AS Zimbabwe marked a year since former president Robert Mugabe was ousted by the military in a dramatic coup last November, it is important to reflect on what happened and why.
Editor’s Memo,Dumisani Muleya
It is also critical to count the benefits and cost of that intervention which changed the course of Zimbabwe’s history for better or worse.
Generally, the coup was good from an expediency perspective of removing Mugabe, even though it is now clear that it was driven by self-preservation imperatives of President Emmerson Mnangagwa and his military allies.
The nation and the public’s interest were down their hierarchy of considerations. It was about the political and military elites saving their own skins first.
Coups don’t happen as often as they used to, but they do still happen as Zimbabwe’s case showed last year. In the past few years, coups have toppled leaders in different countries mainly in Africa.
The persistence of coups is a bit puzzling; coup attempts are typically costly to their plotters and usurpers. If they fail, the consequences can be deadly. Even if they succeed, the burden of promises and expectations can be an albatross around the necks of their makers. This is quite evident in Zimbabwe now. Besides, most coups fail anyway.
From 1955 to 2008, half of all coup bids worldwide failed (158 of 316). The failure rate has been much higher in the past two decades than it was in the past. And these are just the coup bids that make it all the way to an overt attempt.
If one included all of the plots that were uncovered and foiled before they could be put in motion, the failure rate would be much higher. If coup attempts usually fail, and the retribution for a failed coup is often treason or death, then coup bids would seem to be a pretty risky gamble for their plotters.
Coups take a toll on the economy. The current situation demonstrates that in a way.
Against this backdrop, it is difficult to understand why coup-plotters keep trying, even if they are trying less often now. But the Zimbabwean situation sheds some light on that.
It is different to measure the benefits and cost of the coup in Zimbabwe. By removing Mugabe, even though it was unconstitutional and illegal, an opportunity was created for change. People got a chance to rebuild their lives and their country ruined by 37 years of misrule and mismamangement.
However, an opportunity was missed by choosing a wrong option; the Zanu PF-military route instead of an inclusive arrangement. The story could have been different if an inclusive transitional government was formed to stabilise the economy first and then come up with reforms before holding free, fair and credible elections.
Of course, the legitimacy question always looms large the day after the coup.
While some opportunity was created by the coup, the damage to Zimbabwe’s constitutional order and democratic fabric was serious.
The architects, supporters and beneficiaries of the coup may disagree, but an objective analysis of the situation can’t escape this conclusion.
Whenever a military coup takes place anywhere in the world, as it did in Zimbabwe last November, for instance, the pillars of state — the executive, legislature and judiciary — are usually shaken to their foundations or collapsed.
It also has a chilling effect on the fourth estate — the media. In Zimbabwe they were shaken, but not collapsed.
Typically the executive and the legislature become the first victims, as power becomes shared between the junta and judges. Even if they remain intact as they mainly did in Zimbabwe they become pliable to the usurpers. The judiciary’s role after any coup is particularly critical.
In future, Zimbabweans must remember that to prevent a cycle of coups, they have a duty to resist and demand a new approach different from the politics of coercion.