On the surface, a lot has changed in Zimbabwe in the last month — longtime president Robert Mugabe finally resigned after 37 years in power after the army took over state institutions, and a new administration has vowed to usher in sweeping changes.
In his inaugural address, new President Emmerson Mnangagwa promised Zimbabweans a new era had arrived. This week, he introduced a national budget that reverses some of the most notable and controversial economic policies created by Mugabe.
But prominent Zimbabwean analysts argue that the new government — which is led by the same party and many of the same men who have long held power in the Southern African nation — is hardly a change at all. After all, the new president was for decades Mugabe’s right-hand man.
“We’ve changed the driver, but it’s the same bus,” said Kudakwashe Chitsike, director of the Research and Advocacy Unit, a Zimbabwe-based think tank.”So what major difference is Mnangagwa going to bring for us? I don’t see much change.”
Ibbo Mandaza, a prominent academic and author, says he’s disappointed that the international community avoided describing the military-led action that prompted Mugabe’s resignation as a coup.Calling it that, he said, might have brought in real change, like a more diverse cabinet with more opposition voices, not just ruling party stalwarts and military men in top positions.
“Most of them like SADC, like South Africa, would have wanted a transitional government as a way of disguising the coup,” he said. “That has not happened at all. On the contrary, you have a reassertion, nay, an over-assertion of the coup. The man who announced the coup, [Major-General] Sibusiso Moyo is now the minister of foreign relations and trade, the face of Zimbabwe.”
Both analysts also voiced concern that soldiers remain on the streets, manning key checkpoints at the international airport and surrounding Mugabe’s private residence on the outskirts of Harare.
They also added to concerns that while Mnangagwa has promised to hold elections as planned in mid-2018, his close relationship with the military means the armed forces may try to influence the outcome.
And so, just weeks after the most startling change Zimbabwe has seen in decades, Mandaza and other analysts are calling for further change.
“I think everybody is relieved he [Mugabe] is gone,” Mandaza said. “But given the new reality, in which it’s just change of the driver and we have virtually military rule, I think it offers an opportunity for all of us, the region, the international community together with the national situation, to demand a transitional government until political and economic reforms are taken. Otherwise I can’t see how we can sustain the situation we have in Zimbabwe at the moment.”