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In Zim It’s Not Just “What Now?” But Also “What Next?”

In Zim It's Not Just "What Now?" But Also "What Next?"

Zimbabwe’s Prime Minister, Morgan Tsvangirai, has accused the Zimbabwe military of attacking civilians in politically motivated attacks. Few outside observers doubt that the accusation is plausible.

One of the country’s leading military figures, General Solomon Mujuru, died in a fire on his farm in Beatrice on Monday evening. Mujuru, the husband of Zimbabwe’s Vice-President Joice Mujuru, was the country’s most decorated post-independence army general. Mujuru is expected to contend for power should President Robert Mugabe retire, die, or somehow be forced out of office. Thus there are rumors that the general’s death might not have been an accident. Few outside observers doubt that the accusation is plausible.

These same “outside observers” fear that it might be impossible for the country to broker some sort of longstanding political solution. Thus ongoing political violence against civilians, possible Mugabe successors even within his own party, and others, are particularly problematic.

And the outside world may not be helping, even though foreign powers may be making mistakes from completely different directions. China continues its policy “of pursuing non-interference policies and open strategy for mutual benefit” in Zimbabwe and across the African continent. Meanwhile western intransigence on loosening sanctions on Zimbabwe may be counterproductive. China’s uncritical engagement may be categorically wrong in a way that western policy is caught between unpalatable options, but both circumstances reveal how the outside world can only partially help in Zimbabwe but can definitely do harm.

At the end of the day, Zimbabwe’s problems are overwhelmingly going to be determined inside of Zimbabwe. Recent events reveal that Mugabe’s death, retirement, exile, or change of heart is unlikely to be a sufficient condition for real change even if it is a necessary one. So many people have focused so much attention on getting the old man to go that they have not paused to reflect on a  simple but daunting question: and then what?



Derek Catsam

Derek Catsam is a Professor of history and Kathlyn Cosper Dunagan Professor in the Humanities at the University of Texas of the Permian Basin. He is also Senior Research Associate at Rhodes University. Derek writes about race and politics in the United States and Africa, sports, and terrorism. He is currently working on books on bus boycotts in the United States and South Africa in the 1940s and 1950s and on the 1981 South African Springbok rugby team's tour to the US. He is the author of three books, dozens of scholarly articles and reviews, and has published widely on current affairs in African, American, and European publications. He has lived, worked, and travelled extensively throughout southern Africa. He writes about politics, sports, travel, pop culture, and just about anything else that comes to mind.

Areas of Focus:
Africa; Zimbabwe; South Africa; Apartheid