Sunday, November 19, 2017

The Fall of Robert Mugabe

This is excellent, from Robyn Dixon, at the Los Angeles Times, "The Shakespearean excesses and political intrigues that drove Africa's oldest strongman out of power":

In a glitzy Johannesburg nightclub earlier this month, a wealthy young playboy poured an entire $660 bottle of Ace of Spades Armand de Brignac Champagne over his diamond-studded watch: It was Bellarmine Chatunga, the youngest son of President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe.

He had bragged about the watch and chunky gold bracelet on an earlier social media post: “$60,000 on the wrist when your daddy run the whole country ya know!!!”

As Zimbabweans struggle to afford food, when many find themselves sleeping outside banks in the hope of withdrawing $10 in cash, the video drew outrage, even among the ruling elite that had propped up the 93-year-old Mugabe for 37 years.

It hadn’t been an isolated incident. Mugabe’s wife, Grace, and her son from a previous marriage, Russell Goreraza, recently imported two Rolls-Royces, and she was caught up in a legal battle over a $1.35-million diamond ring.

Members of the ruling ZANU-PF party were furious that the first lady had seized majority control of a $1-billion government road contract. Then there was the incident involving a model who had been partying with her sons in South Africa: Grace Mugabe left an ugly gash when she hit her with a power cord and, facing charges of assault, she claimed diplomatic immunity and high-tailed it out of the country.

“It angered people. There have always been reports of the high living by these boys, high living by the mother, the father looking aside. They became arrogant and thought ‘No one can do anything to us,’ ” confided one ruling party figure, who wouldn’t be named for fear of reprisals. “There’s palpable anger in the military.”

The alarm over Grace Mugabe was magnified by her escalating power. When she attacked, government ministers fell. She said she could be president. “Give me the job and see if I fail!” she declared recently.

Zimbabwe’s fate came to a head this fall, according to numerous interviews with those close to the political intrigue, when Grace Mugabe turned her sights on former Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa and his close allies among military commanders. At that point, sources say, those with any power to stop what was happening knew they would be finished — unless they toppled her. That meant removing Robert Mugabe.

Mugabe’s slow-motion downfall — planned for months by the military — is a story of his own hubris and arrogance, and his conviction that he was Africa’s last great liberation hero, with no living peers. For decades he chipped away at democracy and crafted the militaristic state that kept him in power, but he forgot that he was there at the military’s whim, not the other way around.

It was grand opera crossed with “The Sopranos,” full of scandal and treacherous turns, entertaining and dangerous. Accusations flew of poisoning, plotting, CIA espionage, military desertion and the theft of $15 billion in diamonds.

As the economy shriveled without foreign investment and a hard currency crisis sent prices of staples soaring 30% in a single week, many in the rank-and-file government felt hopeless at the prospect of going into elections in 2018 led by a president who could hardly stay awake in public meetings.

As Mugabe grew frail, he turned to promoting and protecting Grace, repeatedly warning the generals to stay out of politics, even as armed forces leaders were beginning to talk darkly of intervention.


One of the ironies of the unfolding drama is the extent to which the army now confronting Mugabe has been one of the president’s chief weapons of terror over the years.

The military carried out massacres in Matabeleland in the 1980s on Robert Mugabe’s orders to eliminate opposition. Some 20,000 people were reportedly killed.

The army and war veterans evicted white farmers from their land soon after 2000 and got farms in return. Mugabe used the military to violently crush the opposition in successive elections and in Operation Murambatsvina in 2005, when up to a million people were displaced in opposition areas, their homes bulldozed.

Mugabe, say those who know him best, has always had an instinctive manipulative cunning and an acute understanding of how to wield force to break an opponent. When he saw a threat, he either crushed it or consumed it whole.

But as he aged, he grew more remote, stubborn and out of touch, and was loath to trust or consult his generals.

“He forgot the nature of the state that he himself helped to create, which is a militaristic, securocratic state,” said opposition figure Tendai Biti, a former finance minister. “He forgot that the militaristic state could just dump him when he stopped serving their interests. He could be fired, like anyone.”

Independent analyst Earnest Mudzengi said the closed, oppressive state Mugabe created likely will outlast him.

“He was made by the same guys who now want to do away with him. He made them, and he was made by them. Big people tend to overreach themselves,” he said.

“Basically what they [the generals] want is a return to the status quo,” he added. “People are celebrating, but it’s premature.”