Dictator Robert Mugabe has been replaced after a 37-year reign in Zimbabwe. However, the new head of state might not be a better option.
«Have you heard anything? There’s been shootings and explosions in the northern part of town!»
- 82.7% of Zimbabwe's population are Protestants
- Robert Mugabe was one of the oldest, longest-serving leaders of a non-royal country in the world before his resignation in 2017
- Zimbabwe is a land locked country.
- Victoria Falls, one of the biggest tourist attractions in the world, is located in the northern part og the country
- Robert Mugabes wife is often referd to as «Gucci Grace» due to her lavish lifestyle.
- Zimbabwe has one of the lowest life expectancies in the world, 58.7 years for women and 57.3 for men (2016)
- 86.5% of its population is literate. Making it one of the most literate countries in Africa
Aksel S. Noonan (22) had been living in Zimbabwe since August, when he woke up to this message. He is spending his gap year working for Saih before starting his masters in political science.
Now wide awake, Noonan checks the local news, in order to find out what has happened while he was asleep.
At 5 AM the Army Chief of Staff announces that Mugabe has been put under house arrest. Later that morning, Noonan and the other international students have to flee to South Africa until the situation stabilises.
A coup or not a coup?
That morning turned out to be the start of a very significant day in Zimbabwean history. The 15th of november 2017 marks the end of the 37-year long reign of dictator Robert Mugabe. At the start of his leadership in 1980, he held a celebrated position in Zimbabwe war of liberation. His legacy is now tarnished with empty promises and human rights violations. Mugabe’s delinquencies range from his alleged involvement in the Gukurahundi massacres which claimed thousands of lives in the 80s, to rigging the 2008 election in his favor by means of fear mongering and murdering opponents.
After the coup, people in Zimbabwe were celebrating in the streets, honking their cars and shouting with joy. In hindsight, Noonan wishes he could have been there.
– Hundreds of thousands of people were partying. It was fantastic, but as I was in South Africa, I did not get to participate.
The African union does not recognise the act as a coup, but as an expression of the will of the Zimbabwean people. Noonan does not entirely agree.
– Obviously, they will not admit it was a coup, but when the military takes power by force, and ousts the current president, it is a coup, Noonan states.
Students changing politics
Historically, students have been looked upon as the future social elite in Zimbabwe and most African countries. This originates from a time when only a few could participate in higher education, and take the top positions in politics and business. This still remains a challenge due to a general lack of educational opportunity.
– The student organisations were politically active, and wielded great political power in Zimbabwe, says Associate Professor of social anthropology Jan Ketil Simonsen at NTNU.
According to Simonsen one example of this is the wife of Mugabe acquiring a PhD in a very short amount time, just months after enrolling. This proved to be a major issue for the student movement who viewed this as a form of academic corruption.
– The students regard themselves as able to serve as political influencers in order to impact public opinion regarding the achievement of a just society. They view corruption as theft of public means.
Luwiza Makosa (27) is originally from Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe. While studying in her home country, she played an active role in the Student Christian Movement of Zimbabwe which is a member organisation to Youth Empowerment and Transformation Trust (YETT). YETT helps youth organisations in Zimbabwe and recognises and respects the cause for academic freedom Makosa has been staying in Norway since August, and is currently working at Saih’s offices in Oslo. She was in Norway during the coup, and regrets not being able to partake in the event.
– I joined the student movement in 2010, and have become very attached to the movement and the civil society working towards the achievement of democracy and freedom of participation in national processes in Zimbabwe. Ever since I was born Mugabe has been the president, and the politcal landscape only changed after I came here.
No freedom after speaking
Last September, an American student living in Zimbabwe was arrested for tweeting that Mugabe was a «selfish and sick man». Zimbabwe has been known for press censorship, and limiting academic freedom.
Makosa explains that students in Zimbabwe are not afraid to speak their minds despite the restrictions.
– There is a saying that goes: You have the freedom of speech, but no freedom after speaking.
Even though many of her friends have been arrested, Makosa says she has strategically advocated in a way that lessens her chances of being apprehended. The arrests motivate her to demonstrate even further. She has benefitted from her affiliation with a Christian student movement, as these groups are infrequently targeted by the government.
– I keep a neutral position in politics, and I don’t want to disclose my political standpoint. If I talk about female harassment in universities, I will refrain from any association to political parties, she explains.
Makosa believes it is too early to say whether the situation of academic freedom will improve under the new government.
Norwegian students at risk?
Noonan can also account for similar events which happened in September of 2016, when the Zimbabwe National Students Union (ZINASU) held a gathering. People were arrested and amongst them another Norwegian student working for Saih.
– Zinazu’s gathering took place in Mutare, a mid-sized city in the eastern part of the country. Suddenly, without warning, the security police showed up and arrested many of the people attending, including the norwegian students.
The norwegian students were imprisoned for three days. Noonan points out that the police had no liable reason for doing so.
– Zinazu is very critical of the government, and especially the state of higher education. But they did not have anything criminal to charge them with. My guess was that it was an attempt to spread fear, although this was under Mugabe’s reign.
President of social media
The man known as «the Crocodile», a nickname based on his political ruthlessness, is the new head of state. His real name is Emmerson Mnangagwa. He has been working with Mugabe since he first entered office in 1980 and is also part of the political party Zanu-PF.
He is the first president in Zimbabwe to use Facebook as a political platform. «I’ve opened a window, our doors are wide open… Let us interact, let us dialogue» Mnangagwa wrote on the social media site in February.
– For me it is very important that he now has a Facebook page. This has never happened before. For some, it might seem stupid, but I find it very important that he wants to talk to the people, engage and listen. Especially to the young people, Luwiza Makosa says.
On Mnangagwa’s facebook page he opens up for questions from the people, and the comment section is filled with both adoration and strong critique.
– It seems like he welcomes criticism and is much more open to discussion than Mugabe ever was, Noonan says, agreeing with Makosa that Mnangagwa is much more confident regarding social media than Mugabe.
Despite being more prominent on social media, with messages of free elections and the improvement of the economy, Mnangagwa is mostly known in Western media as Mugabe’s partner in crime for the last 37 years. He is known as the chief-architect of many of the most horrific massacres, and the harassment and torture of political opponents. However, Mnangagwa denies any involvement.
Will things change?
Historically speaking, there are three possible outcomes after a successful coup. The majority of these coups make matters worse, sometimes the regime continues, and in a few cases, the people can achieve democracy.
– There is a healthy dose of trepidation because they know that the man who might take over is not Mr. Democracy, said Wilf Mbanga, editor of the online newspaper Zimbabwean, to the New York Times shortly after the coup.
Mnangagwa has promised that there will be held a free and fair election by the summer of 2018.
– It all comes down to the elections. If the election is characterised by electoral violence, suppression and intimidation my guess is he will not be what we are hoping for, Noonan says.
He recognises that Mnanagwa has expressed wishes of reform in the past.
– I say there is maybe a 70 percent chance that he will end up improving things. With the crumbling opposition, and the untimely death of their leader Morgan Richard Tsvangirai from cancer in february, most believe that there is no real competition for Mnangagwa in the upcoming election.
Makosa also believes that Mnangagwas presidency will continue.
– Most definitely, she answers without hesitation.