Coup in Africa: Zimbabwe Dumped Mugabe, but Will Other African Countries Do the Same to Their Dictators? Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe, Untouchable for Decades and a Hero of African Independence, Is out. Who's Next?

By Mahr, Krista | Newsweek, December 22, 2017 | Go to article overview

Coup in Africa: Zimbabwe Dumped Mugabe, but Will Other African Countries Do the Same to Their Dictators? Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe, Untouchable for Decades and a Hero of African Independence, Is out. Who's Next?


Mahr, Krista, Newsweek


Byline: Krista Mahr

In January 2016, Zimbabwe's then-President Robert Mugabe gave a speech at the African Union in Ethiopia. As he railed against Westerners' meddling in African affairs, the delegates repeatedly burst into delighted applause for the 91-year-old leader and laughed at his one-liners, as his audiences have for decades. "They are everywhere in Africa--if not physically, through [nongovernmental organizations], through spies, through pretenders who come to us and say they are here in Africa to assist us," Mugabe said. "Africans shall no longer tolerate a position of slavery." At the end of the speech, the elderly elder statesman received a standing ovation.

Less than two years later, his 37 years in power came to an abrupt end, as Mugabe was pushed out by his military and members of his ruling party in November. It was a bloodless coup but a coup nonetheless, given legitimacy by the nation's courts after the deed was done. Many countries around the world also approved, cheering the downfall of a man who presided over gross human rights abuses and an economic implosion that left most Zimbabweans destitute.

Should other African leaders be nervous? Some have orchestrated changes to term-limit laws, rigged polls and quashed civil society to stay in power, drawing regular condemnation from the same Western governments that Mugabe took pleasure in lambasting.

"Africa doesn't need strongmen. It needs strong institutions," Barack Obama said during his first trip to Africa as U.S. president in 2009. "No person wants to live in a society where the rule of law gives way to the rule of brutality and bribery. That is not democracy--that is tyranny."

November's events have undoubtedly caught the attention of a few of the "strongmen" called out by Obama. Uganda's president, Yoweri Museveni, who has led the East African nation since 1986, promised a pay raise to soldiers the day after Mugabe's resignation. In South Africa, where the increasingly unpopular President Jacob Zuma has been fighting off attempts to unseat him, his party's chief whip seized the post-coup moment to say South Africa urgently needs a leadership change.

"It's a lesson for the old dinosaurs still kicking around as heads of state in Africa," says Richard Downie, deputy director of the Africa Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "You're in power at the behest of the people or the party. When they call time, there's not much you can do about it."

A few of Africa's long-ruling leaders fell in the last year. In December 2016, Gambia's Yahya Jammeh was voted out in a surprise election result, bringing his 22 years of autocratic rule to an end. …

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