No way back for weakened Robert Mugabe
Robert Mugabe’s unchallenged rule over Zimbabwe has come to an end.
The military insist he is still in charge but his writ doesn’t run beyond the walls of State House in Harare which is now surrounded by armoured vehicles under the command of former comrades.
Just a few weeks short of his 30 year anniversary as the second president of Zimbabwe, the veteran of guerrilla war and detention in Rhodesian prison is now a prisoner of the very men who helped liberate their country.
They might have put up with the 93-year-old head of state had he not looked weaker by the day while his wife, Grace, manoeuvred herself into power and disenfranchised other veterans of the guerrilla camps in favour of her own cronies.
Major General SB Moyo insisted when announcing that there had not been a coup that Robert Mugabe was very much still the Zimbabwean president.
But he is not.
And he will not be able to recover from being so summarily and bloodlessly shoved aside.
Even his notorious Sixth Brigade of North Korean trained presidential guards were unable, or unwilling, to protect him as the armoured vehicles rolled on to the streets of Harare the night before his home was surrounded.
The armed forces said that they had intervened to end economic collapse and a purge of their fellow veterans from the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union from the civil service and elsewhere.
Mr Mugabe will principally be remembered for instituting ever greater autocracy and for turning a breadbasket nation into a beggar through land reforms which drove white farmers off their land, replacing them with political supporters who mostly failed to work the land effectively.
But among African leaders he has a different reputation. One that Westerners tend to ignore.
He is seen as a liberation leader who served as prime minister and then president of a country that was hamstrung by economic “reforms” forced on it by western donors during the 1990s that simultaneously demanded democratisation.
Once an Anglophile and an avid scholar of Shakespeare, Mr Mugabe turned against Britain, the former colonial power, and saw himself in the vanguard of the developing world’s attempts to see off “western neo-imperialist” attempts to force unviable and unwelcome change.
His supporters meanwhile ignored the mass killing of Ndebele in the south of the country while he consolidated power during the 1980s when an estimated 10,000 people perished.
His defiance of western pressure meant that Zimbabwe was starved of donor support and his authoritarianism opened the doors to widespread corruption, often driven by the most senior elements in the armed forces.
Illicit diamond mining, fuel smuggling and direct theft from the government’s coffers became widespread in a country that had, and still often boasts, the highest literacy rate in Africa.
Tendai Biti, the leading opposition intellectual, has called for the intervention of the African Union following the coup.
The union has been intolerant of coups elsewhere in Africa and sent troops to put them down. It has been silent on events in Harare so far.
Perhaps in recognition that a bloodless intervention may be the only way Zimbabwe can end Mr Mugabe’s rule.
But there is no clear route to what is coming next.
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