Tag Archives: coup d’etat

Corruption, Poverty & Elitism: Mugabe’s Legacy in Zimbabwe

By Andrei Popoviciu, a 3rd year International Relations student in the War Studies department at KCL. Because of his strong interest in journalism, he is editor in chief of IR Today and runs a weekly podcast called IR Unedited on KCL Radio.



On November 14th, 2017 Zimbabwean military troops drove tanks into the capital city, Harare. They patrolled the streets, blocked access to government buildings and took over the state television station to insist that “this is not a military takeover.” But it clearly was. Troops invaded the presidential palace and put the president, Robert Mugabe, in custody. The military assured everyone that the president is safe and secure together with his family. The African Union (AU) chief said the political crisis in Zimbabwe “seems like a coup”, while calling on the military to restore constitutional order. Today, on the 21st of November, Mugabe resigned after being ousted from the party but not without a fight. However, in all this political turmoil and fight over influence, the people of Zimbabwe have been forgotten.


After a military coup, it is common to assume that the next step is a transfer of power.  However, it is very clear that this was no revolution. It is rather a fight between the country’s elites. Zimbabwe is one of the most corrupt countries in the world and what we’re seeing is a fight to keep it that way. Once praised as a war hero and a Marxist guerrilla, Robert Mugabe helped Zimbabwe gain independence from Britain in 1980. He became president under Zimbabwe’s new constitution with the wide support of the people. But soon he digressed into a repressive dictator, securing his power through aggression and threats. Reports by the New York Times[2], the Economist[3] and the Guardian[4] show Mugabe sponsoring torture and killing his political opposition.


Within a generation, Mr. Mugabe has turned an entire country upside down. Now that Mugabe is 93 years old (the oldest head of state in the world) and in poor health, the fight for political influence is more intense than ever. The scramble for political influence and for office reached its peak. Consequently, this has caused a split in Mugabe’s own party, Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF).


On one side, we have the old guard led by Mugabe’s former VP – Emmerson Mnangagwa. Like Mugabe, he fought for Zimbabwe’s independence and has a past that include human rights abuses against political opponents and ethnic minorities. As an old friend to Mugabe and VP since 2014, Mnangagwa was the apparent heir for many years due to the strong support from ZANU-PF and the military. But all that changed on November 6th when Mugabe’s government said that Mnangagwa had exhibited traits of disloyalty and fired him.[5]



The reason for firing his VP stems from Mugabe’s wish to assign someone else as head of state. Grace Mugabe was the obvious choice for him. Hence, his support for his wife taking his place after he dies was not hidden. She has recently risen in power within the party, but remains extremely unpopular nation-wide due to her luxurious ways of life and extravagant shopping habits, earning her the nickname “Gucci Grace”.  Nonetheless, her involvement and wish to take over the vice presidency (and later the presidency) together with Mnangagwa being fired, might have been the trigger of the coup that ended Mugabe’s 37 year reign.


The military has sided with Mnangagwa as the next leader, and on November 15th they took control of the capital under the curtain of a “guardian coup” in the alleged interest of the people and the country. Zimbabwe’s military says it has seized power to target “criminals” around President Robert Mugabe, who it is said is “safe and sound” in custody. However, their interests seem to be more self-motivated: they want to secure their own power. They have control over lucrative farming, mining operations and access to foreign currency. To keep this power, they need a united ZANU PF who faces elections scheduled in 2018.  Thus, on the 19th of November, they ousted Mugabe as the party leader and gave Mnangagwa the position. As the new party leader, he now had the full support of the party together with the support of the military. On the same day, under the pressure of an impeachment ultimatum, Mugabe delivered a lengthy and long-awaited speech, with the expectation that he would announce his resignation. Living up to his persistent reputation, he failed to do so while shocking everyone of how determined he is to hold the grip of Zimbabwe.


All changed on the 21st of November after lawmakers began impeaching proceedings against him. Mugabe, a man who once said that “only God will remove me” – resigned as the president of Zimbabwe on the same day. Statesmen and lawmakers have erupted into cheers together with the people in the streets. The political rival of ZANU PF, Movement for Democratic Change, seconded the motion for impeachment and showed how there was a striking sign of the consensus in the political class that Mr. Mugabe had to go.




However, something is missing from all of this. The people of Zimbabwe. Whoever ends up in charge, Mnangagwa, the military, or Grace Mugabe, corruption will continue. All these actors want to keep the status quo, but for the general population, the status quo is a society of unequal opportunity and poverty. These power imbalances and the elitism of the country have kept back the economic and social development of Zimbabwe. Seizing power and control over the political apparatus seems to have been the key thing Mugabe and the political class have focused on since gaining independence.


During Mugabe’s 37 years of leadership, massive corruption was common place. There have been repeated allegation of Mugabe and his cabinet embezzling money from diamond and mining industries.[6] He is known for his aggressive hand in supressing opposition and the violent crackdowns he led together with the country’s Fifth Brigade when he was believed to have killed up to 20,000 people, mostly opposition supporters. He was accused of rigging elections and squashing any whim of political opposition while even winning the state-owned lottery in 2000.[7]


Moreover, Zimbabwe’s flourishing economy began to disintegrate after a program of land seizures from white farmers, and agricultural output plummeted and inflation soared. Transparency International estimated that Zimbabwe loses a billion dollars a year to corruption.[8] All this while Zimbabwe’s economy has suffered.[9] Almost a quarter of Zimbabweans are currently in need of food assistance and 72% live in poverty.[10] At one point in 2008 inflation hit the rate of 231,000,000% and GDP growth has been stagnant according to the World Bank in 2017.[11] This has made Zimbabwe one of the most economically unequal countries in the world, a problem it shares with much of the region. Hence, why low levels of economic growth and high levels of poverty are common conditions in African states that have experienced military coups.


South African state media reported that “it has reliably learnt that Zimbabwe is likely to have a transitional government”.[12] Also, international and regional response show leaders trying to stabilise the crisis through diplomatic assistance.  South African Defense and Military Veterans Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula and State Security Minister Bongani Bongo arrived in Zimbabwe for discussions with authorities, according to the South African Department of International Relations and Cooperation.[13] UN Secretary-General Antonio Gutters has appealed for “calm, nonviolence and restraint,” deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said in a statement to CNN.[14]


What is uncertain in the near future is Zimbabwe’s political leadership. What is not is that Zimbabwe’s elites are fighting over their own interests while the people are forgotten.




[1] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-42004816

[2] http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/16/world/africa/16zimbabwe.html

[3] http://www.economist.com/node/2797085

[4] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/oct/28/record-levels-of-assault-abduction-and-torture-reported-in-zimbabwe

[5] https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/06/world/africa/zimbabwe-mugabe-mnangagwa.html

[6] http://www.thezimbabwean.co/2016/05/robert-mugabes-corruption-1980-2014/

[7] http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/africa/621895.stm


[9] https://www.economist.com/blogs/economist-explains/2017/02/economist-explains-20

[10] http://www1.wfp.org/countries/zimbabwe

[11] https://data.worldbank.org/country/zimbabwe

[12] https://www.economist.com/blogs/economist-explains/2017/02/economist-explains-20

[13] http://www.thezimbabwean.co/2017/11/live-zuma-sending-minister-defence-minister-state-security-zimbabwe/

[14] http://edition.cnn.com/2017/11/16/africa/zimbabwe-unrest/



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Venezuela and Democratic Authoritarianism


By Victoria Noya, a Venezuelan 3rd year International Development student, currently studying abroad in East Asia.

On December 2015 many Venezuelans gained new hope and optimism for their country, as the Opposition party secured three fifths of seats at the National Assembly, the legislative branch of Venezuela’s government. This was arguably a democratic victory that countered the government’s long standing authoritarian behaviour. However, as many expected, that optimism was short-lived. The Supreme Court, which abides by every whim and fancy of the central government, would go on to prohibit the legislature from naming a handful of members of the electoral council. Nevertheless, since the Venezuelan government has been playing a hybrid regime of authoritarian action with democratic facade and discourse, it came as a huge surprise when on March 29th, under the pretence of the National Assembly’s “contempt”, the Supreme Court decided to usurp the National Assembly[1], ruling that all the National Assembly’s powers would go to the Supreme Court. This has been interpreted by many as a “self-inflicted coup d’état”[2], since what was once a political body that kept the authoritarian regime in check, would no longer continue to do so.

For about 15 years Venezuelans have been living under a de facto dictatorship. At least in the sense that all democratic activity is in some way either restricted or influenced by the government. For example, freedom of speech, a right that goes hand in hand with democracy. Although the government has never spoken against it, it just so happened that throughout the past 15 years, news agencies that are anti-Chavez have been bought up one by one, by entities with Chavista agendas. This type of corruption seeps into essentially every industry that Venezuela has left. Additionally, it is the vox populi that elections are rigged. The subtlety of the government’s totalitarianism was key to establishing Venezuela’s government as a hybrid regime, and it allowed the president and his party to legitimately remain in power. March 29th wouldn’t be the first time the Supreme Court had abused its power, but it would be the first time that their grasp for power was so blunt.

Since March 29th, many peaceful protests led by the opposition have  turned violent, an occurrence that for the past couple of years, is no longer unusual. The blunt decision sparked outrage, since Venezuelans have never actively, perhaps not even knowingly, supported the government’s authoritarianism. This is why the interpretation of “self-inflicted coup d’etat” isn’t quite accurate, it’s more like the government was being honest about what they are: an authoritarian dictatorship. Whether it be because of international or internal pressure, President Maduro later urged the Supreme Court to reverse their decision[3], which only means that the government is back to being dishonest, and that nothing is going to change in the future.

Before I go on, it is important to expand where Venezuela finds itself now. With the progression of Chavez’s presidency, so grew a new political ideology: Chavismo. This populist anti-US ideology gained much popularity among the lower classes, who were told that the government would support them and that their hardships were at the hand of the upper classes as well as US “imperialism”. This repeated discourse over more than 15 years created a social divide that had never existed before. The divide is exemplified in political elections, where Chavistas are extremely loyal to Chavez and his legacy, and society is divided by an intense hostility between die-hard Chavistas and Opposition followers. After Chavez’s death, his legacy remained. The government has targeted the passionate loyalty of Chavistas to ensure power, which means that even under Maduro, a widely unpopular president, Chavistas are unlikely to turn to the Opposition. Insanely high crime rates add to the heightened tensions and fear that has become part of Venezuelan’s daily life, to the point that all new cars being bought are bulletproof – that is, if there even are cars to sell and enough money to buy them, given that inflation is at 800%[4]. Venezuela’s chaotic wasteland of an economy depends on oil exports. The 2014 drop in oil prices had a drastic effect on the economy, but only because decades of high oil revenue with mass deprivatization and virtually no investment in industry or infrastructure, meant the country was not equipped to deal with a sudden drop in government revenue. Today, shortages and scarcity has become the norm in Venezuela: there is no food and no medicine, and prolonged water and electricity cuts are more likely than not. Protests are a regular occurrence, most often for food and medicine shortages, and most recently expressing their disappointment at the Supreme Court.

Given the state of Venezuela today, it is easy to see why the Supreme Court chose to solidify the government’s power. The government likely felt they were losing their grasp on the country due to the economic and social turmoil it faces. That being said, I fear that President Maduro’s demand that the Supreme Court reverse its decision means that any change in the social or political sphere of the country is very unlikely. Firstly, the Venezuelan people may interpret the National Assembly’s regained control as a victory, even though it is not. While the National Assembly was and is able to keep the central government in check to some extent, the Supreme Court and central government have always had more power and could play the National Assembly like a chessboard. Secondly, since it was President Maduro who publicly stated his disapproval of the Supreme Court’s actions, the “blame” is shifted from the central government to the Supreme Court, thus shedding the government in a false democratic light, and solidifying its popularity among voters. Furthermore, banning the leader of the Opposition[5], Henrique Capriles, from candidacy in the upcoming 2018 elections is the same behaviour displayed by the central government since the Opposition began gaining recognition, long before Chavez’s passing. It is with a heavy heart that I give a pessimistic prediction of Venezuela’s future, regardless of any external factor, the core problem is the central government’s reluctance to give up power no matter the cost to society.


[1] The Economist, Venezuela leaps towards dictatorship, March 2017

[2] Luis Almagro, secretary-general of OAS, The Economist March 2017

[3] The Economist, The Venezuelan Government’s Abortive Power Grab, April 2017

[4] Reuters, CNBC, Venezuela 2016 inflation hits 800 percent, GDP shrinks 19 percent: Document, Jan 2017

[5] Ulmer and Ellsworth, Leading Venezuela Opposition figure barred from office 15 years, April 2017


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