Wracked by dissention and uncertainty, compounded by the dismissal of Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa, known by the nickname of Crocodile which he embraces, the army on Wednesday occupied strategic points in Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe, and deposed President Robert Mugabe, aged 93 and in power for 37 years. The army, led by General Constantino Chiwenga, said that it was not a coup. It appears as if efforts are being made to attain a peaceful and lawful transition of power from Mugabe to a government led by Mnangagwa.

The unfolding events, as they became known, show that Mnangagwa was true to his nickname. In collusion with the army, he was patiently awaiting an opportune moment to move against Mugabe who appeared determined to promote his wife, Grace Mugabe, a deeply unpopular ZANU-PF official, who represents the post-liberation ZANU-PF group, G40, to succeed him. This would have resulted in the sidelining of the army and the veterans. There was open, verbal, warfare, between these two distinct sections of the Zimbabwean ruling class. The people of Zimbabwe, downtrodden by poverty, have been unmoved by what is clearly a palace dispute.

Robert Mugabe led Zimbabwe to freedom in 1980 after a liberation war against white minority rule. Leading the 5 percent whites in Southern Rhodesia, a British self-governing colony, Ian Smith issued a Unilateral Declaration of Independence in 1965. Britain declined to intervene against what Prime Minister Harold Wilson described as its ‘kith and kin,’ a phrase which has since become famous and used recently in Guyana.

The liberation struggle was led by Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) and Joshua Nkomo’s Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU). Both leaders had spent 10 years each in Ian Smith’s prisons. The two parties eventually merged after disturbances erupted in Matabeleland, the heartland of the Ndebele people to whom Nkomo belonged. The rebellion was put down with great ferocity, allegedly at a cost of extensive torture and at least 20,000 Ndebele lives. The merger with Mugabe’s Shona dominated ZANU created ZANU-PF and stalled the complete exclusion of the Ndebele from all political influence. ZANU-PF thenceforth ruled Zimbabwe with Mugabe as prime minister from 1980 to 1987 and as president from 1987.

Although a declared Marxist-Leninist, Mugabe pursued market policies. Economic growth was modest but spending on health and education and other social programmes were substantially increased. These resulted in improved conditions for the people of Zimbabwe, but not substantial enough to keep pace with the growth in population.

The government sought to accelerate the land distribution programme in 1990 by passing a law fixing the amount of compensation for land acquired with no appeal. This angered the West and Britain eventually stopped the aid which it had been extending to facilitate the programme. Eventually the land distribution programme became enmeshed in corruption with senior officials becoming beneficiaries. The redistribution programme degenerated into land invasions and was followed by a severe decline in agricultural production.

This harmed Zimbabwe’s economy and resulted in great economic hardships and poverty. Living standards declined considerably, unrest surged, repression was applied and Western sanctions imposed. Mugabe’s reputation suffered. While still revered as a liberation leader in some countries, he was reviled as a dictator among many in Zimbabwe itself and elsewhere. Bishop Desmond Tutu, South Africa’s Nobel Prize Winner, has described Mugabe in unflattering terms and has called repeatedly for is removal.

The mere departure of Robert Mugabe is not going to solve Zimbabwe’s problems. A temporary administration, representative of all major groups in Zimbabwe must replace the ZANU-PF government, with free and fair elections being the first item on the agenda. Human rights must be respected and immediate steps taken to reduce corruption and alleviate living conditions.

Contrary to what ought to happen, reports suggest that Mnangagwe is expected to assume power. In anticipation of succeeding Mugabe after being appointed vice president about two years ago, he appeared to have been making efforts to shed the negative image he has acquired over the decades as Mugabe’s closest associate, being identified with the repression in Matabeleland, the violence against protesters and the rigging of elections. But his assumption of power would only represent the victory of the dominant section of the ZANU-PF ruling class, comprising the army, the bureaucracy and the veterans, not a victory for the Zimbabwean people. If, however, his assumption of office is accompanied by democratic reforms and the dismantling of the current authoritarian and corrupt systems, Mnangagwa, with his already broad support, may well be good for Zimbabwe.

The transformation of liberation movements into governments around the world has not met with universal success. After achieving office many of these movements degenerated into corrupt, or corrupt and oppressive ruling groups. Guyana experienced the growth of an authoritarian state based on rigged elections. The rise in corruption, which continued after democratic restoration and the failure to end the politics of ethno-political dominance have sustained a poisonous political atmosphere and a fragile political stability. All the signs point to these problems continuing to fester for the indefinite future. They will mean the continuation of endless controversy in relation to our social, political and economic development and particularly to the balanced growth of the economy and deployment of our oil resources when they begin to flow.

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  1. Robert Mugabe’s exit will be celebrated throughout the world.

    Margaret Thatcher and Ronald were very much opposed to the handing over of the reins of Govt. of Rhodesia to Mugabe. They were very certain that the time wasn’t right, and so was the person to whom it was being handed.

    People such as Jimmy Carter, that very noble gentleman, and Ted Kennedy and some others were overt proponents of Mugabe’s elevation. However when that proverbial substance hit the fan and the suffering started in Zimbabwe not a word was forthcoming from the instigators of Mugabe’s ascension.

    White people, the farmers of Rhodesia, were the providers of the breadbasket that the country was. Africans from all over the continent went to Zimbabwe when it was called Rhodesia, for work, as their countries were bereft of the ability of providing a decent living for it’s citizens. Rhodesia exported food to most of the countries of Africa and beyond. It was a very prosperous situation. Then along came Robert Mugabe !

    Joshua Nkomo, through tear filled eyes, one day described how the white man, meaning Ian Smith, treated him better than his own African counterpart Mugabe. After all Nkomo was in the trenches of the political fight for Rhodesia’s independence and riddance of white rule. He was brutalised by Mugabe after he took power. The white farmers had their farms invaded and confiscated. Many of them were murdered by Mugabe’s hoodlums, masquerading as war veterans, who felt they had a right to peoples property because the owners were white and that land was in Africa. What a shame !

    Today, and indeed not only now, we know who was the better provider of stability and prosperity for many a country in Africa, because of the provision of food and employment, and it’s consequential benefits for the many family members of migrant farm workers from many other African countries.

    I am sure all Guyanese await the future with hope of prosperous times to come in their hearts. We can only hope, we can pray, we can prepare ourselves to face trepidation on the political front and believe that better times are ahead than what we have experienced from Burnham’s PNC and Jagdeo’s PPP !

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