Zimbabwe After Mugabe: Caught at the Crossroads of Leadership
Robert Mugabe has finally surrendered his position as president of Zimbabwe after nearly 40 years of despotic rule. He claimed this position through his service in the Rhodesian Bush War which pitted native Black Zimbabweans against the Whites who created a system of apartheid in which the White minority would dominate every aspect of Zimbabwean society. After the war was settled. Rhodesia would become Zimbabwe and Black majority rule would prevail. Like most leaders, Mugabe was seen as charismatic, charming and ambitious. He was even knighted by the Queen of England, Elizabeth II.
Not much else needs to be said about Mugabe, as since then he has been known for corruption, and incompetence. Once being known as the “Breadbasket of Africa” Zimbabwe has become a failed state. Although Mugabe’s leadership was frought with corruption, there have still been those who have directed their criticism to the west which has placed a series of sanctions on Mugabe and various members of his party, the Zanu PF. The United States Department of Treasury claims these sanctions are directed solely to Mugabe and his party members, but critics say these sanctions have a history of never removing a despot from power. Instead, the opposite effect tends to happen in which the said despot feels the external pressure mounting and entrenches himself deeper with harsher policies. This has happened with nearly every despot threatened with sanctions.
Regardless, Zimbabwe has faced 40 years of woe under Mugabe and the Zanu PF. Now the 93 year old Mugabe has stepped down and in his stead comes Emmerson Mnangagwa. Also known as “The Crocodile”, Mnangagwa is also a veteran of the Bush War and was the head of Zimbabwe’s Central Intelligence Organization (CIO). As the head of the CIO Mnangagwa was ultimately Mugabe’s enforcer as he controlled the secret police and was responsible the the arrests, torture and murder of thousands of Zimbabweans. At one point the International Association of Genocide Scholars (IAGS) estimated at least 20,000 civilians were killed by the CIO and the armed forces. With this being said, Mnangagwa’s appointment as the new president of Zimbabwe does not leave many with a sense of optimism.
Perhaps one change with under new leadership will be the removal of sanctions. Many members of the Zanu PF as well as various government owned firms have faced travel bans and their assets were frozen. Although the European Union lifted their sanctions in 2014, the United States has held firm in continuing sanctions. Because of Mnangagwa’s close ties to Mugabe, it is likely that American sanctions will continue. While Mnangagwa has removed a handful of corrupt party officials, he has also kept some as well, such as the chief of police, Augustine Chihuri. The police are ubiquitously known to be mired in corruption. Citizens have faced shake downs by the police on an almost routine level. The blue collar wage in the country is about 250 USD a month. This meager number drops even further as the people are forced to pay police between 10-20 USD in bribes to remain unharassed by police. So by preserving Chihuri as chief of police, Mnangagwa has created the image that he will not be as hard on corruption as he professes.
Perhaps the real issue, in spite new leadership is how this change affects the people, and ergo the soul of Zimbabwe. This loosely parallels Cuba after the death of Fidel Castro and the USSR after the death of Stalin. Although Cuba, the USSR, and Zimbabwe are very different countries they have one clear similarity. Castro, Stalin and Mugabe have all come to power by riding the wave of rebellion against a seemingly imperialistic force that strictly drew the line between the haves and the have nots, and marginalizing various groups of people. All three leaders became faces of their respective revolutions. Their very being became symbolic.
When Mugabe first became the leader of Zimbabwe, the first things he did was change the country’s name from Rhodesia to Zimbabwe, and launch a campaign of indigenization. Indigenization would be the process of taking land away from White Zimbabweans and redistributing it to Black Zimbabweans. This policy also meant that all business would need to under majority control by Black Zimbabweans. It was in fact this policy that drew the ire of the UK and USA and brought forth some of the first sanctions. Despite the sanctions, Mugabe was heralded as the Black liberator who destroyed the system of apartheid. This support is what first helped him become entrenched in power.
But with an average age of 20 years and a life expectancy of about 60 years, Zimbabwe is a very young country. Most Zimbabweans now were not present during the Rhodesian Bush War nor have they experienced apartheid under the White Zimbabweans. Therefore there has been a disconnect for many years as political incompetence made Zimbabwe economically weak, so weak that Mugabe eventually would loose the symbol of father figure and come to be seen more as a parasite. Those who praised Castro, Stalin or Mugabe were more frequently than not those who did not live in the countries that those men presided over. Those who lived in the respective countries however were confronted with a constant state of discomfort and patriotism became difficult to balance against an inflation rate of 1000% or the fear of never being seen again if one speaks out against the state.
In Cuba, many Cubans proclaimed the post Fidel nation as “more of the same”. While Raul has made relations with the United States more palpable, progress is still slow in Cuba. These long standing leaders have left their fingerprint to be emulated by the next ruler from his party. So while the 93 year old Mugabe has left Zimbabwe, he has been replaced by the 75 year old Mnangagwa, who was also a key member in the Zanu PF. It is not enough to simply have a young, anxious population, a nation must also have younger leadership. Many of the world’s despots are over 70 years of age, and across the developing world there is a restlessness in those waiting for the older generation to cede the reigns to new hopefuls. This could be Mnangagwa’s big break. If he could replace corrupt Zanu PF members with younger, more liberal officials, he could potentially bridge the disconnect and distrust between the people and the state and start Zimbabwe on a hopeful path.
There is undoubtedly more complexity to the Zimbabwe’s problems but this kind of change in leadership would be a step in the right direction. Another idea that has been proposed is mending relations with the government and the white farmers whom they confiscated land from. This would come in the form of financially compensating those who had their land taken as an incentive to bring them, as well as other interested parties back Zimbabwe. This however would change the narrative of history. Indigenization was a punishment on those who created the subjugating system of apartheid. The land held by White Zimbabweans was stripped from indigenous populations. In fact it should be noted that South Africa has also exercised policies of indigenization. While not as harsh as those of Zimbabwe, it was part of their grand scheme of ‘truth and reconciliation’, but perhaps the biggest difference between South Africa and Zimbabwe is their economic power. The argument behind a change in Zimbabwe’s indigenization is that it will create an incentive to bring more companies into the country and possibly end sanctions from the United States. In any matter, the damage of indigenization has already been done and it is unlikely that compensation will bring farmers back after nearly 40 years. While other changes to indigenization could create an allure for new investors, Zimbabwe’s problem is one that needs to be fixed from the inside out in the sense that the standard of living and education should be among the first reforms.