As their economy crashes, Zimbabweans are asking who’s in control.
Last month, in an unprecedented press conference, military generals said they didn’t plan to topple President Emmerson Mnangagwa. Yet weeks later, security leaders sidelined his administration to force the suspension of the stock exchange and large mobile-money transactions as the national currency plummeted.
Despite being President Robert Mugabe’s right-hand man for almost four decades, Mnangagwa was ignominiously fired after falling out with the African liberation icon’s politically ambitious wife. It’s the military that resuscitated Mnangagwa by installing him as leader following a November 2017 coup.
While Zimbabwe ostensibly has a civilian government, its guarantor is the military and the men and women in uniform are becoming impatient.
Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa
Mnangagwa has reason to be nervous. He promised a flood of foreign investment and political reforms. He has delivered neither.
Fuel and food are scarce, with inflation at almost 800%. Some multilateral institutions have suspended lending pending the payment of arrears and the enactment of political reforms. Civil servants earn a 10th of what they took home two years ago. Most Zimbabweans haven’t experienced such pain since Mugabe led his liberation army to independence from white minority rule in 1980.
Still, the path ahead is unclear and may buy Mnangagwa some time to salvage the situation.
The next elections are three years away and the opposition is in disarray. While the military may be exerting influence, coups are rare in southern Africa. The one that removed Mugabe was tolerated as neighboring nations sought an end to the deluge of Zimbabwean refugees pouring over their borders.
For now, the economic freefall seems set to continue.