Where next for Zimbabwe?

After almost 40 years in power, at the ripe old age of 93, Zimbabwean premier Robert Mugabe has finally been overthrown. In the end it was a coup by his own generals that did for the once feted anti-colonial leader turned notorious despot. It appears the military felt compelled to act in order to prevent Mugabe’s wife ‘Gucci’ Grace—a lady 30 years the old man’s junior, with a taste for the high life and no first-hand experience of the independence struggle—from succeeding him. ‘Power is not sexually transmitted’ is the slogan emblazoned across the placards of those who’ve come out onto the streets in support of the coup.

At least so far it’s been an almost entirely bloodless and orderly transition. Unopposed, last week military forces took control of key parts of the capital Harare, including the state-controlled national broadcaster. For a short time it looked like Mugabe, who’d been consigned to house arrest, might cling on to power. Yet after being sacked as leader of ZANU-PF, the ruling party he’s belonged to for over four decades, and facing a possible impeachment and vote of no confidence, he resigned. And with the long-serving president gone, the big question is where next for Zimbabwe?

The hope is that democracy will prevail. That free and fair elections will be held and that the country will move towards a more open and more prosperous future, in which it sheds its pariah status and instead becomes a valued member of the international community. The fear, however, is that one authoritarian dictator will simply replace another. That in particular the man the military wish to succeed Mugabe, the former vice-president and notorious strongman Emmerson ‘the crocodile’ Mnangagwa, who has already returned from temporary exile and is about to be sworn is as Mugabe’s replacement, will simply step into his predecessors shoes, with things thereafter carrying on much as before.

In one of these two ways will the present situation resolve itself. Which outcome you edge towards perhaps depends on whether you are a glass half full or glass half empty kind of person. However what can’t be denied is that modern Zimbabwe is at an important crossroads, that will define the nation for a generation to come. The king is dead, but long live the king or long live democracy? That’s the choice which now confronts the people of Zimbabwe. A people weary from years of neglect and misrule, but with a spirit and drive that could underpin the creation of something far, far better.

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