Zimbabwe: Unravelling November 2017 Aftershocks

Retired General Chiwenga, now Zimbabwe's Vice President
Retired General Chiwenga, now Zimbabwe's Vice President

By Blessing Mataka.

Events that led to the resignation of President Robert Mugabe on 21 November 2017 point to all but a coup d’etat.

Frustrations that former President Mugabe and the sentiments he echoed loudly to the international world at his first public appearance after the overthrow attest to that. It is not a folly observation that Mugabe is a bitter man and is finding life difficult outside politics, the only world he had known since the 1960s and after ascending to power in 1980.

Notwithstanding Mugabe’s unpopularity today among the Zimbabwean citizens, both at home and abroad, his media appearance has rattled the already embattled administration of President Emmerson Mnangagwa,  challenging its legality and further poking holes into the already compromised legitimacy of the regime. These are the after effects of the coup.

It is difficult to believe whether President Mnangagwa believes in his own response to Mugabe’s interview that ‘we have moved on’. Little to nothing has changed under Mnangagwa’s administration as evidenced by the continued cash crises, the public health system in dire strain and the patronage of the state media. President Mnangagwa’s denial of acknowledging events of the past like Gukurahundi, Operation Murambatsvina and the chaotic and violent 2008 elections choosing a convenient narrative that let bygones be bygones simply strengthen the argument that Zimbabwe has not moved on. There is no framework for national healing and prospect for a free and fair election in 2018 and going forward with this kind of denialism from the national leadership.

Worryingly to Mnangagwa and Zimbabwe is that a coup just like an earthquake is never a closed chapter; the possibility of after-shocks always lingers on.  The November 2017 military intervention in Zimbabwe is a present and ongoing phenomenon, which will be felt during and after the up-coming elections. Mugabe rightly pointed out that Mnangagwa may not have been president without the help of the army. Through Operation Restore Legacy, the military sold itself as reformists and democrats who were not interested in power themselves but merely wanted to help the people. It will be naïve, however, to fall for that cliché as the military’s hand and control have continuously been felt since November 2017. Experiences from other countries like Gambia show that after such experience as a coup, another one must be expected; it never ends well.

It is not amiss to say that the military and Mnangagwa may, together with a host of other Zimbabweans who marched on 18 November 2017,  have wanted to deceive the international community by sending a message of the unavoidability of the so-called soft coup. It worked in the short term. However, they left an ember alight, smouldering as it may have been, it is starting a political fire that is unsettling Mnangagwa and his protégé.

Robert Greene is unequivocal in the rules of power; a feared enemy must be crushed completely. More is lost through stopping halfway than total annihilation, because the enemy will recover and seek revenge.

Mugabe’s return, coupled with the formation of the National Patriotic Front (NPF), is the aftershocks of the November 2017 coup.

The presence of the NPF on the political radar may have the same effects to Zanu PF that the Mavambo/Dawn/Kusile of Dr Simba Makoni had in 2008.

Simba Makoni’s project, a former Minister in Mugabe’s cabinet, denied the late Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC-T an outright victory in the March 2008 elections as he was endorsed by the smaller faction of the MDC led by Professor Arthur Mutambara at that time.

Zimbabwe is on the verge of history repeating itself. The only difference being that in 2018 it will be Zanu PF who could be the victim.

Although the nature and texture of the NPF is not clear, the fact that Mugabe is prepared to throw his weight behind this group, and that it is composed of seasoned and experienced political strategists, is enough to spoil the election ambitions of Mnangagwa and Zanu PF.

With this in mind, a Zanu PF victory becomes very unlikely.

However, in the likely event of the revolutionary party failing to attain a majority electoral victory, it is also highly likely that they may not handover power.

Mnangagwa could not have risked such a high profile political move of ousting Mugabe so that he presides over the country for just a mere seven months. Another military intervention could be a reality and another nightmare, because when you have experienced a coup, expect another one.

President Mnangagwa has promised the citizens and the international community a free, fair and credible election.  Not surprisingly, however, nothing has changed on the ground in relation to electoral reforms as Professor Jonathan Moyo has repeatedly said; ‘No government can reform itself out of power’.

A push for electoral reforms by the opposition may remain a dream too far. What then is needed first is to encourage the citizens to register to vote, conscientise the citizens to participate and understand political processes so that they will be in a position to defend their vote. The political destiny of Zimbabwe lies with the Zimbabweans themselves. Relying on international observer missions may not be good enough, for it does not guarantee a free and fair election.

Observer missions, be they from SADC, European Union or the African Union  are mere by-standers in elections, for they do not have an election monitoring status, a role left to internal players.

The sight of the military in uniform can only serve to perpetuate a sense of fear which is a culture that has gripped the country since the involvement of the military in the June 27, 2008 run-off elections. The guarantee of the sanctity of the people’s vote in a country where the interests of the military represents the interests of the people is in serious doubt, and this can only be the after-shocks of the coup in November 2017.

The country is at a cross roads as it tries to deal and comprehend what happened in November 2017. In as much as the people celebrated seeing the back of Mugabe after 37 years of torture and endurance under his watch, it may have been a case of celebrating too early; celebrating an on-goal because it seems that the more things change in Zimbabwe, the more they remain the same.

The author is a Lecturer in International Relations and Development at Mulungushi University in Zambia

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