Zimbabwean "Freedom" another "Rainbow Revolution"

In the turbulent history of Zimbabwe, 37 years ago in 1980, when Robert Mugabe walked in as the first Prime Minister of independent Zimbabwe, he was the revered and respected liberator of its people. Yet he was deposed 37 years later as the most despised and devalued President of independent Zimbabwe. In the turbulent history of Zimbabwe, 37 years ago in 1980, when Robert Mugabe walked in as the first Prime Minister of independent Zimbabwe, he was the revered and respected liberator of its people. Yet he was deposed 37 years later as the most despised and devalued President of independent Zimbabwe.

Post independent Zimbabwe under Mugabe was not free of corruption and conflict. Political conflicts with the White minority that wielded total power pre 1980 and armed conflicts engineered by Nkomo's ZAPU created instability all through the decade of 80. The minority Whites did not accept Mugabe as a legitimately elected Prime Minister, claiming elections were heavily rigged in his favour. Through the decade of 80, Mugabe escaped few assassination attempts, the first during the election campaigning in February 1980 and the second by a White platoon called the South African 5th Column, on the eve of independence in April when Mugabe was the PM elect of independent Zimbabwe.

Joshua Nkomo as Home Minister in the first unity government manipulated for greater power. He had a legitimate claim in the liberation of Zimbabwe with his own ZAPU guerrilla army being part of the 'bush war'. Emerson Mnangagwa the most trusted of Mugabe's ZANU-PF leaders as the Minister of State Security, is said to be responsible in the massacres of thousands of Ndebele tribesmen in 1982, a stronghold of Nkomo. He was seen as Mugabe's closest ally in the cabinet, even after Mugabe amended the Constitution in 1987 to become the powerful Executive President he was in Zimbabwe for the rest of the 30 years. In 2014 Mnangagwa was appointed the first of the two Vice Presidents by President Mugabe and on the Constitution, he would be the successor to President Mugabe.

Zimbabwe termed a "failed State" by the time Mugabe secured the Presidency once again in 2013 was virtually a "Rogue State" when he was ousted from power through a military coup on 20 November 2017 in which the military did not usurp power directly.  

All through his 37 year rule, Zimbabwe had many parliamentary and presidential elections and referendums, that Mugabe was never defeated despite Zimbabwe becoming economically poor and politically chaotic. In a continuously declining economy, growing unemployment and rising cost of living screwing the people with the Zimbabwe dollar running with a galloping 300 per cent inflation, Mugabe played on the Whites owned land issue. His "war veterans" though not very much so and the youth militants were allowed land grab from White owners.

The new millennium began with more trouble for President Mugabe. Sanctions imposed by Britain and other Western Countries continued over seizure of White men's land. Trade unionist Morgan Tsvangirai launched an opposition party, the 'Movement for Democratic Change' (MDC). He gained wide spread support and fared well at elections. With popular support, the MDC ran into personality clashes. Tsvangirai left no democratic space within his MDC and rivalry in the MDC was used by Mugabe  for his advantage.

In May 2005 Mugabe put in motion a crackdown on opposition forces under a "development" programme that evicted "squatters", demolished "illegal" buildings, shops and houses in Harare and urban areas. The UN said over 700,000 were left displaced without any livelihood. Mugabe's men had strong control over NGO's that supported the affected people. They saw to it the MDC activists were not benefited. In a country where it is reported over 3,000 die every week due to HIV/AIDS and 1.3 million children had been orphaned, this eviction programme disrupted HIV/AIDS treatment programmes as well.

With all the repression and intimidation let loose through his "war veterans" and "youth militia", the police and the military, Tsvangirai abducted and badly beaten in March 2007, Mugabe still lost to Tsvangirai one year later at the 2008 March presidential election though Tsvangirai contested with a heavily fractured MDC. After 01 month of haggling when results were finally announced President Mugabe had secured only 43.2 per cent as against 47.9 per cent polled by Tsvangirai. This led to a second round fixed for 27 June, 2008 but Tsvangirai withdrew saying he cannot afford to see his volunteers being killed in an election campaign. Results gave President Mugabe another term with an overwhelming victory.

The next election victory in 2013 made him the longest surviving despot but vulnerable too. He wanted a successor whom he could trust for life and gave into his second wife "Gucci" Grace Mugabe's political interest. She was brought in as the head of the ZANU-PF women's wing and into the party's politburo. Grace Mugabe by 2016 was effectively side-lining all possible successors to President Mugabe.

All of it required a dissenting, alternate politico economic programme for democratic transition in Zimbabwe with inflation running over 03 billion per cent and incalculable, the Zimbabwe's dollar declared worthless, the economy at the verge of collapse, university students and staff taking to prostitution to feed themselves, regular power and water outages becoming common for long hours, famine widespread with agriculture gone dry and the country turning into a massive cauldron of emaciated poverty and brutal repression with glistening corruption everywhere.

Zimbabwe needed an alternate political programme for national resurrection that could give hope and mobilise deep seated frustration and brewing dissent for a workable change. That was precisely what Zimbabwe lacked. The male adult population in particular had thinned out, having migrated in search of jobs and in avoiding repression. The urban middle class was weak and corrupt, entrenched in many ways in Mugabe's repressive bureaucracy and his corrupt politics. Opposition was also corrupt and fractured in a parliament that was elected through widespread intimidation of voters and open rigging, making it an illegitimate assembly of mostly crooked politicians. Mugabe's grip on State power therefore was not on popular politics but was pegged to forces of State repression that continued to obey his command with a coterie of corrupt men who assured he would be obeyed.

This very sensitive balance on "personal trust and mutual benefit" was knocked out of shape when Mugabe was made to quicken the pace of replacement by his wife Grace Mugabe. She had over the months, started her public campaign against Mnangagwa as she did to all other powerful personalities in the ZANU-PF before they were removed. In August she publicly accused Mnangagwa as plotting against President Mugabe and said he is a threat to her and family. In October, it was reported the military high command had briefed President Mugabe the military would only back a "war veteran" as a successor and therefore he should reign in Grace Mugabe. This implied the military high command would back Vice President Mnangagwa who had strong influence within the military high command, both as a 'war veteran' and as one time Minister of State Security and then Defence. This military intervention apparently resulted in an allegation in media that military commander General Constantino Chiwenga is involved in a massive diamond racket.

Thereafter things moved fast and Mnangagwa was removed from his post of Vice President on 06 November by Mugabe citing deceit, disloyalty and unreliability. General Chiwenga moved even faster. President Mugabe had to leave office on 20 November and the deposed Vice President takes over as acting President on 24 November with military support.

Ousting of Mugabe was a change Zimbabweans waited for a long time to happen and therefore thousands enjoyed deposing of Mugabe on the streets. How it came about was not their issue, nor their problem for now. They have got Mugabe out of their daily life. It is already dubbed the second independence of Zimbabwe. There is much in common between the 2015 January "Rainbow Revolution" here in Sri Lanka that ousted President Rajapaksa and that which brought Emerson Mnangagwa as the second Executive President of independent Zimbabwe.

No different to Maithripla Sirissena, Emerson Mnangagwa was very much part of the extremely corrupt, very repressive regime of Mugabe, the people wanted ousted. Yet, they are both accepted as "change agents" with no fundamental changes in democratic governance. The ouster of President Mugabe was ultimately engineered through defections in the ruling party ZANU-PF that agreed for an impeachment on President Mugabe and removed him from the party leadership, after he was left under house arrest by the military high command. Removal of President Rajapaksa from SLFP leadership to install President elect Sirisena was also effectively carried out with SLFP defections after the defeat of President Rajapaksa, in coalition with the opposition. All of it, in the absence of people and with no alternate programme for democracy and development. Thus the fundamentals are the same. The corrupt elite, the vested interests plan and scheme the "change" in close door conspiracies without people. People thereafter are called to the polls or to the streets to endorse that "change". Once it is endorsed, the schemers rule as legitimate leaders of the people.

That precisely is what Sri Lanka is living with now. The "Rainbow Revolution" of 2015 January faded off faster than it appeared. Everything remains the same. The new "yahapalana" rulers are more corrupt than the Rajapaksas. They are equally racist as the Rajapaksas. The military and the security forces still play a lead role in deciding politics of this post Rajapaksa government that promised democracy, good governance and reconciliation.

Emerson Mnangagwa's lingo is no different to what we heard from this "yahapalana" leaders during elections. Returning to Zimbabwe to take over the presidency after the military coup, Mnangagwa told a cheering crowd in Harare, “Today we are witnessing the beginning of a new unfolding democracy in our country,” and promised, “I pledge myself to be your servant”. That was what "yahapalana" leaders promised too.

The fundamental flaw in all these changes are that they are very much "changes" exploited by the corrupt on social frustrations and incapability. Changes schemed and manipulated within corrupt regimes on personality clashes and elite interventions without conscious social participation. They therefore end up with compromises the people don't need and are not for social benefit and advantage.

Ziyambi Ziyambi, a ZANU-PF MP and former minister, is quoted in the Guardian on 22 November as having said “There has been an agreement. They are elder statesmen [sic] and will be respected and given their dues. He was our president and he agreed to resign so he will enjoy the benefits of being an ex-president and his wife too. He is our icon,”

The unwritten and unspoken compromise between the "defeated corrupt" and the "elected corrupt" here in Colombo is what Ziyambi Ziyambi said publicly in Harare. The "rainbow revolution" in Zimbabwe is thus destined to fade off as it did in Sri Lanka, in the absence of alternate political leadership with an alternate programme for democracy and development backed by people. In effect it means replacing one despot with a few more.
 Kusal Perera

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