The resignation of Robert Mugabe last month from the Presidentship of Zimbabwe after ruling the country uninterrupted for 37 years since the liberation from the Britishers, has many lessons for the ruling national liberation movements in other parts of Africa. Mugabe was one of the tallest leaders of the African liberation movements against apartheid and colonialism and he played an important role in voicing the aspirations of the newly liberated African nations in the initial stages after coming to power. But when he was forced to resign by the Zimbabwe army leaders with full support from his Party ZANU-PF, he was a pale shadow of the fiery revolutionary that he was during the liberation struggle. He was alienated from the progressives in his Party and he was surrounded by a coterie led by his wife Grace whose actions angered both the ruling Party and the army leadership. At 93, Mugabe was not in full control of his mental faculty also and he was persuaded to take many measures which led to rampant corruption in the country.
During the last 10 years, Mugabe was alienated from the dominant progressive elements of ZANU-PF leadership and the army action with the tacit endorsement by the ruling party is a result of many years of Mugabe's failure in taking correct positions in dealing with the major economic woes facing the country. He lost touch with the ground reality in the last years of his rule and believed more in the feedback given by his wife and some close advisers rather than the highly experienced ZANU-PF leaders. The ground was being prepared for his ouster but Mugabe invited the process faster by sacking his Vice President Mnangagwa in the first week of November without any consultations with the ZANU leadership. This precipitated the crisis as Mnangagwa was the potential candidate for the 2018 general elections and all indications from Mugabe's camp suggested that Mugabe wanted his wife to take over as the next President. Now Mnangagwa has been made the President by ZANU leadership with full endorsement by the army.
The factors leading to Robert Mugabe's ouster are being assessed by experts in different ways but one thing is clear that the current developments in Zimbabwe are the culmination of three inter related realities- the deviation of the ZANU leadership under Mugabe from the original programme of the revolutionary struggle which led to the formation of the Zimbabwe Government from British held Rhodesia, the long term adverse effects on the poor of the structural adjustment programme imposed by the international financial institutions and the corrupt practices resorted by a section of ruling party leaders close to Mugabe.
The first ten years of Mugabe government 1980-1990 saw major improvements in the living conditions of the poor. The health and education services got a big boost and the direction of the economic programmes was on the right path. Figures show that health expenditure in per capita terms rose from Z$8.19 in 1980 to Z$ 18.17 in 1990. During the same year, the per capita expenditure in education rose from Z$ 10.61 to Z$28.70. The poor people were the immediate beneficiaries and there was all-round development in the standard of living of the poor. This positive development took an about turn after the Mugabe government agreed to implement a neoliberal economic programme at the instigation of the IMF and the World Bank on the understanding that the economy will grow faster and there will be rapid industrialisation. The Zimbabwe government fell into the neoliberal trap and the net result was that the secondary school education started to decline, the real wages dropped, the food prices rose in a big way. The common people were badly hit and the mass anger started spreading against the ruling ZANU-PF government. Mugabe was in complete command but he misread the situation and hoped that the economy would improve soon.
Many of the ZANU-PF leaders were not comfortable with this shift. They pointed out that the neoliberal economic restructuring had gone against the interests of the common masses and it has only benefitted the same forces who thrived under British colonial rule and also a few indigenous Zimbabwe businessmen who collaborated with the foreign companies. It was principally the pauperisation of the masses that contributed to the alienation of the people from the Mugabe government. The local rich backed by the foreign interests encouraged a section of the people to oppose the Mugabe government and that way, the opposition to ZANU-PF also garnered strength as the economy started going downhill and the ZANU leadership under Mugabe failed to arrest the drift.
According to experts belonging to the South African Communist Party who have been closely following the developments in Zimbabwe, at the heart of the crisis in Zimbabwe, there has been a degeneration in the functioning of the ZANU leadership in the recent years. The elites within the government have made use of the policies for increasing their assets while the people suffered. This was just not limited to Mugabe and the members of his coterie, a good number of local ZANU leaders got embroiled in corrupt practices and used the state to enrich themselves. The opposition, with the support from the western agencies as also the corporate media backed by the beneficiary elites, took advantage of this to hit at the ruling leadership. The so-called fast-track land reforms initiated by IMF advisors, left thousands of poorest of farm workers displaced and without work while the richer sections got hold of land ownership.
The new President has to take a relook at the continuing economic policies and bring course corrections to ensure that the poor masses who have always been with the ZANU-PF, are retained and those who have shifted, are brought back. There is a churning in the ZANU leadership following the latest developments. The country has at least avoided any bloody transition. This is a big opportunity. The challenge before the Zimbabwe ZANU leadership is to rebuild the Party on the values of the national liberation movement and root the Party among the masses. There is still time before the 2018 elections to bring about the changes and to redeem the pledges. This is important for the other countries of the African continent where also the senior leaders of the national liberation movements are ruling.