Why 'coup' that ousted former Zimbabwean President was successful

What were the most important factors responsible for Mugabe's forced exit?

The inauguration ceremony is a culmination of what has been a whirlwind 11 days in the history of Zimbabwe that started when military vehicles rolled into the outskirts of Harare on November 14.

In what the Chief of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces, General Constantine Chiwenga, insisted in a televised address was not a coup, Mugabe and his family were confined to his Blue House compound after the takeover.

This signalled the beginning of the end of one of Africa's longest-serving leaders who was definitely not ready to see it all end.

Despite an initial defiance against calls for him to step down, Mugabe finally resigned on Tuesday, November 21, while lawmakers were meeting to discuss impeachment proceedings against him.

While Zimbabweans continue to rejoice about the end of an insufferably long era, it is worth noting why it happened now after several years of wishing it.

Succession plan

While it appeared the 93-year-old Mugabe was willing to hold on to power for as long as he could, old age was always an adversary he could never defeat.

With the knowledge that Mugabe would cease to rule the nation one day, a lot of debates had revolved around who was going to be his successor.

For a long time, Mnangagwa appeared to be a shoe-in for that role having been Mugabe's protege since the two fought for the country's independence in the 1970s.

When he was appointed as Mugabe's deputy in 2014 after a string of cabinet positions throughout the decades, Mnangagwa was widely seen as the heir-apparent to the throne.

His place became threatened when a faction of the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF), Generation 40, started a movement to replace the older officials of the party of which Mnangagwa was one.

Fiercely outspoken former First Lady, Grace Mugabe, was the face of this movement with many public rants against Mnangagwa and his own ZANU-PF faction nicknamed Lacoste.

With Grace Mugabe's public outbursts against Mnangagwa, many started to suspect she had her eyes set on the presidency, and she was never shy about it, claiming in 2016 that she was "already the President" because she "plans and does everything with President Robert Mugabe."

Grace's presidential ambition didn't sit well with many Zimbabweans who reportedly resented her for her flashy lifestyle. She was nicknamed 'Gucci Grace' due to her expensive shopping habits.

Mnangagwa's dismissal

After months of public tension between Mnangagwa and the First Lady, Mugabe sacked his Vice President on November 6 for allegedly plotting against the government. Mnangagwa promptly fled the country to escape a threat to his life.

Mugabe's dismissal of Mnangagwa was interpreted by many as a tacit endorsement of Grace as his eventual successor as president even though he still planned to contest the upcoming 2018 election.

Mnangagwa's army connections

With his role in Zimbabwe's war of independence and separate stints as Minister of State Security and Minister of Defence, Mnangagwa had deep connections in the military and is an ally of General Chiwenga.

A day before launching the "guardian coup" that eventually ousted Mugabe, General Chiwenga expressed the military's dissatisfaction with Mnangagwa's firing.

He said, "It is with humility and a heavy heart that we come before you to pronounce the indisputable reality that there is instability in Zanu-PF today and as a result anxiety in the country at large."

Mnangagwa's influence

Mugabe's influence has undoubtedly waned as he aged over the past few years with reports of a failing health.

In that period, he's been able to consolidate power through influential allies like Mnangagwa who played a critical role in brokering a power-sharing pact between him and Morgan Tsvangirai after the disputed 2008 presidential election result.

With support from Zimbabwe's security establishment and veterans of the 1970s guerrilla war, Mnangagwa's sacking was very pivotal to bringing Mugabe's rule to a humiliating end.

With several corruption allegations against his government (Transparency International estimates that Zimbabwe loses $1 billion per year to corruption), Mugabe's perceived attempt to install his wife as his successor was too much for Zimbabwe to swallow.

With Zimbabwe's poverty rate at 72%, inflation peaking at 231,000,000% and a stagnant GDP growth, it wasn't hard to get the Zimbabwean people to back the military's action.

New revolutionary era?

Zimbabwe is one of the most economically unequal countries in the world and it's going to take a lot of hard work to undo the decades of damage wrought by Mugabe's rule.

Questions have arisen about whether 75-year-old Mnangagwa is the right man to lead the nation out of its current rot especially considering his storied association with Mugabe's government.

Rather than a well-intentioned revolutionary chapter in the history of Zimbabwe, some have deemed the ouster of Mugabe as the result of a mere internal fight among the country's elites.

Mnangagwa has a troubled history that most notably includes human rights abuses against political opponents and ethnic minorities, acts he purportedly carried out for Mugabe.

With the man nicknamed "The Crocodile" about to wield power over the country's lucrative farm and mining operations, at least until the 2018 elections, fingers remain crossed to see where the southern African country goes from here.

While the country should celebrate getting rid of Mugabe in the unfortunate circumstances it did, it should stay conscious enough to be sure it is not creating another despot.


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