Mugabe’s ouster from office marked the first change in power since independence. Although Zimbabwe’s process differed from traditional coups in Africa that were bloody and violent, it was not a wholesome democratic transition either, as President Mnangagwa did not become president via the ballot box.
Drawing on more than 30 extensive interviews conducted with elites and ordinary citizens during and after the coup I observed that while Zimbabweans celebrate and welcome the change in government, people remain concerned about the visible presence of the military in everyday politics.
President Mnangagwa appears to have rewarded the military by appointing former generals to top government positions. Former Generals who played significant roles in the military takeover, Constantino Chiwenga and Sibusiso Moyo, were appointed Vice President and Minister of Foreign Affairs respectively.
When I flew into the Harare International Airport in early December, soldiers asked me and everyone else arriving to show our IDs. This is new for Zimbabwe. The presence of the military stood in stark contrast to the eerie absence of the police. During Mugabe’s tenure, Zimbabwe had become a heavily policed state, with police roadblocks every few meters and commonplace police demands for bribes poor motorists.
While a lot of challenges remain, I have also noticed that since November 2017, Zimbabweans are more hopeful. Following President Mnangagwa’s inauguration, we saw the celebrated return of prominent exiles. Among these is the anticipated return of famous musician Thomas Mapfumo.
In December we also saw the return of some white farmers who had sought exile abroad after the land reform process turned violent. An estimated 4 000 white farmers and their black farm workers were displaced in the early 2000s. It is very unlikely that the “new” ZANU PF will reverse land reform, but President Mnangagwa has promised a more progressive and inclusive policy.
Generally, Zimbabweans are more confident to speak out, although many worry that the new government will restrict freedom of speech at the slightest hint that its hold on power is under threat. It is my expert opinion that once people have found their voice, it is a lot harder for governments to shut them down. This shift in citizen attitudes provides a unique opportunity for the United States and other friends of Zimbabwe to empower the average citizen.
In my interviews, Zimbabweans expressed that they are tired of being a global agenda item for the wrong reasons. Zimbabweans are eager to get back to the business of rebuilding their country and bringing back dignity. Most feel that a post-Mugabe era will open doors for development. This sentiment is shared by a lot of investors and donor countries who have been quick to extend a helping hand to the new government.
While I share the hope of many Zimbabweans, it is my expert opinion that additional aid and investment will not solve Zimbabwe’s problems in the absence of significant reforms to reduce poverty and strengthen institutions.
If President Mnangagwa’s government or the next government that wins in elections in 2018 does not address deeply entrenched corruption, violation of various human rights, including property rights and punitive economic policies the United States, other donors and investors will not see positive returns on their investments.
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