Zimbabwe’s military unexpectedly ousted President Robert Mugabe in late 2017, nearly four decades after he took power. Debilitating internal factionalism within the ruling Zanu-PF party over succession to Mugabe has culminated in the elevation of Emmerson Mnangagwa to the helm. He has promised to break with the past as he endeavours to navigate a much needed economic recovery. Prospects for promoting a new more inclusive political culture are less certain. Credible elections in 2018 could be a vital stepping stone toward a peaceful democratic transition, but they also pose a challenge to Zimbabwe’s weak institutions. Through research and analysis, Crisis Group sheds light on obstacles to a smooth, credible electoral process leading up to 2018. We help relevant actors nationally and internationally to buttress the likelihood of peaceful elections and democratic transition.
Zimbabwe’s military has detained the country’s 93-year-old President Robert Mugabe and his wife, Grace Mugabe, and taken control of the streets of the capital and the main television station. The next step – apparently, a legitimate-looking transfer of power to someone of the army’s choosing – may prove less easy.
President Mugabe ousted in military coup 15 Nov and replaced by former VP Mnangagwa. Mugabe early Nov expelled from ruling party ZANU-PF senior officials, including Mnangagwa for “traits of disloyalty”, widely seen as attempt to pave way for wife Grace Mugabe to accede to presidency. After his expulsion, Mnangagwa 8 Nov said he had fled to South Africa due to death threats. Army chief Constantino Chiwenga 13 Nov condemned Mnangagwa’s removal and indicated military would step in if sackings did not stop. After tanks seen moving toward capital Harare 14 Nov, army units seized city 15 Nov in operation which army spokesman said in televised address targeted “criminals” around president; South African President Zuma same day said Mugabe was “confined to his home”. Influential War Veterans Association 18 Nov held anti-Mugabe rally in Harare and protesters demanded his resignation. ZANU-PF Central Committee 19 Nov replaced Mugabe with Mnangagwa as party leader, expelled Grace Mugabe and twenty senior members, and gave Mugabe till noon on 20 Nov to resign from presidency or face impeachment. Later that day Mugabe said he would preside over next ZANU-PF congress in Dec. During impeachment proceedings 21 Nov Mugabe resigned as president, reportedly in return for multi-million dollar pay-off and immunity. Mnangagwa sworn in as president 24 Nov promising reforms, protection of property rights and foreign investments, and compensation for dispossessed farmers. He was silent on electoral reform, but pledged to hold elections next year as planned. High Court same day ruled military intervention “constitutionally permissible” and annulled Mnangagwa’s sacking. Court 25 Nov charged with corruption Finance Minister Ignatius Chombo, initially detained 15 Nov and reportedly hospitalised 24 Nov after a week held incommunicado in military custody. Having been withdrawn by army, police 27 Nov resumed work in joint patrols with army. Mnangagwa 28 Nov announced three-month amnesty for return of public funds “illegally” held abroad.
Zimbabwe has not escaped its chronic crisis. Infighting over who will succeed the ailing 92-year-old President Robert Mugabe is stifling efforts to tackle insolvency, low rule of law, rampant unemployment and food insecurity. Zimbabwe needs international help to recover, but what it needs most is a leadership willing to act on much-needed reforms.
Zimbabwe’s growing instability is exacerbated by dire economic decline, endemic governance failures, and tensions over ruling party succession; without major political and economic reforms, the country could slide into being a failed state.
A return to protracted political crisis, and possibly extensive violence, is likely as Zimbabwe holds elections on 31 July. conditions for a free and fair vote do not exist.
The pervasive fear of violence and intimidation in Zimbabwe’s 2013 elections contradicts political leaders’ rhetorical commitments to peace, and raises concerns that the country may not be ready to go to the polls.
A bold approach to the sanctions issue is necessary to refocus efforts on the actions needed to break the political stalemate in Zimbabwe before elections are held that otherwise threaten to be as violent and undemocratic as the 2008 round.
Slow and inadequate progress in implementing the compromise they reached three years ago threatens to push Zimbabwe’s contending forces into premature elections and undermine political and economic recovery.
Borrowing more may well provide some short term relief [for Zimbabwe], but it is important to see how this contributes to the long term solution as the country digs an even bigger debt hole.
[Zimbabwe's new cabinet including controversial figures ] does not bode well, certainly. We will have to wait and see what the [new ministers] actually do but it does not bode well.
The deployment of senior members of the [Zimbabwean] military into the cabinet is profoundly shocking. [It] does not reflect the [inclusivity] sentiment expressed in [the] inaugural address.
There has been a distinct impression that [Zimbabwe's new President] Mnangagwa is beholden and the power behind the throne is [the army chief] Gen Chiwenga.
[Zimbabwe's new president] Mnangagwa is silent on the issue of electoral reform. It's worth bearing in mind that the way elections are run in Zimbabwe is about keeping most eligible potential voters out of the process.
[Zimbabwe’s ousting of President Robert Mugabe represents] a military-assisted transition. This sets a bad precedent in terms of deepening democracy and pluralism in the region.
The ruling ZANU-PF is exploiting the many weaknesses of Zimbabwe’s electoral system to outpace the country’s divided opposition. Yet without a real change of policy, the country seems doomed to steeper decline.
Originally published in Zimbabwe Independent
Political infighting and a collapsed economy offer little light at the end of tunnel for the majority of Zimbabweans.
Originally published in Independent Online (South Africa)