Foreign Policy Blogs

Crisis in Zimbabwe: Is Mugabe Finally Out?

A military tank with armed soldiers on the road leading to President Robert Mugabe’s office in Harare. [AP Photo: Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi]

What is happening in Zimbabwe?

It appears that 93-year old “President for Life” Robert Mugabe might finally be out of power. The military has refused to acknowledge a “coup,” but when the military leadership provide the spokesmen for the government, when generals are asserting who will and will not be acceptable as potential heads of state and government, and when people are being encouraged to remain inside, it seems pretty clear that change is afoot and that we are talking about a change fomented at least in part by the military. That may not be an according-to-Hoyle coup, but one would probably be at a loss to come up with a better term.

Last week Mugabe sacked Emmerson Mnangagwa, his second-in-command. Mugabe (or people acting on his behalf) had accused Mnangagwa of working with the military to foment a coup of his own. Now reports indicate that Mnangagwa has returned from a brief exile to take over the government.

If this is the case, it is perhaps not ideal (coups or their equivalent rarely are) but it would serve to mitigate my chief concern: That while most observers of the region have long wanted Mugabe to exit the scene, recognizing the deleterious effect he has had on his country for too much of the three-plus decades he has been in control, a power vacuum might still have been worse than anyone expected. After all without a clear plan for succession, and in lieu of Mugabe losing an election (and having Mugabe accept the results), the struggle for power in Harare might have gotten ugly. Mnangagwa is no saint, and we have no idea whether and when he might be in a position to call for elections, but if he has the support of the military and if he can lay out a clear plan moving forward perhaps Zimbabwe can avoid a bloodbath.

Perhaps.

As of now, it seems that Mnangagwa has emerged as the winner of a power struggle between his supporters (in the military and beyond) and First Lady Grace Mugabe, who has been vying to succeed her husband and has shown some of his megalomaniacal tendencies. But there is still a long way to go and much to find out before anyone should be celebrating.

 

Author

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

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