Zimbabwe’s Post-Mugabe Era and the Challenge of Unconstitutional Legality


Bola A. Akinterinwa 

On Wednesday, 15th November, 2017, the people of Zimbabwe played host to a coup d’état that never was. It was admittedly a coup that never was, because the Zimbabwean military forcefully removed President Robert Mugabe from power but still claimed that the removal was not a coup. Without any scintilla of doubt, it was a coup d’état per excellence.

 The coup d’état led to the removal of Robert Mugabe from power after 37 years and paved the way for his former Vice President, Emmerson Mnangagwa, to succeed him. In fact, the coup was interesting from different perspectives. First, it not only raises the critical issues of contradictions between moments of joy (for the new president) and sadness (for the ousted president), chicanery in African politics, and philosophy of resolving African problems by African leaders, on the one hand, but also how to deal with the challenge of democracy of unconstitutional legality that is gradually emerging as a basis of political governance in Africa, on the other.

Additionally, the coup d’état, led by the Chief of Army Staff of Zimbabwe, General Constantino Chiwenga, is an act that was largely unconstitutional both in conception and execution but legal in outcome. It was a coup, deductively speaking, initiated by Emmerson Mnangagwa, but in collaboration with the military and executed by the military, but which the people later accepted and acquiesced to. This is the rationale for the description of the coup as an act of unconstitutional legality.

Second, the coup particularly raises the non-seriousness of purpose of many African leaders, especially in terms of their attitude towards political chicanery in the governance of Africa.  What really is the problem of Zimbabwe? Is it that Robert Mugabe has stayed for too long in power? If it is, how do we explain the people’s acquiescence to the long stay? If the problem is not simply about the need to put behind dictatorship, what really is the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the African Union able to do about the many other sit-tight leaders in Africa?

Third, the standing rule of all African leaders is that, under no circumstance would any forceful change of government be condoned. Is the coup d’état in Zimbabwe a forceful one? What makes a coup forceful? Is it when it is violent and when people are killed? When force is used, to what extent is the force measured to be eligible for consideration as a forceful change?

 More important, a forceful change can be considered as any act that is not constitutional, or more precisely in the thinking of African leaders, that is not democratic. Can it then be rightly argued that the General Chiwenga-led coup against an elected president, Robert Mugabe, is legitimate? We contend here that, at best, it is not constitutional. It is illegal and against the African spirit, even if many people of Zimbabwe are happy about the coup. For now, there is nothing to suggest that it is actually not Emmerson Mnangagwa that initially planned the coup, because he also said: “I was in constant contact with the service chiefs throughout.” When did the contact with the Service Chiefs begin? Logically, it can be argued that the contact began following the removal of Emmerson Mnangagwa from office as Vice President.

 Additionally, the removal from office is enough reason to be much angered and then contemplate the need to unseat Robert Mugabe, more so that he had already alleged that there was an attempt to poison him. There was also the issue of Mrs. Grace Mugabe, who reportedly accused Emmerson Mnangagwa of disuniting the ZANU-PF and that she was going ‘to crush this big snake’s head.’ Mnangagwa responded that ‘so many lies were told.’

Without doubt, the big snake referred to is the new president and this is why he could state as follows: “I don’t know whose head has been crushed now.” By asking whose head has now been cut, is only clearly insinuating it is that of Robert Mugabe, who sacked him and that of Grace Mugabe, his wife, who was also put under house arrest with her husband.

 Fourth, many have argued that Robert Mugabe was very dictatorial, when he was in power. Whether or not he was, was his successor, Emmerson Mnangagwa, not part of his government during the alleged period of dictatorship? If he was, and true enough, what role did he play in the matter in his capacity as Vice President? In fact, President Mnangagwa’s given nickname is Ngwena, meaning a ‘crocodile.’ How do we explain this type of nickname in light of shedding the ‘crocodile tears’? Crocodile tears suggest lies and insincerity. In any case, for the Zimbabweans, the nickname is to recall his ‘fearsome power and ruthlessness,’ and nothing more.

 It should not be quickly forgotten that Emmerson Mnangagwa joined the Zimbabwean independence struggle in 1966 at a young age (he was born on September 15, 1942, hence at the age of 24 years) and had training in China and Egypt. He was arrested for his anti-colonial militancy and sentenced to capital punishment, but his sentence was commuted to 10 years of imprisonment as a result of his young age. It was largely because of this background of his that led to his appointment by President Mugabe as Minister of National Security.

 The problem, however, is that Emmerson Mnangagwa was the one who directed the Gukurahundi massacres, considered as ‘a brutal crackdown on opposition supporters that claimed thousands of lives in the Matabeleland and Midland provinces of Zimbabwe. Now, as President of Zimbabwe, to what extent is he likely to be tolerant of the opposition? When he returned from self-exile in South Africa, he ‘appealed to all genuine people of Zimbabwe to come together’, because as ‘we are all Zimbabweans, we need peace in our country and jobs, jobs, jobs.’ In this regard, who are the genuine people of Zimbabwe? Is it the ZANU-PF party members, on which he places great emphasis?

Without any jot of doubt, the differentiation between genuine and non-genuine people of Zimbabwe is already a people divided against itself. The new president can only have a good leeway to succeed if he sees himself as the president of the whole nation and not as the president of a section, the ‘genuine’ ones. This point is noteworthy because Mnangagwa told other Zimbabweans that those outside the Zanu-PF can “bark and complain. Let them bark while we carry on ruling the country” but the Zanu-PF train is moving forward, meaning that he would not be in a hurry to tolerate the opposition.

 In the light of this, what does the post-Robert Mugabe era look Like? In which way is President Emmerson Mnangagwa likely to be different from that of his friendly enemy not to say his mentor and comrade in arms? Will those crying Messiah today not become the crucifiers of tomorrow? Whatever is the case, time will tell. But before allowing time to tell, let us explicate some of the dynamics of Zimbabwe’s future, especially some of the critical issues involved domestically and externally.

Dynamics of the Post-Mugabe Era

The post-Mugabe era can be categorised into two: immediate and distant future. The immediate future is the period lasting until September 2018, when the general elections are scheduled to constitutionally take place under normal circumstance. The distant future commences from September 2018. At the domestic level, the pledges made by the new president cannot but constitute the main dynamics of political governance in the country. For instance, he not only promised to ensure the holding of elections come September 2018, but also that the elections would be free and fair. He wants to put an end to corruption in all its ramifications, as well as create jobs and jobs. This simply means that the economy is much likely to be given priority attention in the future.

Mathew Davies, the Africa Business Report editor has identified five ways of reviving the Zimbabwean economy after Mugabe: injection of hard currency as Zimbabwe ‘hasn’t had a currency of its own since 2009, after hyperinflation killed off the old Zimbabwean dollar’; the need to dump damaging policies and neutralising corruption. In this regard, the Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment Act (IEEA) signed into law in 2009 and which placed 51% of companies into the hands of black Zimbabweans, has forced many companies to close down.

In fact, ‘much of the farmland that was seized from white farmers ended up in the hands of army generals and the political elite; need to negotiate with foreign lenders, especially that the country has been in default on $9 billion for about 20 years; need to create a better environment for unemployment reduction and attraction of the Diaspora to return home. Unemployment is estimated at 90% while about 3 million of the total population of 16.15 million live abroad; and the need to create a Zimbabwean national currency.

Zimbabwe had an average GDP per capita of USD 1,070.98 in the period  1960-2016. In 2016 alone, the per capita income was put at USD 908.80 by some observers. The highest per capita since 1960 was USD 1342.50 in 1998 while the lowest per capita was recorded in 2008. As noted by the IMF World Economic Outlook in October 2017, Zimbabwe had a per capita income of USD 1,137 in 2015, USD 1,112 in 2016, and USD 1,150 as at October 2017. The per capita income appears to be witnessing growth and has to be sustained. President Emmerson Mnangagwa has said in this case that Zimbabweans ‘are witnessing the beginning of a new democracy’ and that he wants ‘to grow our economy.’

The Zimbabwean army cannot but also continue to remain dynamic to be reckoned with in the immediate future. The military is currently the king maker. It had a sort of an entente cordiale with President Emmerson Mnangagwa, when he was Vice President. This special understanding will continue to the extent that the president’s policy decisions cannot be taken detrimentally to the interest of the military.

 The post-Mugabe era is basically to complete the tenure of Robert Mugabe coming to an end in September 2018. By implication, the need to prepare very well to satisfy public interest in order to have a better profile for the purposes of possible election cannot but be a priority. Perhaps, more importantly, as President Emmerson Mnangagwa has his supporters within the ZANU-PF ruling party, so has the former president, Robert Mugabe. The fact that Mnangagwa described Robert Mugabe as the father of the nation, as well as his mentor and comrade-in-arms has the potential to endear Mugabe’s followers.

 Additionally, the new president has noted his responsibility as serving ‘all citizens regardless of colour, creed, religion, tribe, totem or political affiliation.’ This is good. The challenge remains how to manage official relationship with the opposition, which is another important dynamic.

  There is the yet-to-be-known role of the new First Lady, Auxlia Mnangagwa. Grace Mugabe is on record to have influenced her husband to sack the Vice-President in order to create a vacuum to be possibly filled by her. Will the new First Lady be simply a spectator? Will she aspire to be a strong stakeholder in her husband’s administration? It is not likely that she will accept being relegated to the background. African women are increasingly showing keen interest in national and African politics with the objective of advancing the interests of women.

 Perhaps more important is the age factor of the new president: 75 years, 10 out of which he spent in the prison for attacking a train under the white minority rule and 37 years spent in government and party politics. As he is growing in age, the energy required to discharge official duties will continue to reduce in spite of his oath-taking led by the Chief Justice, Luke Malaba, during which he pledged to ‘be faithful to Zimbabwe’ protect and promote the rights and people of Zimbabwe,’ as well as discharge his duties to the best of his abilities.

At the external level, President Emmerson Mnangagwa is much likely to be given support, especially by the British who had made several attempts to unseat Robert Mugabe, but to no avail. However, the support cannot but go along with much caution as the Zimbabwean economy is still largely seen as fragile.

 Besides, the performance of Mnangagwa in the immediate future is much likely to define how the international community will relate with Zimbabwe in the distant future. If the president does well on the basis of good governance and is able to also play to the admiration of the Breton Woods institutions, the people of Zimbabwe may begin to dream of better days coming.

But, revamping the economy, ensuring political stability, and securing national sovereignty and territorial integrity cannot but remain a good dream without first and constructively addressing the conflict between regulatory policies, on the one hand, and the wishes of the people, on the other. There is also the problem of interpretation and ambiguities in many national constitutions.

 As we noted in this column on December 25, 2016, ‘the critical issue in the DRC (Congo Kinshasa) is the intention of President Joseph Kabila not to respect the interpretation of the new electoral law, which limits the presidential terms to only two. President Kabila has done two terms, if we reckon with his first term before the adoption of a new constitution in 2006. In fact, his second term expired on Tuesday, 20th December 2016, going by the old constitution. However, he never made any arrangement for election, not to mention admitting the possibility of any successor. President Kabila, who took over power in 2001, following the assassination of his father, Laurent Kabila, has the intention of interpreting the Constitution in such a way as to be allowed to have a third term contrary to the spirit of the present Constitution.’

In Zimbabwe, the rule of no forceful change of government favours Robert Mugabe but the wishes of the people, who considered that Robert Mugabe had overstayed for too long in power necessarily militate against the rule of the African Union. Consequently, the most critical challenge for Zimbabweans, in particular, and the whole people of Africa, in general, is how to reconcile policies, though good and desired at a point in time, but for reasons of force majeure, later become unwanted. 

And more interestingly, the case of removal of Robert Mugabe has necessarily raised the need to redefine forceful change of government and what constitutes a coup in Africa.

At the end of the day, did Emmerson Mnangagwa, as Vice President, not plan a coup to oust his boss in order to pave the way for his own succession? He admitted having regular contacts with the military during the coup making. When will the military that eased out Robert Mugabe not come back to also remove the newly appointed president? Is Zimbabwe’s coup not new and not an elitist coup in which the objective is simply to change guards and not punitive, and in which security is provided under a house arrest, there is no criminal prosecution, and there is provision of full retirement benefits and honours, etc?