Zimbabwe’s Road to Democracy


Emmerson Mnangagwa arriving at his swearing in as Zimbabwe’s new president. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)

In the South African nation of Zimbabwe, hopes are high and a promise of democracy was just made by new president Emmerson Mnangagwa, who was sworn in on Friday, Nov. 24. Mnangagwa was the former vice president under Robert Mugabe, who ruled the country for 37 years. The recent series of rapid events started on Nov. 15.

The world was stunned as military personnel and armed vehicles were seen in the capital streets of Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe, on Nov. 15. The army took control of the state-owned media channel and placed Robert Mugabe under house arrest. Later, the army made a televised statement to ask for the resignation of Mugabe and to reassure the public that it was not a military coup, but a move toward better governance.

Under Mugabe, the country faced a multitude of challenges. Mugabe’s iron grip on power and his failed economic policies, the country experienced some of the worst hyperinflation rates in history, as well as extreme levels of poverty in 2006. The effects of these policies have continued until today, all under Mugabe’s watch. His time in power was characterized by massive crackdowns against any opposition, and all forms of protest were seen as taboo. The status quo unexpectedly changed within the past couple weeks, opening the door for many possibilities for political change in the country.

At 93 years old, Mugabe was the oldest living head of state in the world. After 37 years in power he wanted to ensure his rule continued, thus his wife and first lady, Grace Mugabe, was appointed vice president. Earlier this month, she replaced her strongest rival, Emmerson Mnangagwa, and assumed the position of Zimbabwe’s vice president.

Mnangagwa was a veteran of the Zimbabwe independence struggle alongside Mugabe. According to the Zimbabwean constitution, vice president Mnangagwa was to succeed Mugabe. His deposition was a step towards Grace Mugabe securing the presidency. However, Grace Mugabe is very unpopular among Zimbabweans. Her lavish lifestyle and quest for power have made her many enemies, including the army. The military favored Mnangagwa over Grace. The Mugabe-Mnangagwa rivalry seemed to have started within the Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF), the ruling party in Zimbabwe. Two weeks after Mnangagwa’s deposition, the army intervened to remove Mugabe from presidency, marking an end to both their political rivalry and Grace’s presidential ambitions.

In the weeks following Zimbabwe’s political upheaval, the future seemed unclear. Mugabe seemed unwilling to relinquish power. In his first speech following the army’s takeover, Mugabe refused to resign. The country was trembling for a time, as the world watched rapid events unfold in Harare.  

On Nov. 21, Mugabe resigned, putting an end to the oligarchic rule that left Zimbabwe suffering. His resignation was met with celebrations in the streets and in Parliament, where his short letter of resignation was read. A new chapter in Zimbabwe’s history began with his resignation, and a transition to a real democratic representative government seems likely.

Was it a revolution or a coup? The answer is a subjective one. It could be defined as a coup,but one that was meant to oust a dictator who wanted to start a dynastic rule. Violence didn’t erupt after the military takeover and people were hopeful, which was positively perceived around the world. The outcome of these recent changes in Zimbabwe should be the parameter by which this remarkable change is measured. This dramatic change would have been impossible to foresee a few weeks ago, and the rule of Mugabe seemed to remain unchallenged. The hopes of a better future for the impoverished country are high, but Zimbabwe’s road to democracy will not be an easy one.  Hopefully, Zimbabwe is able to overcome these challenges and become a vibrant democracy like neighboring post-Apartheid South Africa.

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