The ‘crocodile’ that bit Mugabe: Is this Zimbabwe’s happy ever after?

Ahmad Al Saidy

Published: Updated:

“Only God who appointed me will remove me,” Robert Mugabe once said in 2008, implying that only death can remove him from power.

And yet, today is the first day of a new Zimbabwe, ending the 93-year-old’s 37-year stint in power.

So how did this happen; who dared to challenge one of the world’s oldest tyrants? Emmerson Mnangagwa, Mugabe’s former vice president and right hand, was fired by the president earlier this month in a step seen by many as a shoulder charge, paving way for Grace Mugabe to become his successor.

The First Lady, who is more than 40 years younger than her husband, is a woman with a lot of ambition. Ambitious enough to plot to depose one of the most senior figures in Zimbabwe after Mugabe himself.

Mnangagwa had served Mugabe with loyalty for almost 50 years and fought alongside him in a war to end white minority rule. According to Mnangagwa, the pair even shared a prison cell and he went on to serve in many posts, including the first security minister when Mugabe came to power in 1980.

Testament to his power, Mnangagwa was even seen as the logical successor to Mugabe. Known as the “crocodile” for his ruthlessness, Mnangagwa actually helped Mugabe rule Zimbabwe with an iron fist for almost four decades. He was even known to look after the dirty work that made Zimbabwe a haven for Mugabe.

Funnily enough, that didn’t save Mnangagwa. His dismissal earlier this month created a power struggle, forcing the military to deploy in the capital and take charge of matters, but this time against the will of Mugabe and in favor of Mnangagwa. Why? Because the military leadership saw his sacking as a power play for Grace to become president. Both they and Mnangagwa were in the same boat.

Mugabe was not only stripped from his powers militarily; he was also exposed politically by his party and popularly ditched by the people. In an aggressive maneuver, ruling party Zanu-PF betrayed Mugabe, aligning its political scope with Mnangagwa’s movement to power. Mnangagwa, who had fled the country after he was fired, was widely and openly supported by most of Zanu-PF members who called for his return and demanded Mugabe’s resignation.

All that glitters is not gold. Emmerson Mnangagwa is clearly being viewed as the savior of this coup as a direct effect of his sacking.

Ahmad Al Saidy

Savior or shadow?

But is this Zimbabwe’s happy ending? For Mnangagwa, yes. Not every sacked vice president gets to be sworn in as president a few weeks later, as is expected to happen. With the army’s support, Zanu-PF’s full ratification and the media’s submission, Mnangagwa now faces the music – he must lead the country. But all that glitters is not gold. Mnangagwa is clearly being viewed as the savior of this coup as a direct effect of his sacking. It seems that getting rid of Mugabe was seen as so rewarding, that the people inadvertently sidelined that he is being replaced by the “crocodile.”

It appears Zimbabwe is even brushing aside the constitution, which rules that the president’s successor should be the current vice president, Phelekezela Mphoko, who was appointed by Mugabe in his final days. It is now a battle for the people to ensure Mnangagwa is the leader Zimbabwe needs. Meanwhile, the fate of Mugabe and his wife remains unknown.

As the people of Zimbabwe celebrate, is it safe to say if real change has transpired in the country? It’s cruel to claim that little will change; in fact the sequence of events in Harare may have the power to inspire a knock-on effect in neighboring countries. And a Zimbabwe without Mugabe was unimaginable a couple of months ago. Still, many still hold the belief that the people of Zimbabwe deserve better than Mugabe’s shadow.

Ahmad Al Saidy, a digital media specialist at Al Arabiya English. With interest in writing about global affairs. Can be reached on Twitter at @alsa3idy.