While Americans struggle to cope with sexual assault claims on renowned politicians such as U.S. Sen. Al Franken, a major shake-up has occurred in Southern African politics. Zimbabwe is a quasi-democratic country – despite the systems supposedly in place, the current prime minister has been in charge without interruption since 1980. Ninety-three-year-old Robert Mugabe’s reign has been plagued by accusations of voter fraud and intimidation, and, until days ago, didn’t appear to be anywhere close to an end. Despite promises many times over the years to abide by democratic practices, Mugabe has an extensive history of torturing opposition supporters and activists as well as breaking his word on the international stage, often using the threat of martial law as a way to keep the global community off his back. On Nov. 15, however, Zimbabweans, and particularly the military, reached a breaking point.
At such an old age, it was clear that Mugabe’s time in office was limited despite his strong hold on the reins. Emmerson Mnangagwa, a longtime ally as well as the vice president, appeared to be next in line. Yet on Nov. 6, Mnangagwa was sacked as Mugabe cleared the path for Grace Mugabe, his wife, to become his successor. It seemed like yet another blatant disregard of democratic practices that would go unpunished. Just nine days later, however, Mugabe was deposed and placed under house arrest by the Zimbabwean military. The Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF), backing Mnangagwa, saw Mugabe’s blatant violation of the democratic process as an attempt to establish a family dynasty. Once the prime minister was taken into custody, the first lady fled the country and the former vice president returned to it, directly displaying the power shift that this coup caused.
In the wake of Mugabe’s house arrest, the political fallout has been extreme and very interesting. On the evening of Nov. 17, Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party abandoned his corner as at least eight of ten regional branches voted for him to resign. These dissenters also called for Grace Mugabe to resign and for Mnangagwa to be reinstated.
Despite all this, Mugabe gave a speech on Nov. 19. In it, he was widely expected to resign as ZANU-PF members came out and said he could choose between that and impeachment in the coming days. Regardless, in this live TV address, he said he plans on presiding over the ZANU-PF congress in December. Even though he has been sacked as party leader and his wife as well as other senior officials with ties to him have been expelled from the party, it is apparent he has no immediate plans to give up his power. At the same time, high-ranking officials across party lines have said this speech is nothing but a game – in truth, impeachment is imminent and Mugabe is on his way out for the last time.
As you read this, you may be wondering why it matters. The truth is, it doesn’t affect the everyday life of an average American. However, it is important to take stock of the situation. As we live under a regime at home with an increasingly authoritarian spin, it is interesting to observe a military coup elsewhere. Could it happen here? Despite a clear lack of expertise and experience, Donald Trump has appointed his children and those with other personal relations to him to high-ranking positions in the government. He has attempted to crack down on dissent while promoting a nationalist rhetoric based on “[Making] America Great Again.” These facts are in some ways parallel to the situation in Zimbabwe. Although the United States, of course, has a more stable system in place, it is important to pay attention to changes in world politics. History often repeats itself, and even America isn’t exempt to violations of the democratic process.
Over the course of writing this article, the situation has continued to change. Though I have updated it as I’ve gone along, the active and volatile nature of events has made such an intense situation difficult to cover. Though at this point the situation appears to have more or less reached a conclusion, that is a tenuous statement, and liable to change at any time. Right now, however, it appears that for the first time in almost four decades, there is a new regime in Zimbabwe.