Robert Mugabe better take care in offering his death as a bargaining position … because a mob of Zimbabweans might be on their way to accept those terms. The four-decade dictator has mostly remained in his presidential compound since the military seized control of Harare after Mugabe tried sacking his vice president to hand control over to his wife. General Constantino Chiwenga has tried sweet-talking Mugabe into an honorable retirement, but his nephew says neither his uncle or aunt would accept the coup:
Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe and his wife Grace are “ready to die for what is correct” and have no intention of stepping down in order to legitimize this week’s military coup, his nephew, Patrick Zhuwao, said on Saturday.
Mugabe and his family may still believe that the country will rally to his side. The cashiering of Emmerson Mnangagwa, himself also a prominent veteran of the independence fight, appears instead to have been the last straw, especially when it was so transparent a move to consolidate Mugabe’s personal power. Zimbabweans are rallying in the streets, but they are marching to demand that Mugabe “rest” rather than to demand his release. And they may not be particular about the method used to guarantee his “rest”:
Zimbabweans celebrating the expected fall of President Robert Mugabe began marching towards his residence in the capital Harare on Saturday, live television pictures showed, as the country prepared to oust its leader of the last 37 years.
Earlier in the day tens of thousands of people flooded the streets of the capital singing, dancing and hugging soldiers in an outpouring of elation as Mugabe’s rule comes to an end.
In scenes reminiscent of the downfall of Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu in 1989, men, women and children ran alongside the armored cars and troops that stepped in this week to oust the only ruler Zimbabwe has known since independence in 1980.
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. This won’t be a repeat of Romania’s self-liberation 28 years ago, at least not at first. Ceaucescu’s downfall meant a complete rejection of the political and economic status quo, but that’s not even on the table in Zimbabwe. The army conducted this coup to guarantee the quasi-Marxist status quo, not to launch free-market and libertarian reforms. Mnangagwa will just ensure that the country doesn’t fall into a dynastic cult of personality as happened in North Korea. It’s almost certain that Mnangagwa will only be marginally worse than the man the army just deposed, and odds are decent or better that the military’s intercession will set a precedent for a later junta to take explicit control.
However, those are the short-term prospects. Longer term, the building popular momentum for Mugabe’s “rest” will set high expectations for the outcome of this change. If Mnangagwa doesn’t deliver soon on economics and greater liberty, these same people will eventually march on Mnangagwa, too. Mugabe may not be the last Zimbabwean strongman who has to decide whether he wants to bet his life on his “right” to rule as dictator.
And make no mistake — expectations are already running high:
Carnival atmosphere at anti-Mugabe rally in Harare as demonstrators dance in the streets and call for the 93-year-old to stand down https://t.co/kIJN0GKN69 pic.twitter.com/eosRucSuO5
— AFP news agency (@AFP) November 18, 2017
Many protesters welcomed the army’s takeover this week that has brought 93-year-old Mugabe’s previously impregnable reign to the brink of collapse.
“Just look at the crowds here… Finally we can hope to have jobs when I finish university,” Tafadzwa Musarurwa, a 22-year-old social studies student at the University of Zimbabwe, who marched in the central business district, told AFP.
As a carnival atmosphere spread through the city, demonstrators swigged from beer bottles and danced in the road demanding that Mugabe accept defeat and step down.
Mnangagwa will have a big problem on his hands if he can’t deliver. As for Grace Mugabe, she’d better be checking out new digs abroad — maybe outside of Africa. The worst of the shortest-term consequences will be aimed at her, unless her husband manages to pull off a miracle.