Robert Mugabe goes – what next for Zimbabwe?

President finally steps down after ‘legitimate’ military takeover

Zimbabweans take to the street to celebrate the coup
(Image credit: Mujahid Safodien/AFP/Getty Images)

Robert Mugabe’s 37-year rule as president of Zimbabwe came to an end last night, one week after a coup was launched to replace him.

MPs roared in jubilation as Jacob Mudenda, speaker of the Zimbabwean parliament, read out Mugabe’s resignation letter. The announcement halted an impeachment hearing against the 93-year-old president, who had repeatedly refused to step down even after he was sacked as leader of his Zanu-PF party.

News of his resignation quickly spread onto the streets of the capital Harare, where hundreds of thousands of people united to celebrate Mugabe’s downfall, something which would have been unthinkable just a month ago.

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Mugabe insisted the decision to resign was voluntary and made to allow a smooth transition of power, although he did not mention who would take over from him.

The constitution says it should be the current vice-president. But Phelekezela Mphoko is a supporter of Mugabe’s wife Grace, who is now under house arrest and facing prosecution, and Reuters says former vice president Emmerson Mnangagwa, whose sacking triggered the coup, is expected to be the person sworn in as president next Wednesday.

In September, the news agency reported that Mnangagwa was plotting to succeed Mugabe with the backing of the army. The hope was that Mnangagwa would have headed an interim unity government with the blessing of the international community, allowing Zimbabwe to end decades of isolation from global lenders and donors.

The international community has been supportive of the military takeover and the army itself has been “at pains to insist it was not a coup at all”. There have quite deliberately been no street curfews, no violent crackdowns and no appointment of a military junta to take control of the levers of power, says CNN.

World leaders last night lined up to endorse the takeover. Theresa May said Mugabe’s departure “provides Zimbabwe with an opportunity to forge a new path free of the oppression that characterised his rule”.

Yet Mugabe’s sudden downfall was caused by rivalry between members of Zimbabwe’s ruling elite over who would succeed him, “rather than popular protests against his rule”, claims The Daily Telegraph.

This has led some to fear that Mugabe’s fall will not mark a new chapter in Zimbabwe’s history but merely a continuation of authoritarian rule under a different figure.

Mnangagwa’s statements over the past week, calling for Mugabe to “take heed of the clarion call by the people”, as well as his continued absence, “appeared to be part of an effort by his allies to distance him from the military intervention and to portray it as a reflection of the popular will”, says The New York Times.

China has denied speculation it had a hand in efforts to dethrone Mugabe, saying such claims are an “evil” plot designed to sully its reputation and derail China-Africa relations.

“A recent visit to Beijing by one of the architects of last week’s slow-burn coup has stoked suspicions China played some role in attempts to oust its longtime ally,” with experts saying Mugabe had fallen out of favour with China’s Communist party leaders in recent years, reports The Guardian.

At least a “semblance of legitimacy, especially for a government under Mnangagwa, who is known as the enforcer of some of Mugabe’s most ruthless policies, will be critical in gaining recognition from regional powers, Western governments and international lenders”, says The Times.

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