Exit Robert Mugabe
A tumultuous week in Zimbabwe culminates in the resignation of President Robert Mugabe, the country's leader of 37 years. Gideon Rachman is joined by Andrew England and David Pilling in Harare.
Presented by Gideon Rachman and produced by David Blood.
Hello and welcome to this edition of World Weekly from the Financial Times. I'm Gideon Rachman. Today, we're looking at Zimbabwe where Robert Mugabe has been ousted after 37 years in power. Joining me on the line from the Zimbabwean capital, Harari, is our correspondent there, David Pilling. And here in the studio is a former South Africa correspondent, Andrew England.
David, the events have been moving pretty fast. But it now appears as if the Mugabe era really is over. Is that your understanding of it? And what's the atmosphere like in Harari?
Well it is definitely over. Robert Mugabe quit yesterday. And you knew he quit because horns in the capital immediately started honking, and the population was, I think people use the word a lot, but euphoric I think is the only word to use. People streamed out the streets of Harari. Clambered on cars, kissed soldiers, climbed on tanks. And it was really quite something to behold. People compared it to liberation day or the fall of the Berlin Wall. This was a lot of suppressed emotions. And so the Mugabe era. And if you're talking about the man, Robert Mugabe, it's most certainly over. Whether a Mugabe style government is over in Zimbabwe is another question.
Yeah, and that's a question we'll return to in a second. But Andrew, I mean, you've covered Zimbabwe over the years. Was it possible to see this coming? Or did it just look like Mugabe was there forever?
I think it was very difficult to predict this. I mean, Mugabe, we've got to remember, he has been in power since 1980. You know, for 37 years, he outmanoeuvred his rivals. He played people off against each other. He never groomed a successor. You know, as recently as a few months ago, he said he'd lead Zanu PF, the ruling party, into elections next year, even though he's 93 years old. But what we have seen over the last probably two years is this increasingly vicious succession battle, which saw his wife, Grace Mugabe, backed by a younger generation of Zanu PF members called G 40, pushing back against and fighting the veterans of the liberation war kind of section of the party, represented initially by Joyce Mujuru, and then by Emerson Mnangagwa.
And so the situation was becoming increasingly toxic. Joyce Mujuru was kicked out in 2014 as vice president. Mnangagwa came in, and then he was sacked a couple of weeks ago, which was a trigger for this. So while we couldn't predict that Mugabe was about to go, and a very, very brave person to do that, what we could see is that the Zanu PF was being increasingly split and divided beneath him, because he hadn't groomed a successor, and because his wife Grace was getting in these incredibly toxic succession battles, which seems to be the trigger for the military action.
Yeah. And David, I mean, looking at the footage and the incredibly dramatic pictures of the euphoria, it does feel like a revolution from below. But as Andrew's suggesting, actually, this was really partly, or in large part, an internal party struggle. So that then comes back to the question you raised. Are we now going to move to a more democratic system? Or is this just a reshuffle at the top of Zanu PF?
I think that it's by no means certain that we will move to a more open political system. Just before Robert Mugabe quit yesterday, today I was with Morgan Changarai, a veteran opposition leader who had once been prime minister in a unity government. He said this was not a people's revolution. This was basically a coup. The military was very keen not to present it as a coup. And in fact, they restrained themselves from [INAUDIBLE] Mugabe out, which would have kind of turned its formally into a coup. But it was a military intervention in which armoured personnel, carriers went onto the street. Robert Mugabe was put under house arrest. And a whole series of events was triggered, including Zanu PF kicking Robert Mugabe out of the party. And then the army inviting all the veterans, or inviting people on the street to pile on [INAUDIBLE].
But the people here were, in my opinion, a kind of-- an act that were being used by the real protagonists of this drama, which were all people within Zanu PF. This is a factional battle, a succession battle, which has been solved, if that's the question, in this really unusual way that has involved the armed forces, Zanu PF, fighting back against Robert Mugabe, and the people used as a kind of an added pressure.
Even if it is a Zanu PF kind of internal coup, though, David, I mean, there is clearly this expectation on the streets. You can see that people were euphoric, very pro what the army was doing. Do you think that Zanu PF really will be able to simply ignore that and go back to business as usual? And in the process, disappoint all the expectations they've raised.
No. I don't think they'll be able to go back to business as usual. I think Mnangagwa will have to make at least the appearance of reaching out to the opposition and of opening up the political process with some form of transitional government or unity government. He also needs the international community to start lending Zimbabwe money again. And I think if it's really business as usual, that's not going to happen. So there will certainly be the appearance of opening up to the opposition. The question is what will the reality be?
Now I mentioned that Morgan Changarai was in a coalition government, government of national unity met several years ago. The opposition was really co-opted into Zanu PF. They were part of this government. And because they were in danger of actually winning elections, that Zanu PF could no longer [INAUDIBLE] without really being seen to rig those elections. And so Zanu PF called them into the party, but then really dominated them and in 2013, held new elections and reestablished their sole [INAUDIBLE].
One could see a repetition of that where the opposition is sort of co-opted into the ruling party, used, and then spat out again. But of course, things can take on momentum of their own. And the opposition is hoping that this will have unleashed forces that this party, which has ruled Zimbabwe since independence, will no longer be able to control.
And Andrew, I guess, I mean, one of the reasons for scepticism or at least caution, is that the man at the centre of the plot to overthrow Mugabe, Mr. Mnangagwa, has himself a long record of conniving and dictatorship, essentially.
Well absolutely. I mean, I think-- and we have to remember that Zanu PF is the party that was in power, was Mugabe was in power and allowed him to act the way that he did. Now, Mnangagwa is a former liberation fighter, in the 1980s-- or he became security minister in 1980 when Zimbabwe got independence from the UK. And in the '80s, he was accused of orchestrating a massacre in Matabeleland where at least 10,000 people were killed. Again, he's been accused of being involved in the 2008 elections that David was talking about when Morgan Changarai was going to go into a presidential runoff against Mugabe after winning the first round. But there was so much politically-- political violence orchestrated by Zanu PF that he had to withdraw, which led to the unity government. And people say that Mnangagwa was behind this.
So clearly, it is a palace coup. And Zanu PF will be looking to retain power. Now the question is, I think, you know, whether they realise that they need to reengage with the west to revive the economy. The economy is in a state of collapse. It has been for years. They get very little access to lending. They've been talk to resume an IMF programme. But that's gone nowhere so far. And if they're going to do that, they're going to have to show that they are at least changing their method of rule, shall we like. And I think the key test will be elections.
So even if they get a transitional government together, that would hold until elections were scheduled for next year. But the key test everybody were looking at is will Zanu PF allow free and fair elections? And then, the question is, without Mugabe, who was the dominant figure of the party, how will they do elections? Because you know, for all the what Mugabe came for Zanu-- many ordinary Zanu pF members, particularly in the rural areas, you know, he was still the figure head. He was still the popular man. I was there in the elections in 2013, and he was their main campaign figure. They didn't have anyone else. And Mnangagwa isn't necessarily a popular figure. People remember the killings in Matabeleland in the 1980s. So how well with the party do now?
And David, of course, another reason the party might not do terribly well is that the economy is in a pretty desperate state and a lot of Zimbabwe's best and brightest have had to emigrate.
That's true. There's perhaps millions of people out of the country. Last night, it was interesting. On the street, one of the things that people were very angry about was the Grace Mugabe had a PhD. And she'd been given this PhD for a couple of months study. Whereas many Zimbabweans, who take education extraordinarily seriously, that have worked extraordinarily hard for them to get degrees and even PhDs. And they've still got no work. And this is the great problem that the formal economy is tiny. There is no currency in the country. Basically, this is dollarised economy.
And so people are desperate for opportunity. And Zanu PF has not been able to give them that opportunity.
But Andrew, I guess, looking more on the bright side, Zimbabwe is noted for having a very educated population, aren't they? I mean, Zimbabweans have tended to do very well when they go to South Africa.
Absolutely. And I think that's one of the things that Mugabe did when he first became the leader after independence. In South Africa, you'd find Zimbabweans in executives in mining, in banking, you know, all across sectors. And the country itself also has a very good infrastructure. It was one of the most industrialised countries in Africa independence. Its road network is good. It has hydropower. Now the problem is, a lot of that's been decaying as the economy has collapsed since the late 1990s since 2000. So it is going to take a lot to reboot the infrastructure, reboot manufacturing, reboot industry. Obviously, land-- the land issue is a big question after the land seizures in the 2000s and agriculture was a huge export. So it's going to take a massive amount to, I think, turn the economy around. But certainly, I think Zimbabweans, if they see that there is a different direction, they will be willing to come back. They're a very proud people. You find highly educated Zimbabweans working as waiters in South Africa. These kind of people would love to go back, I think, and be part of a new, brighter future in Zimbabwe.
And David, finally, I mean, obviously, you must be very caught up in the events and the drama of the events around you. But in your-- putting your Africa editor hat on, I mean, what does this mean in a wider African context? Is this a development that other African countries are likely to welcome? Or will there be a kind of uneasiness amongst other autocratic regimes?
I think uneasiness those autocratic regimes, it was interesting that [INAUDIBLE] in Uganda who has been in power almost as long as Robert Mugabe, and increased the wages of his own forces yesterday, I think, or maybe today.
So I think there will be a number of people in the region watching nervously. Of course, we have liberation movements all over Southern Africa that have held on. This is a liberation movement that's, despite what I said about it, probably going to cling on. But still in some important way, it's sort of crumbling at least in terms of its ideology before our eyes. That will not go down well in Angola, in Mozambique, and particularly in South Africa, where the ANC, I think, looks at what's happening in Zimbabwe with some nervousness.
OK. Well with that interesting thought, we'll leave it there for this week. Thank you very much indeed to David Pilling in Harari, to Andrew England here in the studio in London. That's it for this week. Until next week, goodbye.