President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s claims that Western countries were behind the violent protests that rocked Zimbabwe a fortnight ago raised fresh questions about his claims that he has broken with the past.
Mnangagwa’s successor Robert Mugabe became notorious for burying his head in the sand each time the country faced serious problems and when citizens showed discount he would blame the West.
In Mugabe’s mind, Zimbabweans didn’t have the capacity to see that they were misgoverned and needed foreigners to push them to challenge his authority.
A fortnight ago, a Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Union’s call for a three-day stay-away to protest against a steep increase in fuel prices was heeded by the majority of workers, bringing the economy to a standstill.
However, the stay-away was marred by unruly elements who went on an orgy of looting and violence that prompted a military crackdown targeting opposition and civil society activists.
According to human rights groups, more than 12 people were killed at the height of the clampdown and 78 suffered from gunshot wounds.
Police also arrested more than 1000 people accused of looting amid criticism by legal experts that innocent people were being rounded up and were not being afforded fair trials.
The government’s response to the violence has received global condemnation with the United Nations weighing in last Friday by calling for investigations into “reported cases of violence, rape and incidents of unlawful detention, including of minors.”
The horror stories being reported by foreign and local journalists that are not embedded with the State, have a striking resemblance to those of 2008 when Mugabe resorted to violence after late MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai defeated him in the first round of the presidential elections.
When he took over from Mugabe in 2017 following a military coup, Mnangagwa pledged that Zimbabweans will no longer be brutalised for exercising their freeedoms.
However, in his response to questions by journalists around the ongoing army clampdown, the president sounded unrepentant.
In fact, he sounded like his predecessor when he said “we have told the western countries that they cannot turn around and raise concerns when they are the ones sponsoring the violence.”
Mugabe was fond of using imagined western interference in Zimbabwe to justify repression and economic mismanagement.
Mnangagwa would be best advised to listen to the people when they protest and stop blaming outsiders each time there is a problem at home if he wants to be seen as different from his predecessor.
His reaction to the first real threat to his power has reminded many of the Mugabe years and that is not a flattering achievement for the president.