The army seized control of the southern African nation of Zimbabwe on Wednesday in a bloodless revolution placing 94-year old President Robert Mugabe under house arrest.
The Mugabe government which has been ruling ever since the country’s gaining independence in 1980, was ousted from power when his regime, after 37 years of rule, pushed the country into autocracy and poverty through extravagance. The military initiated the transition sensing the sentiments of the people when the same people who catapulted Mugabe into power longed for his expulsion. The ouster comes days after his anointing his wife Grace Mugabe as his successor following the sacking of Emmerson Mnangagwa as vice president. Although the army seized power, Mugabe has been reluctant to give in. He has been making mediation efforts using his own family priest and is of the stance that it was the party that has to decide the leader. On the other hand, the military has taken total control of power but without creating an impression of a coup while overthrowing Mugabe from the post of president. The sentiments echoed in the streets of Zimbabwe are that the people who craved for a change, have wholeheartedly welcomed it.
Mugabe is the leader who fought the British to freedom along the Marxist-Leninist lines. But in three decades, the leader once seen as the embodiment of pan-African nationalism, veered into the flawed steps of a capitalist-autocrat. His partner in the struggle for independence against the rule of Ian Smith the leader of the Rhodesia, as the country was then called, was Joshua Nkomo who led the Zimbabwe African People's Union (ZAPU) with the support of the Soviet Union. Though both stood together in the fight against white racism, they were always apart on tribal lines. Finally when freedom was at hand, Mugabe who captured power with clandestine British support, started moving along the Western path in the matter of reforms, at the same time adopting deadly Stalinist style to reinforce authority. For this he ignited tribal sentiments through massacres in 1983. As part of this and revenging the support lent to his adversary Joshua Nkomo, Mugabe punished the Ndebele tribes and his North-Korean trained Fifth Brigade subjected them to mass massacre in Matabeleland.
Seven years into his ascent to power, Mugabe elevated himself to Executive President concentrating in himself the powers of the government, the state, and chief of the armed forces. At this point, he also reconciled with Nkomo who was till then in the opposition and made him vice president - a process by which the two parties in effect merged into one and the country became a one party state. With the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Mugabe turned to the West in the matter of governmental reforms and followed the path of IMF-recommended policies. Although he introduced land reforms with much fanfare, they turned out to be a means for the party-men and cronies to grab land. The 2005 slum-eradication drive of Operation Murambatsvina ("Operation Drive Out the Rubbish"), left 700,000 people jobless.
As years passed by, Zimbabwe became the sick nation of Africa. The maternal mortality rate during the years 2006-2011 is 960 per one lakh. About 70, 000 abortions take place in the country every year. Mugabe who described women as mere machines for childbirth, had displayed enthusiasm in developing health care systems during the first two decades of his governance. But he retreated from the social welfare programs once power rested safe in his hands. While the health sector deteriorated with zero income for the staff and no medicines for hospitals, for his own medical treatment Mugabe chose specialty hospitals abroad. Mugabe succeeded in achieving all this by imposing a stringent censorship to gag the media. Even though it was proved in the 2008 presidential elections that the public ire was intensifying and that the sand was slipping beneath his feet, Mugabe resorted to attaining more power and suppressing his people. The international community had reacted sharply against the brutal misrule and countries including the US slapped sanctions on the Mugabe family as well as froze their accounts. However, he did not learn his lessons.
He shifted his complete focus to empowering his wife in order to retain power within the family in his absence and to enhancing the wealth of his family and close aides. When this circle of dependence became limited to his wife and she was anointed as his successor, things went out of control. Although it remains to be seen as to who will be next, Zimbabwe’s decision that Mugabe should surely step down sends out a positive message that dictators cease to remain safe at the face of a society’s quest for freedom. At the same time, many of the western parties who have been opposing Mugabe while he was an autocrat, have not been able to digest the transition of power. Apprehensions have also been raised over the future of the now free Zimbabwe and also as to whether things would revert to what they were before. Let us hope that those who have assumed the sole rights of ‘international community’ will not display the recklessness of deflecting an otherwise bloodless revolution carefully initiated by the army into a civil war.