Zimbabwe’s coup-not-coup and the question of legitimacy

HARARE, November 18 (The Source) – Thousands of Zimbabweans poured onto the streets of Harare in a march to demand the resignation of President Robert Mugabe, the man who has led them for the past 37 years.

The 93-year old, Zmbabwe’s only ruler since independence, is apparently refusing to leave office, citing the constitution and the fact that his terms ends at elections next year. To understand the delicacy of the situation and why the military has not pushed him out of office despite taking control of the country and largely confining Mugabe to his palatial Borrowdale home, The Source spoke to renowned economist, Professor Anthony Hawkins.

The military has denied a coup. How do they proceed?

PH – The only thing that makes any logical sense is they set up an interim government and then say we are going to hold elections after some period and you hope that it will be recognized by the international community. The British are inclined to give (Emmerson) Mnangagwa the benefit of the doubt. (UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson)’s stance in parliament this week — he said it’s not a solution to transfer power from one tyrant to another. The Brits sound clear, the Americans will have nothing to do with Mnangagwa, I don’t know about the Europeans.

A lot depends on what the SADC and AU decide. We have had a response from the AU saying we don’t recognize coups. Seems to me they (Zimbabwe’s military) have small choice; set up an interim government and give it back to civilian rule quickly because nobody is going to give any money now, the World Bank and the IMF they cannot talk to an illegal or unconstitutional government. So rather move quickly to get elections and have the civilian government in place.

Do you see a situation where they can actually make a deal with Mugabe to resign and rescind Mnangagwa’s expulsion from government and party and then quits? Because if Mugabe quits now, Mnangagwa is fired as VP so the next VP to come in is Mphoko, do you see a situation where we can have Mnangagwa back in government and Mugabe quits which enables Mangagwa to take over?

PH – I think that is what they want. Well, it seems part of this interim government thing is for Mugabe to say, I’ll step down if you don’t come for me, my wife and family etc and no prosecution and then the party has a congress where you say Mnangagwa is now the leader and they hope the international community will pick this up. Whichever way you look at it, even if Mugabe says he is retiring voluntarily, everyone knows he retired on the barrel of a gun basically it’s a coup.

Your take on Mugabe in this situation, given his history and the irony of the army, for so long a bedrock of his tyrannical reign removing him?

PH – He doesn’t have too much choice, given that he’s sick. The whole Mugabe strategy was to kick out Mnangagwa and his guys from the party, get to the congress and elect whoever he wanted as VP; but the trick was to have it done before he dies. That is not possible now. There are suggestions of an interim government with Mnangagwa, Tsvangirai even Mujuru in it. Maybe the army wants her (Mujuru) in. But it seems to me from the economists’ viewpoint the situation is becoming increasingly unmanageable and therefore you’ve got somehow to get an international bailout. You are not going to get any international bailout if you have an illegitimate government. The key is will the international community see whatever they do as legitimate or they will say have elections. I think the Americans, like the British would say ‘you have to have elections.’ The Namibia are saying the same thing. There is a sort of united front in Africa today; nobody wants to allow coups succeeding in driving out the civilian government. That’s probably the army’s problem.

So, if you were a businessman, how do you look at this?

PH – I think most business people, their attitude is that Mnangagwa will be good …. and the farmers think they will get their farms back, which is obviously not true. It depends which business you are in, if you are the mining guys you could probably say well indigenization which is a farce anyway is probably going to be pushed through to the back now. So we can move ahead on projects and things like that. But overseas investors are really nervous about the situation. They just want to know that there will be a legitimate government.

Legitimacy, how do they get it?

PH – The only way is through elections. Americans would probably say internationally supervised elections.

Would a Mnangagwa presidency be open to reforms?

PH – Well, he says he is but look at the kind of reforms we need like government spending, salaries etc. Are you going to go to the military and say look guys we are going to cut the salary, no bonuses etc. I don’t think so. It wasn’t just Mugabe, the whole system is rotten, and Mugabe was just a main man. The last year or so he has not been in control, Mnangagwa has been most of the time for decisions that had to be made most of the time except the cabinet reshuffling. He does not come through as a strong guy. When Mujuru was fired she didn’t run and hide. I think the politics in this country is mainly concerned with money and has no principles, no morals. You can see that even with the MDC guys.

So, what can people look forward to in this uncertain period?

PH – There’s nothing to be scared about unless you happen to be close to Mugabe in this case the Moyos, Kasukuweres and Chombos. But the others, I would not see it as scary. I don’t see any domestic unrest. I think the problem is where you start it off, the unemployment. A lot of people believe the military are somehow going to make things better. So the military has to make things better and how do they do that? They need legitimacy.