Inconvenient truths about the Zimbabwe situation
By Brighton Mutebuka
It’s never been a secret that Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa is Robert Mugabe’s protege and that he was his ruthless enforcer for over 40 years. Name any major historical event in post-independent Zimbabwe and he was in the thick of it.
In every country, there is a core group of individuals who control events / the country’s political economy. They penetrate/permeate and control the levers of state power in the military, intelligence, judiciary and other branches. They become so powerful that they are virtually unstoppable, and they direct/choreograph matters of the state from the “shadows.”
Mnangagwa’s position during the latter part of the liberation struggle as Mugabe’s assistant/”water carrier” and from the birth of Zimbabwe on 18 April 1980 left him uniquely placed to shape the trajectory of the new State. It is a position that he took full advantage of, and resulted in him having tentacles which spread in every part of the state infrastructure.
There is an argument to be made about the fact that perhaps he knew the whole machinery much more intimately than Bob making him an integral part of the “Deep State.” The coup could only have been possible because of that deep wealth of knowledge combined with that of General Bae.
When Mnangagwa fell out with Mugabe, this was not over principle or values or an ideology. It was simply a gladiatorial contestation for power, which he lost. It really came down to personal survival. Mnangagwa lost the political battle and was assisted by the military to topple his erstwhile mentor and assume power.
Had Mugabe and his wife Grace not threatened Mnangagwa and General Constantino Chiwenga – now retired and serving as Vice President – with the guillotine, there would have been no coup. That’s because, until the very end, Mnangagwa had been comfortable with Mugabe’s rule, including the purges which took place in 2015 and greatly benefited him. Even today, whether it’s July Moyo, Joram Gumbo, Owen Ncube, Terence Mukupe or Energy Mutodi, it’s clear that the parochial is dominating the national interest.
There is no objective record of Mnangagwa ever having been a reformer during his tenure as part of Mugabe’s govt, so there should never have been a well founded or reasonable expectation of reform. Thinking otherwise is grossly irrational, or rank naivety, gullibility, or optimism, or all of the above. It could also be desperation, which is understandable but not excusable.
The likely narrative was always that Mnangagwa would attempt mild, slow, “drip drop”, contrived reforms whilst gaining time, as part of a grand scheme to gain acceptance locally and internationally, and use that as a platform to kick start the economy, power consolidation and an attempt at fostering “guided democracy”.
Mnangagwa nearly got there, but for the August 1 2018 shootings’ outrage. His whole machinery “blinked.” I suspect that it was due to a combination of “paranoia” stemming from a fear of a catastrophic loss of power, perhaps due to overstating the perceived/apparent Mugabe, G40s and MDC Alliance “plot”. Mnangagwa and his “cabal” then tragically reverted to type.
Mugabeism has always been about power retention. The ultimate goal is always to retain power by all means necessary. There is palpable fear at the core of the ideology. The “State” has been constructed to maintain that power and decimate real and perceived opponents. Negotiations, reforms and compromise are seen as a sign of weakness and a prelude to a loss of power. Foot soldiers who enthusiastically carry out the “purges” on behalf of the cause or party are generously rewarded and given a free reign, which in turn fuels IMPUNITY, which is a vital cog in the machinery.
The “national interest” is power retention for power retention’s sake. The economy, health, jobs, education, business, etc can be sacrificed as soon as power is threatened. The state/ party conflation is deliberate and meant to weaken national institutions and render them impotent to avoid accountability. Whether its the Judiciary or the Police, they are captured and used as instruments to target perceived opponents. Systematic terror / repression is used to subjugate opponents and make them pliable.
This is why the MDCA should never have expected a “fair shake” from the Constitutional Court when they submitted their Petition. They should have either avoided the court altogether or taken a page from the famous Rivonia Trial and turned it into a Political Trial from the very beginning by focusing on the shenanigans of interfering with the court service process etc.
The above state of affairs explains the loss of life and gratuitous violence we have seen so soon after the conclusion of the charade that the Commission of Inquiry was, following the August 1 shootings. In any other world, it would not be logically possible that the same mistake could be made so soon after the first one.
The opposition does not escape censure. They were largely silent when Mugabe fell. They failed to insist on credible reforms. They were terrified of coming outright and declaring that there had been a “coup”. The paralysis of action is quite shocking. We can only speculate that perhaps Morgan Tsvangirai’s terminal illness played a part. Even during his appearance on “HARDTALK”, the MDC Alliance candidate, Nelson Chamisa, could still not bring himself to condemn the coup for what it was.
Both MDC MPs joined hands with ZANU PF to facilitate Mugabe’s impeachment and attended rallies but without any solid, robust, pre-conditions. There was also no concerted diplomatic initiative to push this through. The divisive power struggle following Tsvangirai’s death also played its part. It is clearly a massive missed opportunity.
When you are dealing with a violent, ruthless, oppressive, uncompromising regime, you rarely get any opportunities to force change through peaceful means. In the recent cycle, the desperation of the regime for international acceptance was as good as a once in a generation opportunity to use “soft power” and force through change. It is why there should have been never ending chants and choruses of “coup” at the point Mugabe fell, and a relentless call for a Transitional Government that would have facilitated credible, free and fair elections supervised by an international body such as the UN.
Had such calls been made at the time, supported by placards and regional and an international diplomatic offensive, including during demonstrations choreographed by the army, there is every chance that Mnangagwa, Chiwenga and the army would have “blinked” and given in to those demands.
In effect the painful and devastating tragedy that we are witnessing now is a continuation of the unfinished business of the events of November 2017, a glorious, spectacularly false revolution. The tragedy of what we see in Africa when it comes to governance is that the majority of our politicians are terribly oblivious of their own mortality. They live in the “now”. Just like Mugabe, they believe in their own invincibility.
They are unmoved by the anguish that they bring to the lives of their fellow citizens. They value human life so very lowly and are preoccupied with the primitive, ostentatious accumulation of wealth for a few, at the expense of the very many. We will live to see how this one plays out.
Brighton Mutebuka is a UK-based lawyer and manages Mutebuka & Co Immigration Lawyers.