugabe replied through his Minister of Information that the Army General should stay out of State matters before finalising plans to sack Chiwenga. Until the Army struck!
The Military could be right in insisting that what is going on is not a coup. Itâ€™s a transfer of power between those who were all present in 1980. It is the same reason Mugabe is being accorded a soft-landing. His friends are not really out to change the fortunes of the Zimbabwean people but in actual fact, maintain their power and protect themselves from Grace Mugabe.
But the Western world doesnâ€™t care about the apparent illegality going on in Zimbabwe, as long as Robert Mugabe falls into ignominy from grace, precipitated by actions traced to Grace. Above all, there is a lesson in the Mugabe experience particularly for the African folks.