The removal of Robert Mugabe in a palace coup in early November sees the fruition of western-backed moves over the years to get rid of the man that acted against their interests through crippling sanctions and support of the main opposition party, the MDC.
There are indications that Mugabe’s replacement with former deputy-president Emmerson Mnangagwa had been prepared for months during which time Mnangagwa and the military reassured the west that a future government would include the MDC, which is also seen as a block against China, Zimbabwe’s biggest investor.
Also in his favour is the fact that Mnangagwa was an opponent of Mugabe’s “indigenisation” policy that penalised foreign investors in mining and other key industries.
The Zimbabwe economy is on its knees following years of western sanctions that were imposed after white farmers lost their land during the land-redistribution campaign in 2000.
Following Mnangagwa’s inauguration as interim president on November 24, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) issued a list of demands Zimbabwe must meet before being reconsidered for financial aid.
In an interview with Reuters, IMF mission chief for Zimbabwe Gene Leon outlined a cuts and privatisation package to address “excessive government spending” that was “potentially jeopardising the financial sector”.
This meant deficit reduction, accelerated “structural reforms” to “restore fiscal and debt sustainability” and to “rebalance the economy towards one where growth is driven by the private sector”.
Before re-engaging “with the international community to access much needed financial support”, Zimbabwe should also pay off the $9 billion it has borrowed from western lending agencies since international aid was cut off in 1999, Leon added.
Under Mugabe, Mnangagwa opened up talks with international financiers. He also met with Chinese entrepreneurs and bankers, which led to the establishment of special economic zones and the Industrial Park Project in the country.
Tendai Biti, leader of splinter opposition grouping, MDC-Renewal, was quoted by Deutsche Welle as saying last week, “We have to make peace with London, Brussels and Washington. We have to find the boys and girls with money.”
In this respect, Zimbabwe’s former colonial master Britain has been quick to make hay, with Prime Minister Theresa May saying that the UK, “as Zimbabwe’s oldest friend”, would do all it can to help “rebuild” the Zimbabwean economy.
Her minister for Africa, Rory Stewart, made the first ministerial visit to Harare since 1998 last week and was photographed with Mnangagwa prior to his inauguration. Stewart also met with MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai.
Mugabe, 93, who has led the country for 37 years, at first refused to go after the army stepped in, leading to moves to impeach him for allowing his wife, Grace, to “usurp power”.
Mnangagwa had been by a key ally of Mugabe for decades but was sacked from the government in late October after his boss attempted to sideline the ruling Zanu-PF old guard in favour of a younger element allied to ‘Gucci Grace’.
“Mnangagwa is making all the right moves in order to re-engage with the west,” Jon Offei-Ansah, publisher of Africa Briefing, told World Today Press.
“He wants Zimbabwe to re-join the Commonwealth and is talking about monetary compensation to the white farmers who lost their farms, which is music to the ears of the west.”
But Offei-Ansah warned that any IMF intervention would come at a price. “The IMF does not give you money for nothing,” he said. “The sort of reforms they are demanding will impact adversely on people and this explains why the euphoria over Mugabe’s removal has died down somewhat. Mnangagwa will have to sensitise people to this reality – that there will be hard times ahead but that it will be temporary.”
According to Wikileaks cables, a US diplomat alleged in 2001 that Mnangagwa was Zimbabwe’s richest man thanks to money he made while Zanu-PF secretary for finance as well as being involved in illegal mining in the Congo.
The man who led the palace coup, commander of the Zimbabwe army, General Constantine Chiwenga, is also very wealthy, with an extensive property portfolio and control of some 100 companies.
Set up in 1999, the MDC stood against ZANU-PF as the defender of
International Monetary Fund-imposed structural adjustment programmes and white farming interests when Mugabe was forced to make a show of opposition to both to preserve his popular base.
South Africa’s ANC government, which like Mugabe’s is considered a disappointment for the way ministers have enriched themselves at the expense of the wider population, appears to have been aware that the Zimbabwean military was planning to remove Mugabe.
At the end of November, Reuters reported a cable it received weeks prior to the palace coup from South Africa’s Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO). The cable reports that 16 leaders from the southern African region led by President Jacob Zuma were encouraging Mugabe to step down as they knew that the army was ready to remove him.
Dated October 23, the CIO source warns that Mugabe would face “fierce resistance from the military” if Mnangagwa was removed and that “the military is not going to easily accept the appointment of Grace”.
The report adds that Reuters “reported in September that Mnangagwa was plotting to succeed Mugabe, with army backing, at the helm of a broad coalition. The plot posited an interim unity government with international blessing to allow for Zimbabwe’s re-engagement with the world after decades of isolation from global lenders and donors”.
Mnangagwa has offered his vision for a “new Zimbabwe” describing “a national, not party political, project” that was “not a job for Zanu-PF alone…”