Special Briefing: The End of an Era in Zimbabwe

Special Briefing: The End of an Era in Zimbabwe

Robert Mugabe appearing in public for the first time since the military moved against him, at a graduation ceremony in Harare on November 17, 2017.

SourceTafadzwa Ufumeli/Anadolu Agency/Getty

Why you should care

After 37 years of ruling Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe has resigned as president of the troubled nation.

This is an OZY Special Briefing, an extension of the Presidential Daily Brief. The Special Briefing tells you what you need to know about an important issue, individual or story that is making news. Each one serves up an interesting selection of facts, opinions, images and videos in order to catch you up and vault you ahead.

WHAT TO KNOW

What happened? Zimbabwe’s longtime dictator, Robert Mugabe, once said that he would rule the southern African nation until “God says come.” His wife once boasted that if the 93-year-old should die before the next election, his party would “field him as a corpse.” Yesterday, however, it was not the hand of death but his own hand (following a military coup) that finally deposed the autocrat after 37 years of rule when he resigned from the presidency. Mugabe’s vice president Emmerson Mnangagwa is expected to be sworn in Friday, and elections are slated to take place next year.

Why does it matter? News of Mugabe’s resignation sparked celebrations across Zimbabwe. “The Goblin has gone!” yelled one celebrant. Few expected such a swift and peaceful ouster of a man who just last week refused to step down even as his nation rose against him, its army detained him, and its parliament began impeachment proceedings against him.

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Protesters demonstrate outside the Embassy of Zimbabwe in London to call Robert Mugabe to resign on November 18.

Source Jay Shaw Baker/NurPhoto

HOW TO THINK ABOUT IT

From hero … Like another post-apartheid leader, Nelson Mandela, Mugabe was a political prisoner–turned–revolutionary hero who helped liberate his people from white colonial rule. After Zimbabwe gained its independence from Great Britain, he endorsed racial reconciliation and was even nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. But Mugabe soon began a brutal crackdown of political opponents and a violent program of seizing white-owned farms and redistributing them to his cronies.

… to villain. Zimbabwe was once a regional powerhouse, but Mugabe and the ruling Zanu-PF party’s land grabs, corruption and mismanagement have devastated its economy, leading to massive poverty and starvation. “Countries don’t go bankrupt!” Mugabe once declared, but in 2008, Zimbabwe’s hyperinflation reached 500 billion percent. Millions have since fled the country, and those remaining face unemployment levels around 80 percent.

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The autocrat ruled the country for 37 years since independence from Britain.

Source Bettmann/Getty

Flaunting autocracy. Meanwhile, Mugabe and his family have lived the high life … and flaunted it from their 25-bedroom mansion with two lakes and a blue roof made from Chinese turquoise. Mugabe’s wife, known as “Gucci Grace,” spends thousands on lavish shopping trips. And his youngest son once posted a photo of his new watch with the comment: “$60,000 on the wrist when your daddy run the whole country ya know!!!”

Strongman in waiting. Mugabe stumbled in his final weeks when he fired Mnangagwa in an effort to position Grace as his successor. Known as “the crocodile” because of his ruthless cunning, Mnangagwa, 75, a former spy chief, skillfully deposed his former party leader and has called on Zimbabweans to unite to rebuild the country. Many remain skeptical of real change. As one prominent opposition figure put it: “We have removed a tyrant but not yet a tyranny.”

WHAT TO READ

A Week of Desperation: Inside Robert Mugabe’s Fight to Stay in Power, by Franz Wild and Brian Latham in The Times (South Africa)

He had always been alive to potential threats to his power, but he was now stunned by the ease with which he had been captured.”

End to Mugabe Rule: Other Autocratic Leaders May Fear Similar Fate, by Simon Tisdall in The Guardian

The fate of Robert Mugabe, who ran Zimbabwe with iron discipline for more than 30 years, will send a chill down the spines of other autocratic African leaders who may have out-stayed their welcome.”

WHAT TO WATCH

Mugabe Addresses Zimbabwe on Sunday

I, as the president of Zimbabwe…, do acknowledge the issues they have drawn my attention to, and do believe that these were raised in the spirit of honesty and out of deep and patriotic concern for the stability for our nation and for the welfare of our people.”

Watch on The New York Times:

Mass Celebrations in Harare, Zimbabwe’s Capital

Ever since I was born, I have never thought I would see this day.”

Watch on Al Jazeera English on YouTube:

WHAT TO SAY AT THE WATER COOLER

In Beijing, only crocodile tears are being shed for Mugabe. “China will never forget its old friends,” President Xi Jinping told China’s longtime ally “Comrade Bob” in January. But, in the end, China made no effort to prevent his fall. Experts say Mugabe had become a liability and that China’s growing influence in Zimbabwe will be on firmer ground with Mnangagwa, another “old friend” who once studied Marxism at Peking University.

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