Zimbabwe: A Missed Opportunity For Reform

Zimbabwe: A Missed Opportunity For Reform

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The November 2017 resignation of Robert Mugabe who ruled as Prime Minister of Zimbabwe from 1980 to 1987 and then as President from 1987 to 2017 sent waves of optimism and hope through all of Africa just as the toppling of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak had once sent a wave of hope and optimism throughout the Middle East during the Arab Spring. But that optimism appears to have faded after security forces killed six people at the end of July while protesting the results of Zimbabwe’s first post Mugabe election.

Mugabe, who was the world’s longest sitting president, finally resigned after a coup d’état following the sacking of Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa. The sacking of Mnangagwa fuelled speculation that he intended to name his wife Grace Mugabe as his successor. The former first lady of Zimbabwe was extremely unpopular with the old guard of the Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (ZANU–PF), the ruling political party in Zimbabwe since 1980.

Grace Mugabe was infamous for her luxury shopping sprees, which earned her the ire of the population through the derisive nickname “Gucci Grace”. The threat of “Gucci Grace” becoming President of Zimbabwe was enough to spark the military coup which forced the resignation of the 93-year-old Robert Mugabe.

After Mugabe was ousted, the people of Zimbabwe were promised free and fair elections by Emmerson Mnangagwa, the former vice president, who filled the power vacuum caused by the coup. At the end of July, Mnangagwa was been contentiously elected as the next president of Zimbabwe. The days following the election have been marred by reports of beatings and intimidation of opposition supporters. Soldiers even opened fire on protestors, killing six and wounding dozens.

Opposition leader Tendai Biti attempted to flee the country in August to neighbouring Zambia but was deported back to Zimbabwe where he was arrested to face trial for his alleged role in the election violence. According to a U.N. spokesperson, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres asked Mnangagwa to rein in his security forces in a telephone conversation after the violence.

The European Union, United States, Canada and Switzerland earlier issued a joint statement calling on Zimbabwe’s defence forces to act with restraint and protect human rights. The United States further signaled that Zambia could face consequences for its role in handing Biti back to Zimbabwe.

“We will be discussing this matter with Zambia’s leaders and reviewing certain aspects of our cooperation with the Zambian government,” the State Department said in a statement.

Since his return, Biti has appeared in court to face charges of falsely and unlawfully announcing results of the July 30 election. If found guilty, Biti could face up to 10 years in jail, a cash fine or both. He is currently out on bail. “It’s been an ordeal, but we survive. We live to fight another day, I am glad to be home,” Biti told reporters after his release.

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