Luke-ing the Beast in the Eye: Robert Mugabe: Hoist by own petard …. Reliving the ouster of an autocrat
Around this time in 2017, Robert Mugabe was militarily removed from office through a coup, the same method of government change-over that has regained fresh currency on our beloved continent and still remains a very real possibility yet again in Zimbabwe.
Coups beget each other . Once there is a coup precedent, as in our case, high prospects always remain for yet another coup…. this time to address the contradictions,and inconsistencies of the earlier one. In Sudan, General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan has just taken over barely two-and-a-half years after Omar Hassan al-Bashir was militarily hounded out in April 2019. The point is that military coups beget each other and once the coup hymen has been broken, as is the case with Zimbabwe, the chances for yet another easier military penetration always remains high.
In our case, the welfare situation in the barracks remains dire. The majority of our hard-working soldiers earn a measly RTGS 38 000 and they are fretting with restlessness. On his part, I understand that the new ZNA commander David Sigauke, in office now for just over a 100 days, has written about seven memos alerting his superiors to the dire situation in the barracks.
The conditions for another military upheaval in this country are high, given the corruption and sleaze by the political elite and the top generals while the rank and file in the security services sector suffer like the rest of us.
But then a reading of civil-military relations literature will tell you that motives and conditions alone are not enough for a coup to happen. Finer (2002) posits that a coup needs more than just motives and conditions. It needs a catalyst , just as Mugabe’s refusal to meet with his generals on Monday, 13 November 2017 to address their expanding disagreements catalysed the November 2017 coup in Zimbabwe. (Tendi 2019).
Zimbabwe may yet to waiting for that catalyst – – – that Sarajevo moment that could trigger a gargantuan tumult.
A brief background to the statistics of coups in Africa is pertinent. From 1956 to 2001, there were some 80 successful military coups in Africa, the highest number globally. In the same period, there were 108 failed coups and 139 reported coup plots across the continent. Between 2001 and 2019, only a dozen coups were reported, reflecting a decline in coup frequency, even though the number is on the upward spiral yet again. There is certainly no stopping to the restiveness and restlessness of the continent’s men and women in uniform!
However, in November 2017, Zimbabwe had its first ever coup, meaning that coup risk persists even in countries without a coup precedent (Tendi 2019). But as I said before, now that the coup hymen has been broken, there could be easier and more frequent penetration by the restless guys in uniform. History and coup dynamics seem to have taught us that once a coup always a coup might not necessarily be an illogical dictum.
As the cockpit fissures widen between Mnangagwa and his military deputy, Zimbabwe could yet again be on the cusp of another ground zero political moment.
It is important to look into the rear-view mirror and today, I republish an edited version of the piece I wrote in 2017 during Mugabe’s final on the political stage. It was a virgin moment for all of us and that is why our desire to see Mugabe’s back made us cheerelead what I’m essence was a heinous and grossly unconstitutional act. A putsch in every sense of the word. But I still maintain that Mugabe was a bird that was fried in its own fat, a blood- soaked autocrat who was hoist by his own petard.
A strongman hoist by his own petard
It may well have had to happen this way; to complete a story the same way it was begun. It may well be fair that those who came to power by the gun at Mgagao, those who were kept in power by the barrel of the gun would have to bow out at the behest of the same condign power that birthed and kept them in office all these tenuous years.
It has turned out the acrid smell of gunpowder that kept Robert Mugabe in office all these years is the same chilling stench now itching to accost him to his Waterloo after a bloody 37 years in charge
His ignominious exit, in keeping with his tempestuous tenure that was littered with cadavers and graves, could only be a gunnified one. For one who led a venerated liberation movement—who came into office amid sonorous ululation, it can only be shameful that he could now be landing—unloved and unmourned by friend and foe alike—into the annals of history.
His stubbornness aside, Zimbabwe will never be the same again, judging by the convergence across the political spectrum that we saw in Harare on Saturday. We are all keen to see his back, jointly and severally, each absolving the other!
And it could not have happened in worse irony and similarity of circumstance. On the same day that Gianlugi Buffon, the veteran Italian goalkeeper was kissing goodbye to international football following the Azurri’s failure to qualify for the World Cup, Robert Mugabe was militarily being hounded out of office in Harare. For Buffon was football’s Robert Mugabe, given the longevity of his service to our beloved sport.
He too bowed out in humiliation.
Buffon was bowing out following the Azurri’s failure to qualify for the global football’s fiesta for the first time in 60 years. In Harare, a veteran political goalkeeper,so wont to deflect genuine goals by foul means that included crude physical and political tackles on his opponents, was being hounded out in similarly humiliating fashion by an army to which he is commander-in – chief.
Yet another dynasty was winding up in the same week in Angola, where the billionaire daughter of former president Eduardo dos Santos was sacked by the new President Joao Lourenco from the oil firm she had been seconded by her father who served as President of Angola for 40 years. In Harare, we all saw the full conclusion of our own dramatic script regarding the appointments of Mugabe’s daughter and her husband, who Mugabe had similarly deployed to strategic national institutions.
For Mugabe, the human source of his trouble has always been firmly tucked in his own sheets, literally. Some of us had warned that Marujata, his voluble wife with the penchant to excoriate Cabinet ministers and senior government officials at political rallies would land him in trouble but he would not listen.
Today he stands on the verge of a political sunset, amid the stench of the acrid gunpowder that has controversially kept him in office all these years.
The explanation is simple. Mugabe must take the blame for his predicament. Mugabe ndiye mwene wazvo (no pun intended). Put simply, the man has been hoist by his own petard.
The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars but in ourselves, as William Shakespeare would say.
However, amid the celebration of the imminent departure of a strongman, we must not lose sight of the hard facts. I wish to start by stating that I am an unrepentant regime change activist in respect of the current regime, a mission for which I have served in the trenches of the democratic struggle for the past 20 or so years.
However, it is also my unstinting belief as a democrat that, notwithstanding our justified excitement at this whole drama, we must celebrate with caution, mindful of the fact that we need to vaccinate civilian political processes from military interference, in line with the dictates of the Constitution of the country. We need to ask ourselves, where and when the army will stop their meddling.
Our soldiers, regardless of what we may regard as their heroic role in the past few days, must stay in the barracks and never dabble in politics, in accordance with the letter and spirit of a Constitution that we collectively wrote as a people and overwhelmingly affirmed in a referendum.
For some us, Mugabe was an illegitimate President who has been removed illegitimately, which makes to two negatives. I am not quite certain what two negatives amount to in arithmetic. Yet we must, as a cardinal principle, stick to the dictates of our own Constitution.
It appears the country is paying the price for the needless ZANU PF culture of State-party conflation, abetted by none other than Mugabe himself who always benefitted from a situation where there is no distinction between State and party. In a situation of that conflation, you can always have the army doing what they have just done in Harare.
Yes, soldiers may support and vote ZANU PF privately, but they must certainly not overtly support a party in the course of their duty, as they have now done to the personal detriment of Mugabe, who has himself nurtured and condoned— encouraged even—this unconstitutional behaviour over the years. Who knows what the soldiers will do next if Mugabe continues standing his ground? Judging by what appears to be an unstinting resolve on their cause, the stockholders may well liquidate their stock, literally.
After all liquidation means just that—- liquidation!
What we are witnessing, sadly, is the arena of the State being a playground for internal party politics. If Zimbabwe’s military commanders felt they were stockholders in the ruling party, as they have stated publicly, they were supposed to allow internal party processes to address their concerns, not to use the arena of the State to settle internal party factional disputes.
Indeed, notwithstanding the national euphoria around the events of the last few days, it sets a chillingly dangerous precedent to allow a State institution such as a national army to spearhead the redress of what in essence are internal party issues, in flagrant violation of a national Constitution.
Some of us are very worried. Given that Zimbabwe is standing on the cusp of a watershed election that is constitutionally due next year, what now for the country? Now that the army appears to have taken over all processes, including civilian matters, is the safety and credibility of the electoral process guaranteed? Has the same army also not taken over the biometric voter registration exercise currently underway? And all this at a time the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission has confirmed that soldiers and other security officials constitute part of the secretariat of this “independent” election management body?
In other words, what does it say about the purported autonomy of ZEC if a whole head of State can be put under house arrest by the military? Even if the ZEC chairperson were to run a credible process whenever we hold the next election, can she muster enough courage to announce that the army’s preferred candidate has lost, if these guys can have the audacity to hold hostage their own commander-in-chief, a whole Head of State?
One more irony is that the army continues to hide under the thin veil of semantics; insisting that they have not staged a coup when it is a public secret they have literally taken over, with Cabinet Ministers running for cover like common criminals and a whole President probably still under house arrest.
The army says we have not taken over, we are simply “ pacifying the situation ”—just like a rapist would insist with a straight face that he was simply pacifying his desires, but please do not call it rape!
Mugabe has simply been hoist by his own petard; he is on the verge of removal by the same army that kept him in office when he was shellacked by Morgan Tsvangirai in 2008. Indeed, there is need to unpack the country’s new “saviours.”
It must be remembered that mantra of “ 27 June vaMugabe muoffice ” was a militarily orchestrated chorus. I will never forget that contrived chaos and the violence that led to over 200 people losing their lives; with some of us spending half a year in prison on trumped up charges of banditry and terrorism.
Barely 10 months after my stint in the D- class section of one of the country’s notorious prisons, I can still remember the chill that went down my spine when a gun was put on my head as I enjoyed braaied meat with friends at the popular Mereki joint in Warren Park suburb, Harare. That was on 15 April 2008 when the electoral body was engaged in what it called a “ meticulous verification ” of the election results. I was being accused of public violence, the allegation being that I had burnt a bus in protest over the delay in the announcement of the results.
I was to spend yet another month in prison, only to be released on the day the “results” were finally released. So my two stints in prison…and the failed transition in 2008— all had to do with these guys now purporting to be the nation’s “saviours”.
True, the June 27 2008 contrived run-off poll and its attendant violence were driven by the same forces now bandying themselves as the people’s saviors in the latest coup; the same forces now pledging they want to save the nation from imminent economic catastrophe.
It is the classic case of the mosquito purporting it can cure malaria!
Since the brazen pick-pocketing of the people’s will in the past two elections, Zimbabwe was always a society pregnant with a new one. The question is, does the military want to prepare the nation for a proper delivery of the baby or they intend to do Caesarian, with them as the doctors?
As we stand on the cusp of a new society, Zimbabwe’s army cannot pretend to play honest midwife in the birth of a new country. We all know their candidate; the baby they could fish from their pocket and pretend it is the baby the election has birthed!
The ouster of the strongman with the army on the forefront could be a cause for celebration but there is certainly need for caution. As President Morgan Tsvangirai said this week, we must adopt a roadmap for an expedient return to legitimacy and to constitutional order.
The army may have assisted in removing Mugabe but there must be an urgent plan to return the country to legitimacy and to civilian authority. It is only an agreed transitional mechanism with a specific mandate to deliver a free and fair election that may be trusted to play midwife in the birth of a new society. We cannot entrust the army with that midwifery role. The army must hand over to a professional midwife, in this case an agreed transitional body, just as the nyamukuta from the village does upon arrival at a hospital. She hands over to the experts.
The army should quickly wind up their project and place the running of the country in civilian hands. After all, a project is a task or a set of tasks executed over a fixed period of time within a defined schedule (Rondineli 1998). A project is temporary and the army certainly cannot take charge in perpetuity—-ad infinitum, ad nauseam! There must be an urgent scaling down of this project, however necessary it may have been.
My brother George Charamba, whose role had been usurped by Mugabe’s wife, is probably rubbing his hands with glee, awaiting a new political life in what he could be presuming to be a pending dispensation under the man given the mandate by the central committee. As a Presidential spokesman he has curiously gone mum. He has not bothered to tell the world what is really happening around his boss at a time the nation awaits to hear the President’s voice around what is currently unfolding.
Seeing Charamba seated in the meeting with Mugabe, the military’s top brass and Zuma’s envoys, I was not sure on whose side he was. Given his political preferences as we are made to believe they stand now, and his public excoriation by Grace Mugabe the other day in Chinhoyi, his presence could have been a classic case of one who runs with the hare and hunts with the hounds. Was he on Mugabe’s side together with the revered Catholic priest Father Fidelis Mukonori, or he was in agreement with the guns?
As Mugabe struts what could be his last hours upon the political stage, let us prioritize both stability and democracy. It is easy to sacrifice democracy for stability but stability alone in our case will not endure. The country needs to adopt a proper roadmap to legitimacy. That legitimacy can only come from a free and fair election and only a transitional mechanism with a specific mandate can be entrusted with ensuring the delivery of a credible election.
Meanwhile, Mugabe’s 10th—and probably his last—interface “rally” may turn out to be this ominous interface with his own army in which he is Commander-In-Chief.
Luke Tamborinyoka, an ardent political science scholar and award-winning journalist in his own right , is the Deputy Secretary for Presidential Affairs in the MDC Alliance led by the people’s President Advocate Nelson Chamisa. He can be contacted through his Facebook page or via the twitter handle @ luke_tambo