Why Mugabe remains in power 37 years after independence


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Throughout the course of his thirty-six years in office, President Robert Mugabe has used coercion and violence to clear the Zimbabwean political arena of opposition and dissent and consolidate his political power.

He has singularly blamed the deteriorating economy on western sanctions rather than responsibly attributing it also to his own inadequate planning, mismanagement of both capital and resources, his allowance of economic liberalisation and structural adjustment, and political corruption.

Yet, contrary to the singularly critical narratives that tend to dominate, he enjoys some earnest support beyond what western reports about stolen elections indicate.

In conversations related to Zimbabwe, a binary has been constructed between two clear ideological camps: between dogmatic supporters and that of Western states.

His supporters, including “revolutionary” camps, sing his praises because of his anti-Western rhetoric and purported anti-imperialist politics, as well as his land reform project.

The West decries his political repression and violation of human rights, election-rigging, and his turn towards the east to facilitate the country’s development.

The truth about President Mugabe is an amalgam of political realities, and central to the narrative is the complicated and under-discussed relationship between the president and the people of Zimbabwe.

Despite his political track record, President Mugabe has not weathered sustained protests around regime change.

Beyond fears of his demonstrated willingness to use violence to eliminate opposition, I believe this can be explained, at least partially, by a combination of four factors: state narratives around political sovereignty, differential understandings of freedom, the absence of unifying class consciousness, and a lack of a unified political opposition.

Following independence in April 1980, a number of political concessions were made in the name of “reconciliation” and laid out in the Lancaster House Agreement, which was largely seen as a set of compromises as white power structures went largely undisrupted.

Most critically, the land issue – an issue of indigenous sovereignty, and perhaps the most unifying politic of Black resistance to colonial rule – went unaddressed.

President Mugabe’s refusal to resign or allow regime change is justified, in part, by an idea that the revolution was stalled, and there must be consistent leadership in its continuity.

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Charles Rukuni
The Insider is a political and business bulletin about Zimbabwe, edited by Charles Rukuni. Founded in 1990, it was a printed 12-page subscription only newsletter until 2003 when Zimbabwe's hyper-inflation made it impossible to continue printing.

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