One of the most interesting and perhaps intriguing events of the early 21st century is happening right now and it’s something that very few people are talking about. These events are halfway around the world in a depressed area and are all shrouded in a quietness; even the most knowledgable among us can’t make heads or tails of what is happening A confluence of circumstances have been brought together to quiet this seismic shift in African life, especially with life in Zimbabwe.
As a kid, my shortwave radio brought the world into my home. Unfortunately, the only way the world would come into my home is when the radio waves could actually hit my radio. Many times during the day, the only station I could consistently get was the old Voice of America relay station north of Cincinnati and those radio signals were meant for Africa. I spent more time than I can remember listening to African music and news.
So, when news came out that this past week of what was happening in Zimbabwe, it was hard not for me not to take notice. For the uninitiated, Zimbabwean strongman Robert Mugabe seems to be have been ousted from power of the African country. Mugabe came to power in 1980 as the country declared its independence from Great Britain.
Before 1980, Zimbabwe was known as Rhodesia, and much like its neighbor, South Africa, it was a country that was ruled by a minority white government. Mr. Mugabe himself was a rebel leader of the minority community; his actions led the Rhodesian government to imprison him in the 1960s and 1970s and after his release, he was a major player in the Rhodesian Bush War. Through the 15-year struggle, 11,000 people lost their lives in this proxy war that pitted white-minority governments in Rhodesia and South Africa against minority rebels and other neighboring states like Mozambique, Zambia and Angola.
The Bush War ended up in stalemate. A subsequent agreement allowed Rhodesia to give minorities the right to vote and the country gained independence. Mr. Mugabe stood as a candidate in those first free elections and was elected as prime minister.
And ever since 1980, Mr. Mugabe has held power in Zimbabwe. A man who once revered as a reformer quickly became a strongman and Zimbabwe began to suffer. The country, once seen as an agricultural and even economic powerhouse of southern Africa began a slow decline that accelerated in the last few years. Throughout the early part of this century, hyper-inflation hit Zimbabwe along with unemployment rates that were well over 90 percent. The country was on verge of collapse. Through it all, Mr. Mugabe held onto power and through a series of sham elections and power-sharing deals that were quickly broken, he ruled Zimbabwe with an iron fist.
After a cabinet re-shuffle, in which Mr. Mugabe appeared to clear the way for his wife, Grace (39 years his junior), to take the helm of the country, the military appeared to have had enough. On the evening of Nov. 14, the military started to roll into the capital, took control of the national television station and placed Mugabe and other national leaders under house arrest. It appeared as if a coup had happened.
In the past such coups, was a hot mix of chaos, confusion, violence and even celebration. Think of Romania after the execution of Ceausescu, or the Philippines after Marcos. If a coup could ever be done in a calm, orderly fashion, the Zimbabweans may have just written the book — no loss of life, no widespread rioting, the trains are still running on schedule.
But was this a coup? The military was very careful not to call it a coup. They have steadfastly claimed that Mr. Mugabe and his family were completely safe. The military knew if this was called a coup, it could make Zimbabwe look bad on the world stage.
Granted, Zimbabwe was far from a democracy, but the generals knew that if they took action too far, their country could easily be labeled a military dictatorship and invite a whole host international condemnation, which is the last thing this country getting off the mat needs.
William “Bill” Lutz is executive director of The New Path Inc. He can be reached at [email protected]