Opinion: Absolute power breeds absolute arrogance


After 37 years of Mugabe’s disastrous rule, Zimbabwe finally has a new president – Emmerson Mnangagwa (seen in the photo above raising his fist as he walks next to his wife at his inauguration).

Mugabe had dug in his heels and resisted all manner of pressure from different sources for him to go peacefully. But finally, he had to cave in, announcing his departure from power on Tuesday (21.11.17).

No one could have predicted these events a few weeks ago. Mugabe looked to have absolute power, ruling with an iron fist while apparently enjoying huge support, even adulation, from his people.

But it seems absolute power breeds absolute arrogance, and absolute arrogance does away with caution even where caution is highly recommended. It was a lack of caution that allowed Mugabe to permit his wife, forty years his junior, to influence him, infiltrate his power base, and make demands to succeed him that any sane person would have rejected in a knee-jerk reaction.

Robert Mugabe kisses Grace Mugabe on the cheek

Grace Mugabe’s ambitions are though to be responsible for the couple’s downfall

But Grace Mugabe, a former secretary in the presidential typing pool, who started her power climb in Mugabe’s bedroom, wanted everything she could from her husband. In her determination to take power after Mugabe, she no longer cared who else was waiting in line for the 93-year-old chief to kick the bucket.

Her blind determination made her overlook the power of Emmerson Mnangagwa, who she even insulted publicly.

Grace should have known better. Mnangagwa was at Mugabe’s side during the most difficult and dangerous days of their leadership – from the time of guerrilla war against white minority rule and then after independence in 1980 when new challenges emerged to threaten Mugabe’s power.

As the man in charge of the military and security apparatus, Mnangagwa carried out some reprehensible acts of repression. One is the campaign of terror known as operation Gukurahundi where the army massacred 20,000 Ndebele civilians in systematic purges of opposition supporters.

You do not monkey around with a man like that just because your grasping wife wants to take your job when you are gone.

Read more: Emmerson Mnangagwa: the Crocodile who snapped back

Mugabe’s senility must have played a major role in the drama of the past few weeks, but Grace’s insensitivity and blinding ambition to ascend the coveted seat of power is probably the biggest contributing factor to the couple’s downfall.

What happens now Mnangagwa is president will depend on the power alliances of those who overthrew Mugabe. Zimbabwe has long been a securocracy, where the security services and military control the state. Mnangagwa has always been a central figure in that structure.

Portrait photo of Jenerali Ulimwengu

Tanzanian Jenerali Ulimwengu is a political analyst and regular contributor to dw.com/africa

The question is whether he will now morph into a democratic unifier of all the factions and forces that worked to unseat his erstwhile comrade and friend?

We do not know, and nor can we speculate too much in this situation. Many commentators have expressed the view that lessons have been learned and that Zimbabwe has suffered long enough to be able to draw lessons from its experience.

We can only watch in hope.