Eight days after a succession crisis and a coup, one of the world’s oldest and longest-serving leaders, Robert Mugabe, has resigned as President of Zimbabwe. After a long, rambling speech on Sunday in which he refused to step down, and missing a deadline to step down yesterday, Mugabe has been forced to resign in disgrace. Zimbabwe’s parliament had already begun impeachment proceedings, led by the Zanu-PF who had sacked Mugabe as leader of the party on Sunday. Now, the 93-year-old leader has resigned with immediate effect and Emmerson Mnangagwa is primed to take over as leader of Zimbabwe.
The resignation begins an astonishing eight-day crisis to a familiar in a mostly peaceful coup and military takeover. The coup began after Mugabe began solidifying his wife’s power base in preparation for her to succeed him, including firing Mnangagwa, his vice-president, for speaking out. However, Mnangagwa had powerful allies in the military and soon after his departure to Nambia, the army took over the capital of Harare, captured the president and arrested dozens of supporters for Mugabe’s wife, Grace.
In direct contrast to the violent and often bloody coups of the past, Zimbabwe has seen a relatively peaceful, if somewhat tense, transfer of power. Part of this can be traced back to the original broadcast where army figures insist that this was not a coup. Mnangagwa and his allies are wary of international opinion and eager to ensure that Mugabe was deposed by constitutional means rather than by the barrel of a gun. As a member of the African Union and with the economy devastated by decades of mismanagement, Mnangagwa would need funding and outside loans to stabilize the country he now rules.
The tacit support of South Africa and China is proof of this need for peaceful transition. As some of their most important allies and economic partners, a violent coup would see the economy ravaged even more, along with civil conflict and possible military intervention from the West. The coup will also be a sign to other African nations, many of whom still languish under dictators and strongmen. Mugabe’s demise is certainly a stark warning to those who rule by fear and coercion.
It is too soon to say what will happen next. Mugabe might be gone, but change does not happen overnight. Mnangagwa might be a hero to some, but he is cut from much of the same cloth as Mugabe. In fact, as vice-president and a former ally and minister, Mnangagwa is just as responsible for Mugabe’s iron grip on power as anyone else. His calls for national unity and his small steps towards bringing the opposition parties together might just be for show. Mnangagwa might very well become Mugabe the Second.
We must also remember that the coup was started because of a succession crisis. The people didn’t replace the president, he courtiers did. The military was essentially a chess piece for Mnangagwa to take a gamble and depose his former boss over a power struggle in the court. Mugabe fell because of a divisive successor in the form of his wife and a party and army with split loyalties. The people added to the pressure, but in the end, this was an internal matter for Mnangagwa. That said, now that the people have risen up in such numbers, he would do well to tread carefully.
For now, people are dancing in the streets and many hail this as the start of a new era. Mnangagwa would be wise to follow up on that optimism. There are opportunities and challenges ahead as people come to grips with Mugabe’s sudden departure. Zimbabwe, Africa and the whole world bear witness to the end of an era and perhaps the birth of a new one.
Only time will tell whether Mugabe’s reign is an end to tyranny or business as usual.