November 15 will probably go down as one of the most historic days in Zimbabwe. Not least for the sudden shift in the balance of power from the erstwhile rule of Zimbabwe’s only leader since independence, Robert Mugabe to the takeover by the military, but also on the implications of the abrupt move on the country’s democracy going forward.
By Nigel Nyamutumbu
The majority of Zimbabweans have been “cautiously celebrating” the latest development under the pretext that the military takeover will at least retire the presidency of the incumbent Mugabe, who many blame for the current political and socio-economic crisis in the country and usher in a new leadership through constitutional means or otherwise.
“Any change is better than no change” has been the tagline in most conversations as most Zimbabweans desperately express their frustrations and intent to see the fall of one man they despise the most.
Most statements and public pronouncements by leaders have been celebrating the move by the military and this occasion is one of those rare moments when the opposition unites among its ranks and with members of the ruling party, Zanu PF.
The celebrations were echoed among Zimbabweans in the Diaspora, many of whom have been expressing their exhilaration on social media.
There is even a video that went viral in which some Zimbabweans in the United Kingdom are seen breaking in song and dance to rejoice the fall of one of the world’s longest serving leader.
Unsurprisingly, the international community — particularly the UK — joined in the chorus, reminding the world of Mugabe’s atrocities and how the time was nigh for Zimbabwe to enjoy democracy and respect of the rule of law.
While most countries have been emphasising the need to maintain peace, law and order in Zimbabwe, very few (if any) have out rightly condemned the unconstitutionality of the military takeover.
None so far have called for the release of ministers and officials arrested by the military, without formal charge and without due process.
For the avoidance of doubt, I am not suggesting that the widespread celebrations of the removal of Mugabe’s powers are unjustified. Certainly not!
Mugabe has for long been a symbol of everything wrong in this country. He has virtually run down the country to its knees.
Politically, Mugabe is the reason why the country has required international intervention and his failure to manage his succession both within his party and government is the reason why we find ourselves in this mess.
On the economic front, Mugabe’s ludicrous policies, misplaced priorities and corrupt government account for the persistent challenges, whose end is not in sight.
Mugabe goes down the history books as the man who took charge of the country with one of the world’s worst ever inflation records.
We will remember him as a man that installed fear among his citizens and crush his opponents, including any media critical of his rule with impunity.
Many people perished to preventable and curable diseases under his leadership and to date a good number of the citizens he purports to represent live in abject poverty.
Mugabe did not respect the people’s will and while he was once popular, especially in the days when the euphoria of attaining independence gripped the country, he resorted to use coercion, manipulation and all sorts of dirty tactics to steal the people’s victory.
The year 2008 was a point in question when in broad daylight wherein Mugabe with the help of the military employed all sorts of tactics, including withholding presidential election results for a month to deny a change of government.
The military has always been the backbone of Mugabe’s rule. A glimpse into the country’s history shows how Mugabe’s very first electoral victory was influenced by the Zanla armed forces.
While this victory was a significant milestone in guaranteeing the country’s independence, there were concerns on the use of force by Mugabe’s Zanu raised by parties to this election.
It is public record that the national army, at the behest of Mugabe and Zanla were behind several atrocities in the Midlands and Matabeleland areas in the 80s and continued to be Mugabe’s spine in the 90s and became even more prominent since the rise of serious opposition to the Zanu PF hegemony in the 2000s.
If anything, since 2000 Zimbabwe’s military commanders have openly pronounced themselves on purely civilian matters, often declaring war on any result outside their preferred.
The military has been and is still living in the pre-independence era, when there was conflation between the party and the army.
Although Mugabe often argues that politics leads the gun, itself a democratic presupposition, Zimbabwe has been militarised to the extent that sometimes it’s difficult to separate the two.
Mugabe himself has used the “gun” to lead politics against his opponents and the armed forces have often claimed that they are the political kingmakers.
The statement issued by the commander of the Defence Forces General Constantino Chiwenga, which state media houses, the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation and the Herald ashamedly censored on November 13, was quite telling in that it refers the military as the country’s “stockholders”.
Arguably, the armed forces are a key state agent, particularly in defending the country and sustaining peace and as such entitled to claim ownership of the country like any other citizen can brag of their ownership, it becomes problematic when the army uses their military might as a licence to first class citizenship.
It is that culture of that Zimbabweans should be wary of. The idea is not to remove one dictator with another.
Neither is it about sustaining the militarisation of the country’s politics and entrenching the status quo, where the line between party politics and the military is so blurry that the latter can openly interfere in the political questions of the day.
Yes, the clipping of Mugabe’s powers is a somewhat positive development and that he must resign not only on the basis of his elderly age but also due to his glaring failures is not in question.
But if his demise is only going to serve as a means of entrenching the powers of the military on our country’s politics, then it’s meaningless.
One hopes we can still salvage our Constitution and maintain a democratic order in Zimbabwe. That should be every Zimbabwean’s concern.
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