One of Africa’s longest-serving leaders, 93-year-old Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe has apparently been removed from office in a military coup. Mugabe, who has ruled his country with an iron fist since coming to power in 1980, preferred to play off different factions within the ruling elite rather than announce a successor. As recently as a few months ago, he vowed to run again for office when Zimbabweans head to the polls in 2018. Yet in reality it was his wife Grace Mugabe who had emerged as a potential successor thanks to her husband’s patronage. Both Mugabes are now apparently under house arrest.
The coup has elicited few protests in Western capitals, which tend to view the fall of the Mugabes as an improvement in Zimbabwe’s internal affairs. There’s a hope that a successor will emerge from the president’s Zanu-PF party whom they can work with. Meanwhile, the Zimbabwe army is insisting that the constitution remains in effect and does not appear intent on taking power itself.
The coup stems from the recent dismissal of Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa, a rival to succeed Mugabe upon the aging autocrat’s death. It was an ambitious move by Grace Mugabe to remove Mnangagwa from his position within the ruling Zanu-PF party. The goal was for her take his place at a special congress of the ruling party next month. However, Grace lacked the former Vice President’s sway with the army, something which seems to have fatally undermined her chances of political leadership. Neither of the Mugabes command much popular affection, having severely mismanaged the economy and ushered in an era of hyperinflation that rendered Zimbabwe’s currency worthless. But Mnangagwa’s sacking also exposed deep factional divides within the Zanu-PF ranks, coming after years of systematic dismissals of veterans of Zimbabwe’s liberation struggle by Robert Mugabe, who had started to favor a younger generation of officials clustered around his wife. The coup is apparently the work of the old guard who feared being sidelined by the arrival of Grace Mugabe.