Monday, January 22, 2018

Stay up, Zimbabwe

Today, Zimbabweans will erupt in hope and promise of an era post Robert Mugabe. It will be a celebration of freedom not wholly dissimilar to that witnessed in April 1980 when Mugabe led his people to independence from white supremacist rule thus becoming a symbol of anti-colonial resistance and ultimately triumph.

During his 37-year rule, Mugabe inched closer and closer towards becoming a stereotype of post-colonial betrayal. Violent repression of so-called political dissidents, corruption, nepotism, suppression of a free press through threats and arrests, and election rigging were commonly mobilised to cement his power, oppress his people for whom he fought so heroically and ultimately intimidate and impoverish a nation.

In a flash of nine days, the immovable 93-year-old was displaced in the ambiguous circumstances of a bloodless military coup in which soldiers overnight commandeered State media and placed Mugabe under house arrest. While Mugabe fulfilled a stereotype, Zimbabwe's military defied it, warned that it would protect “the revolution” and persuaded key political actors to ensure a peaceful transition of power. Today, Mugabe's former justice and defence minister Emmerson Mnangagwa will take office and guide his country to general elections next year.

Beyond today's horizon, however, lie governance uncertainty, ambivalence and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Mnangagwa has close ties to the military and reportedly served as Mugabe's enforcer, earning him the nickname “Crocodile”; he remains on a US sanctions list over allegations of violently cracking down on opponents of his ZANU-PF party. Whether or not he decides to build broad alliances and establish a coalition government representing all Zimbabweans is likely to determine how the legitimacy of next year's election will be viewed by the population and international community.

Navigating the immediate governance minefield is crucial to the country's economic revival. Radical land reforms and printing too much money have been generally regarded as the reasons for the calamitous state of Zimbabwe's economy. Most of the country's 16 million people live in poverty, the country has had no indigenous currency since 2009 when the Zimbabwean dollar buckled under hyperinflation and it has defaulted on its debt since 1999, rendering it unable to borrow internationally.

Zimbabwe has navigated its own path towards a peaceful transition of power. Mugabe will likely feature in contested historical recollections; some will recall his heroism that released his people from the savage grasp of white supremacy while others will focus on the latter years of his presidency. However he is remembered, Zimbabweans can locate much confidence in their endurance and mature navigation of tricky political transition as they ready themselves to face an as yet uncertain future.

In that journey, T&T and the Caribbean are obliged to be watchfully supportive of the regime that succeeds the little-lamented Mugabe.