Zimbabwe’s Strongman Clings to Power

By Patrick Goodenough | November 19, 2017 | 7:15 PM EST

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe addresses the country's parliament. (Photo: Parliament of Zimbabwe, File)

(Update: On Monday the ZANU-PF party met to discuss launching impeachment procedures after Mugabe ignored a noon deadline to resign.)

(CNSNews.com) – Zimbabwe’s 93-year-old ruler defied his opponents again Sunday when his presumed resignation speech ended without him signaling his departure.

Instead, President Robert Mugabe told the southern African nation in the televised address that he intends to preside over the congress next month of his ZANU-PF party – a gathering that had been expected to inaugurate his successor.

After a call for unity in a “comradely Zimbabwean spirit” and the invoking of a Shona-language “wartime mantra” (translated as “you and I have a job to do”), rather than announce he was stepping down, Mugabe ended with an abrupt, “I thank you, and goodnight.”

Mugabe lost the support of the army when he dismissed his vice-president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, at the urging of Mugabe’s wife.  Mnangagwa and Grace Mugabe are rivals in the contest to succeed him as president.

The Zimbabwean Defense Force (ZDF) put Mugabe under effective house arrest last week, while denying it had carried out a coup.

The president has now also lost the support of the party he led for almost four decades. Amid anti-Mugabe street protests over the weekend, the ZANU-PF central committee expelled him and his wife, and installed Mnangagwa as its new leader.

The party also named Mnangagwa – who has himself been closely associated for years with Mugabe’s corrupt and repressive regime – as its presidential candidate for general elections scheduled for next year.

Even the Harare Herald, long a mouthpiece of “Comrade Mugabe,” has seen a direction shift in recent days, with editorials applauding the ZDF and photos of protestors calling on Mugabe to step down.

Mugabe’s speech from the State House in Harare came after meetings with top military officers, including the general who led the takeover. Mugabe described the meeting as having been characterized by “collegiality and comradeship.”

The army looks reluctant to remove Mugabe illegally, since doing so would earn censure and likely suspension from regional and Africa-wide blocs.

Legal ways to removed him from power include impeachment. Section 97 of the national constitution requires simple majority votes of both houses of parliament to appoint a joint committee to investigate charges that could include “serious misconduct” or “physical or mental incapacity.”

A finding against the president would require one more parliamentary vote, this time with a supermajority required to eject him.

(Image: World Factbook)

At the weekend ZANU-PF meeting, party officials signaled they may launch impeachment proceedings if Mugabe has not formally resigned by Monday.

During a meeting with African foreign ministers in Washington on Friday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called for “a quick return to civilian rule” in accordance with Zimbabwe’s constitution.

“Zimbabwe has an opportunity to set itself on a new path, one that must include democratic elections and respect for human rights.”

Previous elections have fallen far short of democratic norms, and the country’s opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) is concerned Mugabe may go only to be replaced by another ZANU-PF strongman following a rigged vote.

The MDC is calling for Mugabe to be replaced now with a “negotiated, all-inclusive transitional mechanism,” in preparation for free and fair elections, “under a truly independent and international supervision.”

In the 2008 presidential election, MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai won a first round but fell short of the 50 percent needed to avoid a second round. Tsvangirai later pulled out of the run-off, citing state-sponsored violence and intimidation against his supporters.

Mugabe then ran unopposed and claimed victory.

Five years later, Mugabe won 61 percent of the vote to Tsvangirai’s 34 percent, in another election plagued by allegations of massive vote-rigging. Western organizations were prohibited from monitoring the polls, and the African Union, while reporting some shortcomings, endorsed the process.

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Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow