Chris Zumani Zimba, Political Scientist, Author, PhD Scholar, Lecturer and Consultant
- Which African State has a President who has been in power for more than 35 years?
Mugabe’s 37 years is not the longest record in Africa. There is the lion President of Equatorial Guinea, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo who ousted his uncle, Francisco Macías Nguema in 1979 through a military coup and has been in power since then. This means that Teodoro Mbasogo has 39 years in power and is one of the few global political mentors who ‘inspired’ Robert Mugabe to reach 37 years in power. Obiang Nguema Mbasogo’s tenure of power makes him the second longest-serving non-royal national leader in the world. Second is Cameroon’s Paul Biya who is not very far from reaching Mugabe’s legacy of 37 years in power as he is currently serving his 35th year in power. Museveni of Uganda comes third with 31years while Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir of Sudan has 30 years in power. Idriss Déby Itno of Chad has 28 years in power while Denis Sassou Nguesso of Republic of the Congo has 24 years. Abdelaziz Buoteflika of Algeria has 21 years while Ismaïl Omar Guelleh of Djibouti has 18 years as we cannot count the years for the King of Morocco and King of Swaziland as their respective political office is defined by royal heritage than the ballot. Therefore, if there is an African state where the Zimbabwe style regime could take place based on the longevity tenure of years for the sitting president, then we can only think of Equatorial Guinea and Cameroon. This is because, the people of Zimbabwe in general and all the liberation war veterans just became politically fatigued with their own ‘political Moses’ with 37 years in power and needed some ‘political Joshua’ from amongst themselves going forward.
2. Which African State has a sitting legitimate President so old i.e. above 90 years and physically weak as Robert Mugabe?
A younger and energetic Robert Mugabe was an accomplished political lion, so highly feared and pfoundly respected among his ZNU-PF comrades and military ranks to the extent that, what transpired this November, 2017 i.e. an easy and bloodless staged and combined ‘semi military junta and stratocracy’ would have been unthinkable. But his old age and weak physical abilities betrayed him to the extent that, he was humanly so weak and physically incapacitated to fight back and defend himself as the dully elected and legitimate President against his own political sons and heirs in the party and uniform. To a greater extent, this had a strong influence for his own ZNU-PF comrades, the army and everyone around him to openly challenge and peacefully demand for his immediate resignation.
The age and physical stature of other African Presidents close to Robert Mugabe include: Cameroon’s Paul Biya aged 84 years and physically fit, Abdelaziz Bouteflika of Algeria aged 80 years old but sickly and physically weak; Equatorial Guinea’s Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo is aged 75 years and physically fit; Jacob Zuma of South Africa is 75 but physically fit; Muhammadu Buhari is 74 years old and relatively sickly; Museveni of Uganda is 73 years old but physically fit; Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir of Sudan is aged 73 years and fit; Denis Sassou Nguesso of Republic of the Congo is 73 old and fit; Nana Akufo-Addo of Ghana is 73 and fit; and Ismaïl Omar Guelleh of Djibouti is 70 years old and also physically fit. In this regard, it is clear that at the age of 93 years, Robert Mugabe was the oldest President both in Africa and world which made it practically easier and technically possible to be pushed out of power by his own political and military disciples. From a distance and due to poor health, other political scholars may prematurely conclude that Paul Biya of Cameroon and Abdelaziz Bouteflika of Algeria could be the closest victims to face a Mugabe’s style end of political power pattern based on old age. But this could also be a false political nightmare as the old and sickly Algerian President just won his fourth term in 2014-shocking everyone despite being physically unwell and visibly unfit just like Robert Mugabe.
3. Which African State has a President who is consistently betraying and offending his long term party comrades, military ranks and top government officials as Robert Mugabe?
For the last few years, it became a naked truth that President Mugabe became not only very old, but romantically so good to his sweet wife, Grace Mugabe such that he started becoming and behaving politically so blind to everyone and everything around him apart from her. At her demands, old Mugabe started to betray, disappoint and expel everyone around him, including long term party comrades and friends as long as they posed a political threat to Grace’s presidential ambitions. For example, this was the main reason why Mugabe fire his long term comrades and friends such as Mujuru and Emmerson Mnangagwa as they posed a sure threat to Grace’s presidential political career. This consequently made old Mugabe to become too unpopular and a true inner enemy amongst his ZNU-PF comrades and military ranks as Grace was a strange comrade, an enemy of the party and brutally unwanted in the political and military ranks. Which African States is witnessing this form of political betrayal and annoyance by the sitting President against everyone in the party, military and government in order to appease his wife? This was equally a unique core reason behind Mugabe’s premature departure from the presidential office as witnessed by the anger and retaliations by his own party members and army generals around him: they just wanted him peacefully gone in order to prevent a political evil of ‘the Grace Mugabe constitutional coup’. I don’t see any other African state is this political state or close to it.
4. Which African state is clearly witnessing a ‘First Lady’ back door power takeover using her husband’s Presidential mandate and authority?
The most notorious core reason as to why Robert Mugabe became instantly unpopular and indeed untimely lost political power was his open unlawful, detested and divisive support and consequent illegal manipulations of the constitution, the ruling party and government apparatus in order to guarantee that his wife, Grace Mugabe succeed him as the next President of Zimbabwe. This was the greatest political crime Robert Mugabe committed against his party comrades, war veterans, military leaders and citizens of Zimbabwe. On the African horizon, we cannot trace any other state with ‘a Grace Mugabe political manipulation and formula’ of possible presidential power take-over through ‘bedroom kisses, promises, dreams and roses’ with her powerful husband. Only Uganda has a similar political fashion because, Museveni’s wife is both lawmaker and Cabinet Minister and has emerged politically powerful with the backing of her husband. But the case is still different as the Ugandan First Lady, unlike Grace Mugabe is a seasoned politician who has earned her political positions on the merit of popular votes and professional appointments. Old Mugabe lost it when he ignored the standard political fact that, in many countries across the world, the First Lady direct husband succession has lamentably failed, even the famous Queen Cleopatra terribly failed to succeed the mighty Julius Cesar.
5. Which African state has ‘a collective political position’ between the ruling party, opposition, civil society, chiefs, the church, armed forces and citizens to retire its sitting President?
This is what makes the case of Zimbabwe ideologically unique and politically peculiar. The military staff that ‘overthrew’ Mugabe respected and treated him as their President and Commander of the Armed Force. Amidst the fragile political drama, the Army Generals shared gossips, meals and laughter with their President and the ZNU-PF members across the country were calm, happy and dancing that their sitting legitimate leader is retiring. There was no one to defend the President, not even Mugabe himself as he looked calm and unworried as usual. It was clear that the decision to prematurely and peacefully retire President Robert Mugabe was collectively well schemed while the political drama and the neutral army could have been used as a means to an agreed end.
The scheme to retire him received all-round support and endorsement from all the political players in Zimbabwe starting from the lower organs of the ruling party itself-ZNU-PF, the opposition politicians, civil society organizations, the church, traditional leaders, youth, women, armed forces as well as individual citizens across the country. This was validated during the swearing ceremony of President Emmerson Mnangagwa as all the named political stakeholders attended and danced in the 60,000 Harare Stadium on 24th November, 2017. During his inauguration, the New President vowed to respect, protect and keep the legacy of his retired father Mugabe as the country’s political mentor and founding father while the birthday of the ‘overthrown president’ was immediately declared National Holiday. Even in African states with potential political symptoms close to Zimbabwe such as Uganda, Togo, DR Congo, Chad or South Sudan, I don’t this happening as; (1) key political players do not share a common position in terms of peacefully and ceremoniously retiring their sitting President, (2) vowing to honour, protect and respect an ‘overthrown president’ by the new regime.
6. Which African State has a professional military so disciplined as Zimbabwe that can ‘take over power in a neutral manner without taking over the government’?
When the Defense and Security Force announced their political intervention in Zimbabwe, they made it clear that Robert Mugabe was very safe and not removed from power as he was still the only Constitutional President of country and their boss, Commander of the Armed Forces. To some of us, we knew that what had transpired was not a military junta, coup but something else so unknown to the political world. The army respected all constitutional and political offices while the ZNU-PF ruling elites and war veterans were charting and laughing together as they guarded and negotiated with Robert Mugabe. As the army stressed their political neutrality in the political deadlock, there was no violence nor bloodshed on the streets of Zimbabwe anywhere, not even in Mugabe’s town and village.
This was so professionally unique, distinguished military discipline and neutrality amidst a ‘coup’ or ‘stratocracy’ the modern political world has never witnessed anywhere. The army took over power in a neutral manner without taking over the government i.e. it was below the classical definition of a ‘military junta’ and neither was it a ‘stratocracy’ indeed. If one understands what transpired and in the manner it happened, this exact scenario cannot be replicated in Uganda, Togo, DR Congo, Chad, Cameroon, South Sudan, Senegal, Rwanda, Kenya, Algeria, Nigeria, Ghana or Sudan. It is and was the unique and historic military-political episode of Zimbabwe that may not even repeat in Harare itself.
7. Which African state has a ruling party which is so united and respectful to its long term political father who is ‘forced’ to resign as President but still treat him as a President?
After taking office, not only did President Emmerson Mnagagwa vow to respect and protect his political mentor and father of the nation, he went further to declare Robert Mugabe’s birthday as National Holiday. This is the valid policy position of everyone in ZNU-PF across Zimbabwe as their ‘overthrown’ Robert Mugabe still reign and stand tall as well as respected in their hearts and spirits. Anyone who thinks this can be replicated anywhere in Africa or the world must immediately enroll for ‘Introduction to Political Science’.
8. Which African state can execute a fragile political battle using military intervention without any bloodshed or loss of life?
The Ugandans, Nigerians, Congolese, Sudanese, Egyptians or Senegalese know coups better such that, the bloodless and ceremonious one in Zimbabwe cannot be called a coup in their respective countries. In fact, it is political falsehood and misguided dreams to think that happened in Zimbabwe can happen anywhere in Africa in similar fashion. Yes, Africa is known to coups and military interventions in politics from Cape Town to Cairo as well as from Nairobi to Accra, but not in the manner Zimbabwe executed its ‘coup’. Africa has never witnessed bloodless coups especially after spending many days or weeks of political deadlock between the warring parties. Zimbabwe’s case is too unique and cannot be replicated even in self-confessed Christian or Islamic States on the continent.
9. Which African President is politically unwanted because he/she does not serve the interest of Western donor states and foreign investors?
Apart from the late Gaddafi of Libya, President Mugabe was the remaining number one enemy of Western interest on the continent as he openly opposed and discredited them on many fronts without remorse. This had a bearing in terms of not only suffocating the Zimbabwean economy through trade and economic sanctions, but the West had an indirect hand to support the negative political developments against him and dictate the train of his untimely departure. Are we sure the Presidents of South Sudan, DR Congo, Uganda, Cameroon, Togo or Equatorial Guinea are also unwanted by the Western donors and investors? Are these states also facing economic sanctions like Zimbabwe? Or are they facing internal resistances due potential manipulations of their republican constitutions or their desired political perpetuation? Therefore, the case of premature retirement for Robert Mugabe had all the blessings and support of the Western hand and somehow enhanced its speedy. If there is no Western hand, the case to remove a sitting president becomes a dangerous and complex political predicament as the internal players need to push their lungs and lives out to effect any regime change. I don’t see this happening anywhere especially in SADC states, not even in DR Congo as the dynamics are too different.
10. Which African President is facing a military uprising and possible power take over?
President Kabila of DR Congo against divided rebel groups, Museveni of Uganda against the Lord’s Resistance Army, Salva Kiir Mayardit of South Sudan against rebels led by his former Vice President, Buhari of Nigeria against the Boko Haram, Al-Bashir of Sudan against the Al-shabaab and perhaps Sisi of Egypt against ISIS inspired radical terrorist networks. But in all these scenarios, the military is not divided as most these Presidents enjoy wield support and endorsement of their respected generals and security wings to fight and defeat either the rebels or military factions. The case of ‘military takeover in Zimbabwe’ was so specific, clean and unique to start and finish their ‘fragile assignment’ such that, it cannot be compared to factional military interventions, rebellion movements as well as terror threats happening in any the named African states. Mugabe faced a ruling party military schemed ‘take over’ or conspired political-military perfumed retirement of the sitting president. But if regime change is to happen in the Zimbabwean fashion, then these some of African states could be priority victims-although the possibility for most of them is zero.
Therefore, if we cannot trace and find more than five compatible political scenarios that fit and exactly explain any of the above 10 questions in any African state, then we shall be wrong to think and conclude that what happened in Zimbabwe will have a political bearing to dictate political patterns in any state across Africa. For all immediate neighbors of Zimbabwe, the possibility is tragically zero. This is similar to the premature and wrong conclusions most Western Political Scientists made during the ‘Arab Uprisings’ after 2010. Some of us refused to declare it ‘Arab Uprisings’ because we were so informed about the politics of Morocco, Sudan, Algeria, Saud Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Iraq, Jordan, Palestine and Syria itself for anyone to think and conclude that, what transpired in Tunisia, Egypt and maybe Libya in terms of untimely fall of undemocratic governments could spread and influence regime change to all the Arab countries. Thus, the style of regime change in Zimbabwe was politically, legally and militarily so unique and professionally peculiar to its old presidential and constitutional self to have any meaningful and significant bearing on political reforms both within SADC and AU states.