Three Years After Mugabe, New Dawn Remains Elusive

Three years after a coup that unseated long-time ruler Robert Mugabe, Zimbabweans are losing hope of a new dawn as President Emmerson Mnangagwa tightens his grip on power while the promised economic turnaround remains elusive.

Mr Mugabe, who had ruled Zimbabwe with an iron fist since Independence in 1980, was first put under house arrest by the military on November 14, 2017, before he was forced to resign a week later.

The resignation was greeted with jubilation inside and outside Zimbabwe as the then 93-year-old leader had become unpopular over the years for his controversial economic policies and human rights violations that led to the country’s isolation by the international community.

President Mnangagwa, now 78, a protégé of Mr Mugabe since the country’s 1970s war of liberation, promised “a new kind of democracy” and a swift economic turnaround. However, as Zimbabweans marked the third anniversary of the coup this week, the growing sentiment was that the new regime had been flattering to deceive.

Former finance minister Tendai Biti said Zimbabwe had regressed under President Mnangagwa, with human rights violations and corruption worsening.

“Three years later the revolution has eaten its children,” said Mr Biti, who is also the deputy president of the mainstream opposition MDC Alliance. “The centre can’t hold and things have fallen apart. A bunch of thugs took over the state and plunged it into a sewer of illegitimacy, incompetence, corruption, plunder and poverty.”

President Mnangagwa has been accused of narrowing the democratic space through regular arrests and abductions of civil society and opposition activists.

In August, the AU and UN agencies accused the Zimbabwean government of using the Covid-19 pandemic as an excuse to clamp down on freedoms of speech and assembly.

Arrests and abductions

This followed a spate of arrests and abductions targeting activists and journalists who were linked to the July 31 protests against corruption.

Security agencies stopped the protests after claiming that they were sponsored by Western governments that wanted to topple President Mnangagwa.

Human rights organisations say over 200 activists have been abducted and tortured by state security agents after staging anti-government protests.

The US early this year imposed sanctions on State Security minister Owen Ncube for allegedly masterminding the abductions.

Zimbabwe’s ambassador to Tanzania Anselem Sanyatwe was also put under sanctions for his role in the shooting of protestors following President Mnangagwa’s controversial election a year after the coup.

Ibbo Mandaza, the director of the Harare-based think tank Sapes Trust, said the architects of the coup had not delivered on their promise to transform Zimbabwe into a democracy and revive the economy.

“Things have disintegrated since the coming in of the new dispensation,” Mr Mandaza said. “Nothing has improved since the coup and the government has no capacity to solve the problems of this country. What we are only seeing is the conflict between Mnangagwa and his deputy Constantino Chiwenga.”

Vice President Chiwenga, who was the army commander at the time of the coup, is said to be harbouring ambitions to succeed President Mnangagwa. The two are said to be engaged in a tug of war for control of the ruling Zanu PF ahead of the 2023 general elections.

Eldred Masunungure, a University of Zimbabwe political science lecturer, said many Zimbabweans now believe that they were deceived by the military to support the coup, which was only meant to solve a succession dispute in Zanu PF.

“Many are now disappointed because the expectations they had were wrongly anchored,” Mr Masunungure said. “The expectations of Zimbabweans were beyond those who staged the coup. There is continuity of the first republic renamed the second republic or new dispensation. The old dispensation is the new dispensation.”

Jonathan Moyo, a former Cabinet minister and a close ally of Mr Mugabe, said the new crop of leaders had no capacity to reform and the only reason they staged the coup was to grab power.

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