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The Africa Confidential Blog

  • 22nd November 2017

ZIMBABWE: Robert Mugabe's long goodbye

Patrick Smith

We start in Harare where President Robert Mugabe's exit and the takeover by Emmerson Mnangagwa are dominating the news across the continent. It is particularly important for politics and business in neighbouring South Africa. As political violence intensifies in Kenya, rights groups are calling on the government to do something about the high number of shootings by police. And a bribery case in New York is raising uncomfortable questions for the Chadian and Ugandan governments.

ZIMBABWE: Robert Mugabe's long goodbye. A week after the military moved against the President's faction of the ruling party, he steps down
Celebrations in the streets of Harare and Bulawayo yesterday (21 November) nearly matched those of Independence day in 1980 as news of President Robert Mugabe's resignation spread across the country. This time, hope for genuine political change is qualified by the harsh lessons of the last 37 years and the deep political divisions in the country.

At the heart of concerns about the future will be Emmerson Mnangagwa, who is due to be sworn in as Zimbabwe's new President on Friday (24 November). Although the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front, which stands to be strengthened by the change of leader, is calling on Zimbabweans and outsiders not to pre-judge Mnangagwa and his agenda, there is strong scepticism about his support for wider political change.

Civil rights activists point to Mnangagwa's role as Chairman of the Joint Operations Command which led the mass repression of the opposition of the Movement for Democratic Change and its supporters after its presidential candidate Morgan Tsvangirai won the first round of the presidential elections in 2008. The brutality was so severe that the MDC withdrew from the second round of the elections. Months of political stalemate was followed by a power-sharing government between the MDC and ZANU-PF.

Given that the opposition was comprehensively out-manoeuvred in that power-sharing arrangement, few expect such a deal to be repeated. But the opposition is expecting Mnangagwa, as the hard man of ZANU-PF, to make some concessions on political freedoms, land rights and the establishment of an independent electoral commission.

The street parties greeting Mugabe's exit and the mass demonstrations last weekend have unleashed a popular energy that will make it difficult for the new government to bring back the police state.
Zimbabwe's army is basking in its popularity as engineer of the 'second liberation' and for putting the police in their place. Mnangagwa's call for Zimbabweans of all political colours to join the reconstruction effort suggests that he could offer a political breathing space on Friday.

Tsvangirai has suggested that Mnangagwa has the opportunity be the Deng Xiaoping to Mugabe's Mao Zedong. The comparison is not so far-fetched. Deng was a stern authoritarian but a pragmatist on ideological debates coining the slogan: 'It is doesn't matter what colour the cat is as long as it catches mice.' Another Deng slogan: 'To get rich is glorious' might also find favour with the Mnangagwa team.

Mnangagwa and the people around him are businesslike, with close ties to big companies and banks in the region. Over the past year, they have met diplomats from China, Europe and the United States to discuss the importance of stabilising the country after Mugabe's exit and getting investment flowing again. Whether this will mean a credible and broad-based transition is another matter.
The agenda and duration of that transition, and the extent of opposition participation in it, will emerge in the coming days. If it can gain national support, the possibility of the country bringing back millions of its well-educated and entrepreneurial people and some of their capital looms large and will hugely boost the recovery effort.

SOUTH AFRICA: The first signs of the Mugabe effect are bad news for President Jacob Zuma
Robert Mugabe's resignation letter to Zimbabwe's parliament on 21 November cheated South Africa's President Jacob Zuma of a chance to play the role of mediator in Harare. Zuma's expected trip the following morning was quickly cancelled.

It could be that Zuma will see wider effects from the fall of Robert Mugabe after the failure of his plan to shoo in his wife as the candidate to succeed him as leader of the African National Congress. Zuma's opponents in the ANC are already drawing parallels between his campaign for his ex-wife Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma to succeed him and the failure of Mugabe's bid to position his wife Grace as his successor.

The ANC Chief Whip, Jackson Mthembu, has called on Zuma to step down as soon as the party's presidential elections are over next month to allow internal reforms.

He added that the party must emerge with a new image from the December elective conference if it is to win the next national elections in 2019.

Mthembu also keenly supports Vice-President Cyril Ramaphosa, the leading rival to Dlamini-Zuma in the party elections, who is calling for wide-ranging reforms in the party and government.

A new opinion poll by the South African Institute of Race Relations, based on a survey in the ANC's branches suggests that Ramaphosa is well ahead of Dlamini-Zuma in the leadership race. However, insiders say the race remains wide open in the remaining three weeks before the critical vote.

KENYA: Rights activists accuse police of targeting opposition in shootings as Britain endorses Uhuru victory
Two major human rights organisations, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, are urging President Uhuru Kenyatta's government to rein in the police which they accuse of involvement in 67 killings last month, mostly shootings of opposition activists.

They also raised alarms about shots fired at opposition leader Raila Odinga's car on 17 November as police tried to disperse his supporters welcoming him home at the airport. As clashes between Odinga supporters and police continued into the city centre and surrounding townships, local journalists reported that 15 bodies, mostly with gunshot wounds, were brought to the Nairobi mortuary the following day. Many more wounded were taken to hospital. The latest death toll is over 20. Police insist they are using non-lethal methods of crowd control and blame the deaths on clashes between supporters of Odinga and President Kenyatta.

This escalation of political violence comes just as Britain's Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson became one of the first international politicians to congratulate Kenyatta on his victory in the second round of the presidential elections which Odinga had boycotted.

CHINA/UNITED STATES: Chinese company officials arrested in the US over attempts to bribe top Chadian and Ugandan officials
Chadian President Idris Déby Itno and Uganda's Foreign Minister Sam Kutesa are reported to have been the target of a bribe scheme run by Chi Ping Patrick Ho, former Home Secretary of Hong Kong, and Cheikh Gadio, former Foreign Minister of Senegal, who were arrested in New York last Saturday (18 November). They are accused of organising for $400,000 to be transferred to President Déby and $500,000 to Kutesa in a scheme organised during the United Nations General Assembly in New York in 2014. Kutesa was chairing the UN General Assembly that year. So far there has been no comment from the governments of Chad and Uganda.


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