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Zimbabwe's Moment –– After 35 Years Of Suffocating Tyranny

The new government is likely to face instability, and may relapse into a dictatorship in its early years.

16/11/2017 13:02 SAST | Updated 16/11/2017 13:52 SAST
Philimon Bulawayo/ Reuters
Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, who is under pressure from a military-backed Zanu-PF faction to resign.

The unfolding news of the Zimbabwean army seemingly confronting President Robert Mugabe and his cabal after the sacking of Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa could be the only hope that country has of getting out of its deep hole of economic ruin and democratising itself out its suffocating tyranny.

Libya presents a lesson of what could be an outcome of the ensuing internal conflict, or the military intervention of other countries in Zimbabwe. We learn from Libya that Zimbabwe could plunge into stateless chaos, with a resultant breakdown of law and order.

Instead of democratising after the conflict, Zimbabwe could be plunged into a permanent state of instability and become a haven for terrorist activity and illegal arms. It could be a bitter lesson on former president Thabo Mbeki's warning against "democratic musts" in his defence of "quiet diplomacy" at the time.

Another possibility is that the unfolding conflict could go down a path akin to Myanmar/Burma, in which a military junta led by the generals takes over the government and suspends civilian rule in the name of "defending the revolution" –– or whatever moral justification they can conjure up.

If there is no full-blown conflict compelling the intervention of other countries or regional bodies in that country, this route is likely to be a missed opportunity to save and democratise Zimbabwe –– because the army does not necessarily stand for the people of Zimbabwe or true democracy.

Instead, they are only poking their nose in the factional politics of Zanu-PF in order to protect and possibly install in government their preferred Zanu-PF politicians, who are as just as bad as Mugabe's faction.

It is doubtful whether Mnangagwa is a true democrat. He has been Mugabe's tool in his murderous rule from the 1980s, when Gukurahundi was perpetrated on Ndebele Zimbabweans.

Whatever the outcome of the unfolding drama, this is a wonderful opportunity to be capitalised on by Zimbabwe's opposition parties, civil society and citizens, in order to set that country on a truly democratic path. It is unlikely that the Zimbabwean army has any intention of setting the country on a democratic course.

It seems that all they're after is a different dictatorship, rather than the Mugabe dynasty. It is doubtful whether Mnangagwa is a true democrat. He has been Mugabe's tool in his murderous rule from the 1980s, when Gukurahundi was perpetrated on Ndebele Zimbabweans.

The army will perform a great service to the Zimbabwean people by removing the Mugabes from power. After this, the country is likely to descend into sporadic conflicts or outright civil war.

This is when the opposition, civil society and citizens ought to embed themselves in the conflict, to demand true democratic reforms setting the country on a path to genuine elections that will produce a truly democratic outcome.

The army generals and the Mnangagwa faction are tyrannical; they are unlikely to democratise Zimbabwe and reform themselves out of power. This has to be forced upon them.

This means that the opposition parties, civil society and citizens will need rebel fighters in the ensuing armed conflict, in order to make sure that after the Mugabes are driven from power, Zimbabwe is set on a true democratic path.

It will be morally justified for any democratic nation to arm and financially support these rebels, who are likely to face reasonably equipped forces led by the generals.

In the ensuing conflict, regional or international forces will have to intervene on a peace-keeping mission aimed at running a credible election and installing a democratic government. The new government is likely to face instability, and may relapse into a dictatorship in its early years.

This political disruption holds one true promise which a stable and firm tyranny does not: a chance to set Zimbabwe on a true democratic path in order to rebuild its economy.

This will require the continued presence of international or foreign forces in Zimbabwe, while the army is being reformed and professionalised. This will also be the time to build and strengthen basic democratic institutions, such as the electoral commission and the courts.

Countries take different paths to democracy. This is Zimbabwe's moment, after 35 years of suffocating tyranny. This political disruption holds great promise for the country. Obviously, it is likely to displace ordinary people and cause suffering. But this is to be preferred over the firm and grinding tyranny of the Mugabes and Zanu-PF.

This political disruption holds one true promise which a stable and firm tyranny does not: a chance to set Zimbabwe on a true democratic path in order to rebuild its economy. Seize this moment, Zimbabwean people.

* Opinions expressed in Voices are not necessarily those of HuffPost SA.