Zimbabwe: Moving on from Mugabe?
On 19th November 2017, Robert Mugabe was removed from power by the Zimbabwean military. This ended his 37 years of dictatorial rule. The man who replaced him, former Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa, declared that “a fresh new era” had begun, and that he would strive to “achieve a better Zimbabwe”. However, nearly two years on, it seems safe to say that nothing has changed.
Mnangagwa’s ability to enact genuine change was in doubt from the moment he took power. This is because he was Mugabe’s right-hand man and most trusted ally for several years. As well as this, his reputation for being a ruthless and cunning politician has earned him the nickname “The Crocodile”. With a nickname like this, it is impossible to imagine that he could be a benevolent reformer who would suddenly overturn decades of despotism and corruption. What’s more, this is corruption that he has certainly played a major part in upholding. Finally, it seems as though the problems of the Mugabe era have not gone away under his leadership. Inflation currently stands at 175%, making it nearly as bad as the level in 2008. This has made buying basic necessities like food a nightmare for ordinary Zimbabweans. Moreover, there is a massive energy crisis sparked by a sudden hike in fuel prices and the economy remains at pitifully low levels. All of this signals a continuation of the Mugabe era.
Mnangagwa has attempted to deal with Zimbabwe’s woeful economy by reassuring international investors that Zimbabwe is “open for business”. Meanwhile, he has also called for people to be patient with the new regime. He insists that a combination of institutional changes and a crackdown on corruption will yield results soon. However, both the international community and many ordinary Zimbabweans have not given such claims any credibility. Such scepticism is very understandable because at present, no high-profile figures have been arrested for corruption. As well as this, there is absolutely no evidence to suggest that any kind of ‘institutional changes’ are being carried out. After all, the stranglehold of the ruling ZANU PF party has not been relinquished in any way whatsoever and an informal network of patronage structures continue to flourish in the government, this provides Zimbabwe with an ideal breeding ground for corruption.
There is one simple reason why Mnangagwa will be unable to move Zimbabwe on from Mugabe. He is far too closely associated with the old regime. Given that the Mugabe government was one from which he profited massively, he will have absolutely no incentive to enact any kind of change. Furthermore, Mnangagwa has close links with Zimbabwe’s military; providing him with the perfect tool to get rid of Mugabe. The military’s prominent role in Mnangagwa’s successful coup means that they are the ones who now control Zimbabwe’s politics. Consequently, it will be impossible to focus on the reforms which Zimbabwe’s economy, health service and society need so desperately. Finally, the schism in ZANU PF which led to the coup reflects a wider division in Zimbabwean society. In other words, the polarization of opinion over Mugabe has paralysed Zimbabwe in much the same way as division over Brexit has paralysed the UK.
Overall, Mnangagwa has tried to show that he is different from Mugabe, but his gestures are meaningless. Zimbabwe cannot move on under the current government because Mnangagwa is merely another version of Mugabe. What is needed is a genuinely fresh start consisting of the insertion of a new ruling party and a thorough crackdown on corruption. This will restore confidence in Zimbabwe, leading to an amelioration of its dire economic problems. Only once this process has begun can “a better Zimbabwe” be achieved.
Image - Flickr (Paul Kagame)