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The cost of botched transition

WHEN former president Robert Mugabe was ousted through a cautious military coup in November 2017, most Zimbabweans across the political divide and from all walks erupted with jubilation and relief.

Editor’s Memo,Dumisani Muleya

For Mugabe had reduced Zimbabwe to ruins over 37 years through calamitous leadership and policy failures. His regime was indisputably corrupt and incompetent, hence a legacy of failure, poverty and suffering. Whatever its achievements, they paled in comparison to its monumental failures.

So the coup was seen as a potential panacea to the country’s sea of troubles. After all many people thought no one could be worse than Mugabe.
If anybody said during the coup, the situation could get worse and Zimbabweans would a year later be poorer than they were during the military takeover, they would have been dismissed as a cynic, an appalling pessimist or simply a G40 diehard.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa and his allies were riding on the crest of a wave of popularity. The coup, a culmination of years of the military’s dangerous meddling in politics, was carried out in the name of weeding out corrupts elements around Mugabe and restoring stability, but the real reasons for it were far more complex than that.
While others celebrated and the world tacitly endorsed the coup largely because of their revulsion for Mugabe, some people were, however, sceptical for different reasons. But they mainly did not speak out.

A coup enforces blanket silence through the display of guns, tanks and personnel armoured carriers. The midnight military raids on Mnangagwa’s rivals also had a chilling effect.
This silenced dissent. Things were calm in the days after the coup, not because of the military’s ability to contain social unrest, but due to fear. Paralysing fear.
Even though the military was friendly to ordinary people; allowing protesters who thronged the streets of cities to pose for selfies and ride on tanks and personnel armoured carriers, while also mingling with soldiers and cautious playing close to them, fear enveloped demonstrators and society.

Even though taking photos with soldiers trended on social media during the coup, deep down most people were afraid. Not just of the army, but of the unknown future. No one knew what the future held.

Fear usually takes away a person’s courage and cripples them from standing up for what they believe in. But also, in this case it was fear of the sort of uncertainty that comes with coups and social unrest. No one really knew what would happen next in the shock aftermath of the shock coup.

So protesters and Zimbabweans who had a huge opportunity to influence events and shape the course of history and the future did not seize the moment to change things. They instead collaborated with the military, protesting hiding bullets and tanks, in the vain hope that by some chance they could be working for the same cause and objectives.
Even opposition parties and civil society joined the bandwagon without a plan for shaping the future. It’s now clear no one, in fact, including Mnangagwa and the military, had a forward-looking and sustainable plan.

That is largely why the transition was disorganised and eventually botched.

The results of that bungling are clear: political instability, renewed economic implosion and social dislocation.

Events since the controversial elections, including the shooting and killing of civilians by the army, have only reinforced legitimacy problems and pessimism.
Even though we have heard lots of rhetoric and noise on re-engagement, investment, reform and recovery, we can only point to a few token gestures of change.
But below the surface, very little, if any, meaningful structural change has occurred. Things largely remain the same, courtesy to lack of planning, a bungled transition and incompetence.

The government and its supporters are in a state of denial, but harsh realities on the ground tell their own story. Their project is stalling and failing; unless something is done to rescue it we are on a slippery slope yet again.

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