Header Image: ABC News
9/15/16 | Mark Kivimaki | Regular Correspondent
On The Surface
On July 6, Zimbabweans took to the streets to protest against corruption, unemployment and human rights abuses. What began as a national “stay-away day” has grown into a protest movement–dubbed “#ThisFlag”–that may even threaten to topple the regime of Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s longtime president. Mugabe’s rule has been characterized by numerous civil rights violations and ruthless crackdowns.
As the #ThisFlag movement has spread, the Zimbabwean government has responded harshly: arresting and subsequently releasing Evan Mawarire, a leader of the #ThisFlag movement. Protests have continued despite the crackdown, and it remains unclear, although unlikely, that the protest movement will succeed in unseating Mugabe.
As a result of failed land reform policies, Zimbabwe’s economy has struggled since the late 1990s. Inflation is no exception, at a sky high rate of over 200 million percent in July of 2008 and an estimated 89.7 sextillion percent by November, rampant devaluation of the Zimbabwean dollar has sent shockwaves . Despite efforts to replace the Zimbabwean dollar with various other currencies, the nation’s economic woes have persisted. As banks have lost money, unemployment has risen, and inequality has grown, dissatisfaction with Mugabe and his administration has accordingly escalated.
On April 19, pastor Evan Mawarire posted a video on Facebook calling for Zimbabweans to hold politicians accountable for the problems the country has, sparking the #ThisFlag movement. After the video was released, some small protests occurred, including one on June 24 that forced one of Mugabe’s vice presidents Phelekezela Mphoko to leave the hotel suite he had been living in since 2014.
Fuelled by Mawarire and general discontent, July 6 was the real beginning of the movement. The “stay-away day” organized on social media was extremely successful, with many Zimbabweans staying home from work, and some protesting in the streets. Over 100 people were arrested. On July 12, Evan Mawarire was arrested only to be released the next day after massive crowds gathered outside the magistrates’ court in the capital, Harare, to protest the arrest. Mawarire fled Zimbabwe and has not returned.
On August 3, Zimbabwe introduced new bond notes in an attempt to solve the money shortage, which sparked a new wave of protests fueled by fear of another hyperinflation disaster. Protests have continued since, although they have been more subdued, especially after Mugabe announced a two-week ban on protesting.
Will Mugabe be deposed?
It seems unlikely that the protest movement will directly remove Mugabe from office, due to its commitment to nonviolence and Mugabe’s reluctance to relinquish power. Zimbabwe will be holding elections in 2018 in which Mugabe could possibly lose power. The protest movement has demonstrated Zimbabweans’ increasing frustration with corruption and failed economic policies. If the opposition is able to capitalize on the protest movement, they may be able to turn it into ballot-box success.
However, this tactic may not work either. Zimbabwe’s elections have been accused of being unfair. In the last election, there were allegations that one third of registered voters were dead or aged over 120, 300,000 voters were turned away from polls and another 270,000 were “assisted” with their ballots. The US, UK, EU, and Australia all expressed concern about the credibility of the results. Thus, it seems unlikely, at least in the short term, that the protest movement has any chance of removing Mugabe from the presidency.
Zimbabwe without Mugabe
Despite his stranglehold on political power, it seems that Mugabe doesn’t have much time left as president. He is 92 years old, and leaders in his ruling ZANU-PF party are already looking towards the future. The party is divided between supporters of Emmerson Mnangagwa, senior vice president, and the “Generation 40” faction which supports Mugabe’s wife, Grace. The power vacuum casued by Robert Mugabe’s death could cause a struggle between these two factions, and possibly the opposition parties. Even though Mugabe seems immovable now, Zimbabwe’s future is still very uncertain.