The King is dead, long live the King!

The King is dead, long live the King. The kleptocracy of King Bob has now ended to great applause. But what does come next for the oppressed and long-suffering people of Zimbabwe?

Looking through the lens of the "Five Stages of Empire" model, colonial rule effectively ended with the unilateral declaration of independence on 11th November 1965 under Ian Smith. Although the UK deemed this as an act of rebellion, it chose not to act with force confirming the nation's new found freedom from Whitehall and allowing the white minority government to declare itself the Republic of Rhodesia in 1970. In what could be one of the shortest, regional phases in modern history, civil war quickly ensued with Joshua Nkomo’s ZAPU (Zimbabwe African People's Union) and Robert Mugabe's ZANU (Zimbabwe African National Union) fighting the white government.

Following a decade of conflict, the white minority lost power and under black control, the nation gained official, international independence as Zimbabwe on 18 April 1980. However, subsequently, its politics were replete with the interests of various fractions and throughout the years ahead, Prime Minister Mugabe, later to be President, increased his grip on power, migrating what was supposed to be a democracy into what was effectively a dictatorship, supported by his loyal henchman Emmerson Mnangagwa who acted as his chief executive officer. During this period the present leadership have become incredibly wealthy, while the population have suffered and become poor under the consistently myopic, economic management of the country.

The presence of a dictator post a regional civil war is very common, as highlighted in previous articles, as strong leadership is required to hold the many fractions together into a functioning nation. But what is a surprise, is the duration of Mugabe’s rule. After all Cromwell only survived a decade compared to Bob’s three and a half. The reason for lasting threefold, like all dictators in a similar phase of history, he was a ruthless and shrewd operator. Importantly, from 1994 he was supported by the ANC (African National Congress) in power in South Africa in return for the support they received in their own struggle. Lastly, he has been supported by China whose connections into the country have strengthened year by year due to its geopolitical importance and natural recourse significance.

The end for this king came as the country’s economy continued to tank and Mugabe, resisting change, tried to apply greater force by firing numerous key players, one of whom was Mnangagwa himself. At that stage, the interests of the ZANU-PF (Zimbabwe African National Union - Patriotic Front) and Mugabe split and the army who once backed Mugabe, switched sides seeking to put Mnangagwa into power. While pulling off the most sophisticated of velvet coups for which they deserve great credit and in this way avoiding triggering interventions from surrounding states, they may well have generated unintended ramifications yet to be seen; mainly that the oppressed population see the demise of Bob as a joyful event that will bring much needed change. But will it do so, is the big question?

Well, as a great friend told me yesterday: "What can be worse than a 93 year old dying dictator and his mad wife?", so the starting point is incredibly low for the new government! Thus, we should expect improvement, but just how much?

There is no doubt that Mnangagwe, known as the crocodile, was very much one of the Mugabe clan having supported his rule as its enforcer/executor. However, he has a very different character and is acknowledged as a very effective executor of deals and policies, with this coup perhaps being one of his greatest achievements.

Only the most dire economic reality would fuel such a coup, so now the people unleashed on the streets want and expect change. While it is unlikely that the ZANU-PF and its new leader had any intention before the coup of making the drastic changes the nation so needs, the people's response on the streets might well have changed their plans forcing more radical policies to lift the economy and poor from their plight. However, before that can effectively happen, the big question is: "Will Mnangagwa seek a legitimate platform by calling elections early or will he wait another year for when they are scheduled?". If it is the later then we should expect only incremental improvement as Mnangagwa tries to gain the confidence of the public before next year’s elections. If it is the former with a people's mandate, we should expect more radical change.

Meanwhile, Morgan Tsvangirai and the MDC (Movement for Democratic Change) sits in the wings waiting for their opportunity to forge a new democratic, economic path. Critically, under the Five Stages' model, as the pendulum swings from the extreme of dictatorship back to the centre line, the rise of the MDC in all probability is inevitable. But the next key step will be when and if free elections are facilitated which in all probability could allow the MDC to displace the ZANU-PF. This change will no doubt be resisted by the Chinese where possible as it will threaten their influence.

In the bigger picture, South Africa sets the political tone for the nations to the north, such as Zimbabwe, and until the ANC lose their grip on power in 2019, the exterior forces on Zimbabwe will not change. Meanwhile, the parallel between Mugabe and his wife, Grace who is expected to be his successor, and Zuma and his ex-wife, Clarice Dlamini-Zuma, trying a similar tactic, should not be lost on the ANC in its impending leadership elections.