Mugabe’s Fall from Grace: A New Era for Africa

After 35 years of rule over Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe’s dictatorship over the former British colony came to an unceremonious end November 21st after a military coup removed him from power.[1] The 93-year-old leader was forced out of office after a political crisis erupted in Zimbabwe. The crisis was sparked by the firing of Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa who, like Mugabe, was a veteran of the Zimbabwe War of Independence. The removal of Mnagagwa was seen as Mugabe’s attempt to secure power for his wife Grace Mugabe, whose popularity with the people suffered from her shopping habits and her anger issues. Currently, Mnangagwa has been appointed as the new President of Zimbabwe by the military leaders who led the coup. Though Zimbabwe’s economy is still in ruins and its population nursing wounds from Mugabe’s brutal crackdowns, this is no doubt a new era for the country and Africa.

Some issues that may arise in the aftermath of a coup is whether or not Zimbabwe has fallen into the “coup trap.” This term describes how a country that has experienced one successful coup is now more susceptible to coups in the future. This is especially worrying in Zimbabwe’s case where the military leaders stated that they would not accept a leader who did not fight in the war against the British, a qualification that Grace Mugabe lacked. Though Mnangagwa did fight in the war, it is unclear as to how the military will react in the future when the next generation of political leaders who were born after the war come to power. Though this issue could be rectified if the current military leadership retires, it is still unclear what role the military will play in the future within Zimbabwe’s political system.

There is also the question of foreign involvement in the coup. Though it seems to be a domestic issue, many political observers have brought up the possible connection with China. A week before the coup occurred, the head of Zimbabwe’s military, General Constantino Guveya Chiwenga, visitied Beijing.[2] During his trip, he met with the Defense Minister of China, General Chang Wenquan. The visit may have given Chiwenga China’s support, but there has been no solid evidence of that. Though China and Zimbabwe have always had close cooperation after China backed Mugabe during the war against the British, their relations have certainly seen setbacks after the financial crisis crippled Zimbabwe’s economy, rendering it useless to Chinese goods. But it is possible that relations are more robust that they seem with rumors that Mnangagwa fleeing to China after he was removed from power, a rumor that Beijing vehemently denies.[3]

Regardless of whether or not China had some sort of hand in the coup, there is little doubt that it will benefit from the change of leadership in Zimbabwe. With Mnangagwa in power, it is likely that he will turn towards China for support to save the country’s economy.[4] Mnangagwa is seen as much friendlier towards foreign investors and has stated that he will ensure that foreign investments and interests are protected, making it more appealing for China to invest in Zimbabwe.[5]

The coup is very significant not only for the people of Zimbabwe who have lived under the reins of a dictator for 35 years, but also for Africa as a whole. The successful coup against Mugabe, who months ago was celebrated by the Zimbabwe media, has demonstrated that no leader is truly safe from being deposed. Africa has the most countries – twenty-one – that are ruled by dictators, such as Omar al-Bashir in Sudan and Jose Eduardo dos Santos of Angola.[6] For these dictators who have ruled anywhere from 20 to 30 years, the unseating of Mugabe should be unsettling. As general unhappiness continues to rise within these African countries, it is possible that there may be more coups in the future and Zimbabwe will be remembered as the first.

Tyler Jiang is a senior at Rowan University where he studies International Studies and History. He is the blogger for African Affairs for the SIR Journal.


[1] Jason Burke, “Military urges calm in Zimbabwe after it seizes key sites in capital,” The Guardian, (November 15, 2017).

[2] Tom Phillips, “Zimbabwe army chief's trip to China last week raises questions on coup,” The Guardian, (November 16, 2017).

[3] Ibid.

[4] Nyshka Chandran, “China, alleged to have influenced Zimbabwe coup, is set to benefit from Mugabe's replacement,” CNBC (November 28, 2017).

[5] BBC, “Zimbabwe's Mnangagwa offers amnesty for funds stashed abroad,” BBC News, (November 28, 2017).

[6] Current World Dictators,