By Miko Goliati
November 21, 2017 marked the end of Robert Mugabe’s three-and-a-half-decade tenure as the Zimbabwean head of state. Mugabe was ousted in a military coup following his decision to fire his vice president in a bid to install his wife as his successor as the head of ZANU-PF and by extension, the heir apparent to the presidency. One of the most important questions surrounding the fall of Mugabe is how a man who was once seen and revered as a central figure in Zimbabwe’s independence movement came to be deposed by his own military.
Mugabe joined the political arena in 1963 when he helped form the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU), just before his arrest in 1964 after being accused of subversive speech by the white colonial rulers. During his ten-year sentence, Mugabe managed to depose Ndabaningi Sitole as the head of ZANU. On his release in 1975, he left Zimbabwe, then called Rhodesia, for Moçambique where is joined the guerrilla war for Zimbabwe’s independence from white minority rule. The civil war ended in 1979 and was followed by an election in February of 1980 where Mugabe and his newly formed coalition party, ZANU-PF, won a comfortable majority. Mugabe would the serve as Prime Minister until a constitutional rewrite in 1987 abolished that office and made the presidency an executive post.
In hindsight, Robert Mugabe’s authoritarian nature was evident from the time he came to power. Just two years into his first term as prime minister, he forced out Nkomo, the leader of the minority his coalition cabinet and sent a military brigade into Western Zimbabwe to quell Nkomo’s base. This resulted in over 10000 civilian casualties. 1987 saw the assimilation of the coalition cabinet into one party, under Mugabe’s sole leadership, and his election as the first Zimbabwean president with executive power. For the next 12 years, the government’s push to invest in state sponsored health care and education proved to be enough to placate the public and avoid scrutiny over election rigging and an ill-conceived military campaign in DRC but the formation of a rival party, the Movement for Democratic Change, in 1999 marked the beginning of the end. The growth in popularity of the MDC culminated in the bitter presidential election in 2008 where he deployed the military to curb the MDC’s supporters through violence, forcing his opponent's withdrawal. This , coupled with his disastrous economic policies that saw inflation rise to over 100,000 percent, clarified to Zimbabweans and the world the kind of regime Mugabe had built.
In the end, Mugabe’s metamorphosis from a freedom fighter to an ageing dictator clamoring to power displays the ultimate sin committed by many post-colonial revolutionaries turned politicians; living too long. In the 37 years he ruled Zimbabwe, Mugabe two generations born free from colonial rule, generations who grew up under the shadow of ZANU-PF’s unilateral power, generations who did not know the Mugabe who spent ten years in prison but were well acquainted with the dictator with a penchant for quenching civil unrest with violence. Unlike their parents and grandparents, these generations were not satisfied with the image of an African man leading them, they wanted the democracy they were denied. So is it any surprise the arrival of the military on November 15 was met with no civilian protests and the news of Mugabe’s resignation drew crowds to public celebration?
Miko Goliati is a freshman at Lehigh University where she studies bio-engineering, molecular biology and global politics.