JOHANNESBURG, November 21 – Embattled Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe resigned on Tuesday, finally ending days of speculation about his future — the big question that arises is “what now?”.
Speaker of the Zimbabwe Parliament Jacob Mudenda made the announcement when the two Houses of Parliament — Upper and Lower — were seated at the Harare International Conference Centre in the capital on Tuesday afternoon, moving a motion to impeach Mugabe.
Mudenda said he had received a letter from the President, bringing the impeachment process to halt.
The announcement sparked jubilant scenes on the streets of the capital as the 37-year rule by the 93-year-old, in power since Zimbabwe attained independence from colonial rule in 1980, finally came to an end.
As many Zimbabweans — inside and outside the country — come to terms with the news which came after a soft coup by the military and increasing calls for the ageing statesman to step down, analysts and leading figures were pondering what the future could hold.
“Zimbabwe is at a crossroads. Although regime change may yet yield positive results, the exact manner in which this is achieved is important and will set the tone for what comes next,” said Ronak Gopaldas, a consultant with the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) in Pretoria.
“At this stage, it seems unlikely that the country will spiral into a cycle of anarchy, but it is equally unlikely that a fairy-tale transition will occur. Chances are rather that the transition will end up being something in between,” stated Gopaldas in an ISS article.
While the idea of regime change has generated excitement after decades of authoritarian rule, the latest developments set a potentially dangerous precedent, and are unlikely to be a panacea to the country’s ills, argued Gopaldas.
“In fact, if recent examples in Africa are anything to go by, they may even trigger a prolonged period of instability.”
Zimbabwe’s weak institutions, its fragmented leadership structures and the lack of a leadership transition makes the country vulnerable to upheaval – amid internal conflict between competing factions of the military and ruling party.
Previous military interventions in Burkina Faso in 2014 and in Egypt in 2011 also displaced long-serving autocrats via non-constitutional means.
The initial euphoria was replaced by a succession process which proved far more volatile and chaotic than initially anticipated, the analyst explained.
Egypt saw the country’s first democratically elected government last little more than a year before it was toppled by another military coup.
In Burkina Faso, the 2014 “insurrection populaire” which unseated the 27-year regime of Blaise Compaoré was followed by another “coup” attempt by security forces.
Will Zimbabwe follow the same path? And is this the full extent of the military’s involvement in the political space?
“In an optimistic scenario, recent developments would be seen as a ‘good coup’ if they protect against other threats to democracy – before paving the way for fresh elections and a handover to a democratically elected government,” explained Gopaldas.
Known as a “guardian coup”, this is a non-violent intervention whereby the military simply plays a facilitatory rather than a governance role. While possible in theory, in practice such interventions are rarely so linear.
A “bad coup” is one where the military plays an increasingly assertive and influential role in the country’s affairs.
“By setting the precedent of intervention, martial law becomes the norm rather than the exception. In this scenario, generals – each scrambling for their share of the spoils – are focused on self-interest,” said the ISS consultant.
“Consensus remains elusive. Factionalism undermines democratic processes and governance, and raises the possibility of further coups, as was seen in Egypt and Burkina Faso.”
It remains to be seen how the transition in Zimbabwe will play out. So far the military leadership has appeared pragmatic and appears more interested in securing a successor that safeguards its interests than running the country.
But with two distinct blocs in the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (Zanu-PF), each with designs to lead Zimbabwe in a post-Mugabe scenario, the transition may not be so straightforward, added Gopaldas.
Questions also remain in regard to unresolved issues, including evolving power dynamics and changes in economic policy.
Journalist, historian, military analyst Helmoed Heitman told the African News Agency (ANA) that the next few months are critical.
“So far it’s basically been a Zanu-PF coup against itself,” said Heitman.
“Will we see any change in the new government or will it just be the same old corruption with new faces and compromised senior military officers who were part of the regime doing corruption more efficiently?” Heitman asked.
“Has former vice president Emmerson Mnangagwa changed for the better following his role in the brutal massacres during the 1980s when thousands of political opponents were killed?”
“Will the medium-rank military officers, who are professionals, be satisfied with the current changes and what will the junior officers do if nothing changes?” Heitman asked.
– African News Agency (ANA)