After 37 years in power, it seems that history has finally caught up with Robert Mugabe.
On Wednesday the 15th of November, armored vehicles from the Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF) descended on Harare, occupying key government buildings and releasing a short statement on national television. They apprehended Robert Mugabe, but claimed that their target was not Mugabe personally, but rather the “criminals around him who are committing crimes that are causing social and economic suffering in the country in order to bring them to justice.” The soldiers were adamant that this was not a military takeover, but rather an attempt to pacify a dangerous political situation. By afternoon, the military were in control of most state institutions, and it was obvious that they were targeting individuals linked to the ‘G-40’ faction of the regime headed by Mugabe’s wife, Grace. At the same time, former Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa returned to Zimbabwe after only days in exile following his dismissal by Mugabe on November 6th. Mnangagwa, who has led the ‘Lacoste’ faction within the ZANU-PF, has strong links to the military and is by many expected to take over. By most definitions, what transpired in Harare on Wednesday was a coup as de facto power seems to have shifted from Mugabe. The questions are how did it come to this, and how this will affect the future path of Zimbabwe.
Factions and forces
Though recent events must bee seen in the context of a worsening economic crises in Zimbabwe, they must primarily be seen as a culmination of a series of long running battles within different factions within the ZANU-PF. The question of personal succession is one of the key challenges of authoritarian regimes. In Zimbabwe, much of the political game over the past fifteen years has been centered on the questions of when, who and how Robert Mugabe will be replaced. While Mugabe’s stay in power has been remarkable in terms of his ability to stay in power despite his age and rapidly declining health, plans to oust him have emerged both from outside and inside the regime. Since the failed government of unity from 2008-2013, change was most likely to come from within the ruling elite.