Stephen Chan: Robert Mugabe's resignation does not spell democracy for Zimbabwe
Those who succeed him have blood on their hands and will need to reinvent themselves as Western-friendly pragmatists, writes Chan
Editor’s Note: Stephen Chan is a professor of international relations at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies and the author of “Robert Mugabe: A Life of Power and Politics.” The views expressed in this commentary are his own.
The resignation of Robert Mugabe, after the intervention of the army and then the move to impeach him, ends his 37 years in power – which included his physical and intellectual degeneration over the last decade.
Even his own party saw he had lost the capacity to function as a modern president in perilous economic times. Accordingly, the impeachment motion in Parliament was put forward by his own party, and seconded by the opposition.
But those coming after Mugabe are not good, clean men. Some have real blood on their hands. The need for reinvention will include their own transformation into Western-friendly pragmatists. The era of ideology is over, and the rhetoric of nationalism will need to be replaced by the hard work of rebuilding.
This rebuilding will require some emergency injection of liquidity by foreign powers. The Chinese are in a position to do some of this – and have indeed acted as an ally to Mugabe in the past. If the West does not provide support, the question of future influence may be at stake.
But, after a short period of fiscal stabilization, the hard work of rebuilding not just an economy, but foundations for a prosperous economy, will demand the best brains of both Mugabe’s party – the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front – and the opposition, the Movement for Democratic Change. A coalition government must be formed in order to showcase this kind of capacity.
And there should be no long-term injections of cash if the transparency of public finance in Zimbabwe does not dramatically improve. In short, the very oligarchs – military as well as political – who overthrew Mugabe must finally reach the conclusion that they have looted enough. Their reinvention will require not just pragmatic Western-friendliness, but some real efforts toward honesty and transparency.
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Mugabe might be gone, but the transition from “Mugabeism” – insofar as it has come to stand for power-hungriness and economic acquisition, for immediate gratification as opposed to long-term planning and investment, for elite lifestyles rather than equity for the citizen body – will be extremely difficult.
It will take a full term of Emmerson Mnangagwa, the vice president who Mugabe fired and his presumptive successor, before even the beginnings of this can be fully seen and appreciated.
However, the chances of a radical transformation remain small. Zimbabwe is likely to recover in key sectors in which the elite have holdings, but the majority of Zimbabweans may experience a further economic degeneration.
This time, if there is a coalition, but the opposition parties cannot hold economic rapaciousness in check, the future for pluralistic honest politics may take even longer to reappear than the vibrancy of a functioning economy.