30 August, 2016

The End of the Road for the Mugabe Regime?

by Hussein Solomon

2016 might well be the year which marks the end of Mugabe’s authoritarian regime. The portents do not look good for the world’s oldest president, Robert Mugabe, who at 92 has misruled his country for 36 years. A number of factors have come together to form a perfect storm around his tottering government. First, the Zimbabwean economy is fast running out of cash. In past economic crises Mugabe and his cronies were bailed out by the International Monetary Fund and the Chinese. Given the ongoing mismanagement of the economy and institutionalized corruption, there are no international actors who are likely to assist him this time. One indicator of this economic meltdown was that on 26 July the daily volume on Harare’s stock exchange plummeted to US $105, from US $1 million at its peak.

President Robert Mugabe (Photo: GCIS)

Without money, the ruling ZANU-PF’s patronage networks are crumbling with normally loyal allies turning against the leadership. Earlier this year a group of influential war veterans attacked Mugabe’s “dictatorial tendencies”. The cash crunch has also resulted in the government’s inability to pay the salaries of its bloated civil servants. Elements in the security services are already threatening to join protestors should their full salaries not be made timeously. In an effort to maintain their control given the threat from the security services, ZANU-PF said it will deploy its youth wing to crush any protests. However, following last week’s protests, ZANU-PF’s Youth League could only muster 500 of its members and were compelled to shelve their plans to crush political dissenters.

The ongoing drought has also added further impetus to the economic crisis. Four million Zimbabweans currently have insufficient food. This too has strategic significance. Over the past two decades, ZANU-PF has lost the support of its urban cities with the rural areas becoming the stronghold of the ruling party. Given the lack of assistance from the government in responding to the drought, there are indications that dissatisfaction against Mugabe’s rule is also spreading to the countryside.

The urban opposition meanwhile is more united than ever. At the end of August leaders of 18 opposition parties, including a former prime minister, vice president and finance minister, met to forge a coalition against Mugabe’s ZANU-PF. These are further supported by civil society groupings such as Tajamuka and #ThisFlag. Last week’s demonstrations were among some of the biggest in the country with security forces being overwhelmed by protestors and being forced to retreat. The fact that the peaceful protests were given the green light by Zimbabwe’s High Court to go ahead and that despite this the police brutally attempted to crush the protestors demanding urgent electoral reforms ahead of the 2018 poll particularly riled demonstrators. The mood amongst demonstrators was uncompromising, “Beat us all you want, but we shall not yield”, they defiantly roared on the streets of Harare.

To compound matters for Mugabe, his own party is deeply divided. One faction is led by his wife Grace who sees herself as Mugabe’s natural successor and is supported by Higher Education Minister Jonathan Moyo and Local Government Minister Saviour Kasukuwere. Another faction is led by Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa who commands the support of the security services.

As Zimbabwe burns, as UN Secretary General Ban ki-Moon expresses his concern, the rapidly deteriorating situation in the country does not attract the attention of either the African Union or the Southern African Development Community.

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