After a 37-year rule, Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe resigned on November 21st after an impending impeachment.
President Mugabe had refused to resign despite a military takeover, protests and the beginnings of impeachment. Mugabe’s rule has been criticized for intensified repression, election rigging, and is blamed as the cause of the country’s economic collapse.
Mugabe has repressed political opposition since becoming leader of the country, launching a suppression campaign known as the “Gukurahundi”, which targeted the opposition and reportedly killed over 20,000 civilians.
On November 15th, Zimbabwe’s military put Mugabe under house arrest and seized the headquarters of the state broadcaster Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) and blocked off access to government offices in Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital. The military said it was seeking to target criminals around Mugabe who were leading the party astray and denied that the army was carrying out a coup against Mugabe’s government.
The Zimbabwe African National Union- Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) party replaced Mnangagwa as the new leader of the ruling party on November 19th. The party also told Mugabe that he had until midday Monday to resign or face impeachment.
On November 6th, President Mugabe fired Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa for supposedly showing traits of disloyalty. Mnangagwa was expected to replace the ailing Mugabe as Zimbabwe’s next president but his removal cleared the way for First Lady Grace Mugabe to succeed as the next president.
The army chief denounced the dismissal of VP Mnangagwa, who was viewed an ally of the army, and a day later on November 14th, military vehicles were seen on the outskirts of Harare.
ZANU-PF has been the ruling party in Zimbabwe since independence in 1980. Mugabe has been the leader of the party first as Prime Minister with the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) and then as President from 1988 after the merger with the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU), retaining the name ZANU–PF.
During a televised address on November 19th, many believed that Mugabe was going to resign but instead he pledged to preside over the congress scheduled in December. With Mugabe’s refusal to resign he missed the deadline put in place by ZANU-PF and this led the party to begin the plans to launch the impeachment process in parliament.
Some ZANU-PF party leaders not only wanted to change its leadership but also wants to change the constitution to reduce the power of the president, a possible sign of a desire to move towards a more inclusive political system.
For years, the U.S. has taken a leading role in condemning Mugabe’s government and its increasing assault on human rights and the rule of law, and has called for establishing democratic practices. The U.S. implemented sanctions in 2001 that targeted selected individuals. These were financial sanctions against certain individuals and entities, travel sanctions against selected individuals, a ban on transfers of defense items and services, and a suspension of non-humanitarian government assistance.
After Mugabe’s resignation, the U.S. has called for leaders to move the country towards a transition that will create a political space for the country’s opposition and its people to determine the future of Zimbabwe. The U.S. has said that in order for sanctions to be lifted, Zimbabwe needs to respect legal due process and human rights, and give the opposition a genuine opportunity to form a government.
While it wasn’t widely publicized, China played a significant role in ousting Mugabe, unlike the U.S. Prior to the military takeover, countries including the U.S. and China were informed of the military plan. China reportedly provided its tacit approval and assured that China wouldn’t stop its assistance to Zimbabwe if Mugabe was deposed, under the condition that its strategic interests in the country would not compromised. The U.S. on the other hand, played no role in the plan.
China and Zimbabwe have had a close relationship under Mugabe’s rule, but in recent years, China was unhappy with Mugabe’s mismanagement of Zimbabwe’s economy which was harming Chinese investments. It is believed that China favors Mnangagwa. China is a key supplier of weaponry to Zimbabwe’s military and has two companies with major interests in the Marange diamond fields in Zimbabwe’s east. Mugabe revoked the Chinese licenses in 2016, in a move to nationalize Zimbabwe’s diamond mines, which further alienated the Chinese.
With China’s involvement in the resignation of Mugabe, it is likely that Zimbabwe will continue to look to China for political and economic assistance as it has since the 1990s, rather than the U.S.
It is questionable whether a Mnangagwa presidency would prove a change from the Mugabe era, given their similar history of violence. Mnangagwa served as state security chief during the Gukurahundi massacres that helped to consolidate Mugabe’s power, so it is uncertain if Mnangagwa would lead change in Zimbabwe on the human rights and democracy promotion front.
Celebration broke out in the streets of Harare after the resignation of Mugabe but it is unclear whether Mnangagwa will be accepted as the successor of Mugabe in the 2018 elections.