Two weeks ago, the 92-year-old President of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, was placed under house arrest by the military. For international observers on the outside of Zimbabwean politics, it appears as if these actions surfaced out of nowhere; however, the situation can be better understood as the culmination of growing political tension within the ruling ZANU-PF party.
Within the past couple of years, two distinct groups within the Zimbabwean government began to clash. The first group is headed by Mugabe’s wife, Grace, and referred to as the G-40. The members of this group are mostly career politicians and other young ZANU-PF leaders who have no direct connection with the liberation war that led to the country’s conception. The second group is the old military establishment, which is comprised of leaders that largely draw their legitimacy from having fought in Zimbabwe’s war for liberation. This group is headed by the country’s former Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who was recently removed from office. The leaders of this group were granted many special privileges under Mugabe’s rule, from land to political influence, and are afraid that the rise of the G-40, with Grace at its helm, will lead to them being cut off from the status they currently hold.
However, these tensions have been simmering in Zimbabwe for a couple years now; so what’s changed? Well, the military coup was most likely triggered by a series of high profile firings that Grace pressured her husband into at the beginning of the month. These firings include several senior war veterans and the Vice President Mnangagwa himself.
Ultimately, these actions proved to be the final straw for the remaining senior military officials, as they perceived the firings as an aggressive move by Grace to secure internal control of the party for her G-40 faction. With a small window of opportunity remaining, the military quickly mobilized and placed President Mugabe under house arrest while its leaders released televised statements to the population.
Currently, the future of the country remains unknown. Earlier this week, Mugabe was forced to step down from his role as president, promptly ending his 37-year rule of the country. In exchange for his cooperation, he will be allowed to keep his status and will not be tried in the courts for crimes committed during his time in office. Just a day after Mugabe’s resignation Mnangagwa re-entered the country from exile and announced that he would soon be sworn in as the country’s interim president.
In his inaugural speech on November 24, Mnangagwa promised that bright times were ahead for the people of Zimbabwe. He spoke about plans to improve the stagnant economy and forge closer ties with the west. Despite these promises, there are still some compelling reasons to believe that Mnangagwa may share many chilling similarities with his predecessor.
During Mugabe’s reign, Mnangagwa was known as “the crocodile” for his political cunning and ruthlessness. It is widely believed that he was involved with many of the worst atrocities committed by the ZANU-PF. It is also important to keep in mind that the struggle between the G-40 and the old political elite involved succession and not ideological differences. When it comes to ideology both groups are largely the same. As a result, it is difficult to say what Mnangagwa’s rise to power means for the future of Zimbabwe. Only with time will the international community know for sure.