Predicting the political future of post-authoritarian Zimbabwe

Celeste Rogers

Protesters demanding President Robert Mugabe stand down


After the end of World War II, African colonies tied to European countries were revolutionizing, fighting both literally and ideologically for their independence. After Rhodesia’s liberation from Great Britain in 1980, a democratic government was put into place. Enter: Robert Mugabe, freedom fighter and liberator who opposed the British during his country’s fight for independence, and later, white Rhodesians whom he perceived as having illegitimate claims over native Zimbabweans’ agricultural lands.

In 1980, Robert Mugabe won the vote to become prime minister of Zimbabwe and subsequently became known as the creator of modern Zimbabwe. Mugabe was well-favored in the beginning of his political career: He and his party, the ZANU-PF, increased the standards of living, created a plethora of jobs and increased goods exports. Zimbabwe invested in its health care and education. Society improved as a whole, and Zimbabwe is revered as an African success story post-revolution.

All honeymoon periods, however long their duration, do inevitably pale. Economic growth began to slow in the 1990s, questionable crony capitalism began to peak public interest, and Mugabe began to to take military action against potential threats to his and his party’s power. As his popularity began to wane, Mugabe attempted to focus attention back onto himself by using race as a means to pit groups against one another.

Crony capitalism and manipulative and aggressive defenses of power are indicative of totalitarian forms of government. Mugabe’s formal title may have been president at the time, but he and his administration were no longer working in a republican state. Mugabe employed political propaganda to empower native Zimbabweans but, more importantly, to reappear as the nationalist liberator that he used to be in order to reconfirm his political popularity.

In the early 2000s, Mugabe supporters began to forcefully take back native Zimbabwean agricultural lands from white Zimbabweans. This violent, government-sanctioned movement encouraged people to physically confiscate land based on color, and there were repercussions. The international community was disturbed by the government’s promotion of violence among its own citizens, causing businesses and investments to retract. Even worse, white-owned farms were the most productive farms contributing to Zimbabwe’s GDP and overall exports.

The overall retraction of the international community from Zimbabwe consequently decimated the Zimbabwean economy, and thus greater strained the validation of Mugabe and the ZANU-PF’s political power. This series of events created a positive feedback loop in which Mugabe continued to implement unethical, and sometimes violent, tactics in desperate attempts to secure power — signifying the classic devolvement into a textbook dictator.

The lead-up to Mugabe’s resignation culminated when he fired his vice president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, on Nov. 6, 2017.  While in China, military Gen. Constantino Chiwenga caught word of a rumor that he was to be fired upon his return. On Nov. 13, 2017, Chiwenga publicly announced his disapproval of the alleged purge taking place within the Zimbabwean government. On Nov. 14, 2017, military forces moved into Harare and Zimbabwe. A bloodless coup was conducted the day after, sending Mugabe and his wife into house arrest.

Mugabe resigned from office on Nov. 21, 2017, due to intense and increasing public and political pressure. Now, the future of Zimbabwe is at a critical turning point.

The big question is: Why did it take so long to displace Mugabe from power?

The government was essentially rigged to the point that it was no longer a functioning democracy. At best, Zimbabwe previously would have been categorized as a one-party state. The ZANU-PF political party had built a system in which the party members became imprisoned. If a ZANU-PF member chose to work against the party for their own gain, they would consequently discredit themselves. ZANU-PF has played by their self-created rules, enabling them to keep political power since Zimbabwe’s independence.

Former president Mugabe and the ZANU-PF’s motives encircling their political corruption are predictable, considering human nature and predating history involving military coups and dictatorial regimes. As British historian Lord Acton said, “Absolute power absolutely corrupts.”

People in possession of power often feel as if they are intrinsically above other people or exempt from the law; these individuals or groups often believe that they can bend social or physical environments to their will because of their assumed self-importance and legitimacy. Democratic societies operate out of the notion that elected officials work to do good on behalf of the people at large. However, without the presence of checks and balances, people and political groups with power tend to morally sway and take ethical shortcuts to ensure and protect their power, coming off as reminiscent of Niccolo Machiavelli’s quote in “The Prince”: “(The) ends justify the means.”

Will Zimbabwe adopt a true democratic form of government back into their society or will the cyclical nature of corruptive power continue? While Mugabe’s fall from power has potential to be a turning point for Zimbabwe, his story could further function as a cautionary tale for other dictators to be wary of the repercussions of abused political power.


About Us

Denis Gwenzi
United Kingdom
Phone & WhatsApp number +44 7710897502
Twitter @ZimNewsNow

Patience Duncan Dubai (UAE)
Phone & WhatsApp +971 52 980 5692
Twitter @PatienceMDuncan



Subscriber Login