After Mugabe

| Updated on January 09, 2018 Published on November 23, 2017

A ‘coup’ in mineral-rich Zimbabwe, now in an economic mess, opens up a fluid situation

It was a nation that was born on a cloud of sweet words combined with a dash of optimism at the end of a painful civil war. As Southern Rhodesia — named after Cecil Rhodes, the archetypal imperialist — metamorphosed into Zimbabwe, the then Prime Minister Robert Mugabe promised the country's white settlers: “If yesterday you hated me, today you cannot avoid the love that binds you to me and me to you.” Zimbabwe had strong leaders like Mugabe and the more mercurial Joshua Nkomo and a vibrant economy based on agriculture and minerals. The white settlers ran efficient farms but they had monopolised the best land and it was clear that it was only a matter of time before the blacks would demand their fair share of the good earth.

Today, Zimbabwe is held up as an example of a country that did almost everything wrong and most people blame Mugabe who was sworn in at a colourful ceremony in 1980 and who has now been eased out after what looks remarkably like a bloodless coup. The country's economy is expected to contract about 2.5 per cent this year and there is no cash in the system. In 2009, with crippling hyperinflation, the country abandoned its own currency and most transactions are done in US dollars. Mugabe blames Britain and the European Union which imposed limited sanctions and withdrew developmental aid after election observers were expelled from Zimbabwe in 2002. The British press which views Mugabe as an arch-villain says he’s solely responsible for the mess the country is in. At the time of independence Zimbabwe still had about 250,000 white settlers but most have now fled and, according to the last census in 2012, only 28,000 are left in the country. And while the country’s economy has declined catastrophically, Mugabe’s wealth appears to have multiplied many times: he has a $7-million home in Hong Kong and several others both in Zimbabwe and other parts of the world. His wife who had manoeuvred to take over the party and become president after him was famed for her shopping expeditions and earned herself the nickname ‘Gucci Grace’.

It was Mugabe’s attempt to ensure that Grace took over as the country’s leader that finally led to his downfall. Earlier this month he sacked Emmerson Mnangagwa, the vice-president, who had been one of his most loyal assistants. Mnangagwa fled the country and claims there were attempts to poison him. For now, Zimbabweans are happy to be rid of Mugabe and are not asking whether Mnangagwa, who is scheduled to be sworn in today, will be an improvement. Zimbabwe’s still a fertile land and its minerals, if exploited efficiently, could bring wealth back to the mismanaged country. Meanwhile, the Chinese have built their influence in Zimbabwe and significantly, the head of defence forces flew to China days before ousting Mugabe. India should look at grabbing the opportunities presented by the fluid situation and attempt to win influence in a country that must now rebuild itself from scratch.

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Published on November 23, 2017
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