In the beginning he was an austere figure, working out in the gym every day, not drinking or smoking and living a frugal life except for the symbols of power and privilege. However, by 1985, the cloak began to slip, the genocidal campaign which lasted 4 years was underway against his sole rival for power – Joshua Nkomo, he had started using the Reserve Bank as “his” bank and corrupt forces began to surround him and exploit the centers of power he had created and controlled. Any attempts at maintaining any form of multi-party democracy were crushed.
When finally, he was challenged for power by the MDC in 2000 and Morgan Tsvangirai emerged as a real competitor for the Presidency, he was forced to fight back and to begin the process of boosting his political regime with military power and influence. As the capacity of the monolith of the Party, Zanu PF waned, it was replaced by the increasing sophistication and reach of the armed forces. By 2013, it was the Army that effectively controlled the State and ran what was left of Zanu PF. After 2008, Zimbabwe was, governed by a Military Junta led by the Joint Operations Command, a structure created by Ian Smith to fight the war of liberation and maintained afterwards as Mugabe’s principle center of power and control. During the GNU the MDC was not allowed anywhere near these centers of power. The computer servers that controlled the elections were maintained at Army Headquarters.
I was not surprised at all when the recent coup took place, at the high level of professionalism, sophistication, power and capacity of the armed forces. They moved against Mugabe at 10 in the morning and by 3 on the following morning, Mugabe was under house arrest and his power stripped away by what must almost be a text book exercise. But it was not democracy and while it was orchestrated by civilian authority in the form of Emmerson Mnangagwa, it was not constitutional or lawful. It was the deliberate use of the very machine that he had created over the past 37 years to keep him in power against democratic forces, led by Tsvangirai, that turned against his and removed him from power.
So where does that leave us, and this is the dilemma we all face in Zimbabwe.
The harsh reality is that the degree to which the Army has control and influence in the State has gone up significantly. This is clearly shown by the selection and appointment of the new Cabinet and of the former Head of the Armed forces as a Vice President and responsible for Defence. It is clear that the new regime in power here is busy cleaning house – but many doors remain closed and protected. The anti-corruption sweep is obviously selective. But let us not sweep aside that fact that Mugabe has gone.
In 1976 when Kissinger effectively ended the reign of Ian Smith over the Rhodesian regime, he knew what he was doing and regretted it as a person, but he knew it was necessary to break his hold on power so that progress could be made to resolve a futile armed conflict.
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