Zimbabwe’s War Veterans are once again flexing their political muscle. And this time, it’s not to seize land—it’s to oust their onetime patron, President Robert Mugabe. The NYT reports:
The Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association has been a pillar of support for Mr. Mugabe, 92, for decades, but it issued a statement criticizing the man it had long been quick to defend. The veterans are known for unleashing violence on those opposing the government.
The surprise revolt by Mr. Mugabe’s aging corps of loyalists comes after nationwide antigovernment protests organized through social media. Many in Zimbabwe are frustrated by a rapidly deteriorating economy, a currency crisis and corruption.
Even though you’d expect Mugabe, as the leading rebel of the war against the old white-ruled Rhodesian regime, to have some cachet with the War Vets, he had to tack hard left to win them over in the late 1990s. Mugabe acquiesced to what they called “fast-track land reform,” allowing the violent seizure of mainly white-owned farms by mobs of War Vets and their flunkies in a years-long conflict that wrecked the country’s economy and sent thousands of whites and their farmhands packing. But this time, Mugabe doesn’t have anything to give his old allies.
So what are the War Vets doing now? They’re positioning themselves for maximum advantage in a post-Mugabe Zimbabwe. Newsweek:
The two main contenders [to replace Mugabe] from within Zanu-PF [Mugabe’s party] are Grace Mugabe, the wife of the president who leads the party’s influential Women’s League, and Emmerson Mnangagwa, the current vice-president and another war veteran. The veterans decided earlier in June to throw their weight behind Mnangagwa and have reportedly threatened bloodshed should the vice-president fail to gain the appointment, Zimbabwe’s Newsday reported.
Of course, this serves as a great reminder that Zimbabwe won’t be transformed into a beautiful, functional liberal democracy the second Mugabe dies or steps aside. The rot is too deep. The next leader could be even worse. Even under good leadership, the country’s institutions would need years of repair to make up for decades of decay. But for now, we watch and wait, as a key faction in Mugabe’s governing coalition splits away.