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In Zimbabwe: An Era Comes To An End With The Ouster Of Robert Mugabe

Robert Mugabe, the 2nd President of Zimbabwe, in office 1987 – 2017.

The political end of President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, came swiftly and unexpectedly. After leading the country since its independence from the United Kingdom in 1980, he was forced to leave office, once the military had consolidated control away from him.

The former 93 year old President had clung to power, even as his mental faculties began to fail. He was attempting to engineer a gradual transfer of power to his wife, when he lost control over events.

As the worlds oldest head of state, his grip on power had been tenacious, in the 37 years he had run Zimbabwe. He maintained his authority over decades, through widespread intimidation and repression. The ongoing election rigging and the jailing of opposition leaders, left Zimbabwe bereft of political options.

In the early years of his rule, Prime Minister Mugabe was known for expanding much needed social services. He brought about the construction of new hospitals and schools. Mugabe and a number of his contemporaries had won their independence, by promises of economic redistribution and reclaiming land back, from the then prosperous white minority.

At the same time, he was already engaging in a brutal crackdown, on his then political opponent the late nationalist Joshua Nkomo. The latter had been the founder of the struggle for independence, of what was then known as Rhodesia, from the United Kingdom.

Joshua Nkomo became one of the leading figures of resistance to white minority rule in Southern Rhodesia.

This power struggle identified as the Gukurahundi, was waged by forces trained by North Korea. It led to the death of some 20,000 people, most of them supporters of Nkomo.

It ended with the 1987 Unity Accord, between the political movements of ZANU-PF and PF-ZAPU.

Mugabe would assume the presidency the same year, and would maintain absolute political control of the country for the next three decades. The office of Prime Minister would be abolished. Mugabe had no intention, in sharing power with anyone else.

His hold on power continued, through a process of rigging the ensuant elections. These still controversial events, would spark violence as his supporters and paid henchmen, dealt with political opponents.

President Mugabe became increasingly authoritarian as years passed. He became far less patient, with those who did not agree with him. In addition, he became ever more obvious, that there would be no toleration of dissent.

The flag of ZAPU, which were largely eliminated by ZANU-PF in the Gukurahundi.

Much of the blame for the country’s subsequent economic collapse, can be attributed to Mugabe. His ignorance and indifference to the economic consequences for his political actions, cannot be underestimated.

He turned one of Africa’s richest countries, and the bread basket of the southeast, into an economic disaster.

In what he claimed to be the financial empowering of the black majority in Zimbabwe, his controversial and extreme land reform policies, turned the country from a net food exporter to that of an importer. It would only mark the beginning, of his mostly ruinous economic policies.

Although the majority of Zimbabweans might of agreed that there was a need for a land redistribution, the violent way it was done, has since become a contentious and divisive topic.

Many Zimbabweans now rely on humanitarian aid, such as this maize donated by Australia under the aegis of the United Nations World Food Program.

Veterans from the wars of liberation, would arrive on farms owned by white settlers, some which had been there for several generations, and simply take them over. Any resistance was met with violence, as thousands of white farmers were expelled and forced to flee to South Africa.

In this way, some 75,000 hectares or 185,000 acres of productive land was taken away from white owners, who had comprised just 1.5% of the population.

This government sanctioned action resulted in more than depriving the former possessors of their property, it had resulted in a calamitous economic consequence.

In many cases, the new owners were either ill equipped or unwilling to farm the newly confiscated land. In addition, local black laborers no longer would be offered employment opportunities, on these now defunct businesses.

In an experience repeated countless times across the country, the previous agricultural abundance would evaporate. There were now shortages of food, which soon began a rise in prices, that helped bring about the devastating hyperinflation.

Towards the end of the confiscation of the farms and the involvement in the Second Congo War, the currency of Zimbabwe became practically worthless.

During the height of the inflation from 2008 to 2009, the rate was estimated to be 79.6 billion percent in November of 2008. This made one American dollar equal to Z$2,621,984,228.

By 2009, Zimbabwe announced the cessation of domestic printing of money. The populace was already using currencies, from a number of other countries. In 2015, the country would announce the adoption of the United States dollar (USD) as the national currency.

A later similar Mugabe inspired law and economic growth killing measure, was what has become known as the indigenisation law. It required that all domestic firms, had to become majority owned by black Zimbabweans.

The flag of the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU)

The November military intervention, came about because of the upheaval within Mugabe’s own ruling ZANU-PF party. In a calculated move, Mugabe decided to dismiss the Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa on charges of disloyalty. The latter was an ally of the army chief and one of the last remaining colleagues from the period of independence.

Mnangagwa had to go, because he was the obvious successor, to the now visibly failing Mugabe. In order to smooth the way for his wife Grace to assume the Presidency, Mugabe felt compelled to stamp out any last vestiges of resistance.

Emmerson Mnangagwa in 2015.

Even as the former Vice President was fleeing the country, the entire political maneuver would soon backfire. The army commander Constantine Chiwenga in less than a week, made it known that he would not tolerate, further persecution against former liberation fighters.

The ongoing purges of Mnangagwa allies, many of which were former war veterans, widened the political rift within the ruling party. There were feelings of betrayal by the former revolutionaries, who were stating that President Mugabe had turned his back on the movement.

On the 15th of the month, the army seized control of the state broadcaster ZBC, in the capital of Harare. Military forces also blocked off access to government offices. Although there were immediate claims that a coup was underway against Mugabe, Mr. Chiwenga would deny it.

Tens of thousands of people now demonstrating in the streets, accurately sensed the moment had arrived, to bring the Mugabe era to a close. They were soon demanding, that he step down from power.

Air Marshal Perence Shiri salutes President Mnangagwa at the inauguration.

On the 21st of November, as the legislature moved to impeach the beleaguered President, Mugabe finally acknowledged the inevitable and submitted his resignation.

He was immediately replaced by formerly fired Vice President, Emmerson Mnangagwa.

The problem with that transition of power, is that some see Mnangagwa simply as an extension of the former President Mugabe government. Others remain more hopeful, that there will soon be economic and political reforms of a country desperately in need of both.

Mnangagwa has a reputation in Zimbabwe, for oppressing political opponents and being part of the past rigging of elections.

Location of Zimbabwe (dark blue)
in the African Union (light blue)

The new President Mnangagwa, will need to focus on stabilizing an economy in free fall. During the week that encompassed the actions taken by the military and the resignation of Mugabe, the main stock index plummeted 40%. This translated into a loss of $6 billion USD.

The fiscal deficit has grown to anywhere from 12% to 15% of GDP (Gross Domestic Product). The foreign debt stands at $9 billion USD. The situation is totally hopeless, without a definitive change in direction.

Foreign reserves will be exhausted in a matter of months. Inflation is somewhere between 25% and 50% as the dollar disappears from actual circulation. The banking system is being forced to conduct most business electronically, to hide the fact that there is an acute shortage of hard currency.

The infrastructure of the country is headed for collapse, as communications and transportation become increasingly unreliable. This is not just in the countryside, but in urban areas as well. The state of disrepair and neglect of public services, includes the capital of Harare.

Morgan Tsvangirai 2nd Prime Minister of Zimbabwe.

One of his first orders of business, will be to rebuild political ties with other world governments. President Mnangagwa will certainly need international help, in financing an economic recovery. This will necessitate, moving away from the authoritarianism of the Mugabe era.

The rupture in foreign relations came to a head in the 2008 elections. Mugabe had actually lost to Morgan Tsvangirai. Instead of accepting the decision of the voters, he instead sparked a new round of violence, that led to the deaths of some 200 political opponents.

The unity government that was created in 2009, called for major change. In the end, former President Mugabe reneged on the pledges that were made, during this period of crisis.

Foreign investors are unlikely to return, until the indigenisation law is rescinded. President Mnangagwa will also need to come to terms, with the legal owners of the more than 4,000 farms, that have been confiscated since 2000. The estimated value of this loss to the original farmers, is in excess of $5 billion USD.

Map showing the food insecurity in Zimbabwe in June 2008

There has to be a return of the rule of law. Property rights for all businesses must be guaranteed, if foreign banks are to be enticed, to lend the regime and the country any money.

Land reform will be exceptionally politically difficult. The majority of the ZANU-PF legislators cling to the belief that land should be leased, with ownership remaining with the state. President Mnangagwa was among them, who believes in a large state presence in land control.

Unfortunately, the new President’s mandate according to the constitution, will end in August of 2018. He is simply filling out the rest of term in office for Mugabe. Worse yet, if a fair election would actually be held, there is a good chance he would be defeated.

This is why many people seriously doubt Mnangagwa will permit such an events from occurring. He is far more likely to get the legislature to extend his tenure by two or three years. He will need a two thirds majority in both houses of parliament, which is doable at this point, since the ZANU-PF still predominates this branch of government.

Supporters of the Movement for Democratic Change.

The main leader of opposition is unsurprisingly, the electorally cheated Morgan Tsvangirai. His Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party, will obviously oppose any extension in the presidential term.

However, President Mnangagwa as previously stated, is quite adept at dealing with opposing political leaders. Known as the crocodile, due to his ability to wait patently for the right moment and then attacking ruthlessly, he is more than a match, for the now cancer stricken Tsvangirai.

Mnangagwa will move to divide the opposition and is even likely to offer government posts to some of the senior leadership. This may well include Tsvangirai himself. The latter has already lost some of his political credibility, when he entered into the ill fated period of coalition, from 2009 to 2013.

A demonstration in London against Robert Mugabe. Protests are discouraged by Zimbabwean police in Zimbabwe.

It will take precious time, in order to restore the tattered reputation of Zimbabwe. A newly inaugurated President Mnangagwa, will have to repeal a whole set of repressive laws.

At the same time, he will need to recreate the corrupted electoral commission and to allow for future foreign observers of national elections. This will be the only way that he will gain standing and needed recognition from abroad.

President Mnangagwa will eventually have to allow the media and the opposition, to criticize his government. He cannot rely on security forces and the army to crush dissent.

Western nations are more wary of promises, since Mugabe failed to deliver on his earlier commitments. Mnangagwa will need to show almost immediate progress, if foreign aid is to begin to flow.

The future of Zimbabwe is now in a state of transition that is hamstrung by almost insurmountable economic, financial and political challenges. The question will remain is the continued leadership of President Mnangagwa, part of the answer?

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