What Lessons to Drawn from the Military Showdown in Zimbabwe?

Former Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe. Photo: Reuters

By Dr. Gatluak Ter Thach*

November 15, 2017 (SSNA) — In 2000, the Organization of African Unity current called African Union (AU) adopted Lomi Declaration, replacing its long-standing tolerance of military takeovers of powers with a rejection of coups. AU strengthened its position through a number of legal instruments, include Constitutive Act of 2000, the 2002 protocol establishing the AU Peace and Security Council (PSC) and the 2007 African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance (henceforth African Charter). These instruments allow AU to suspend governments that come to power by what they termed “unconstitutional means” and they shall apply appropriate means and sanctions against “perpetrators.” These legal documents embrace a ban on coup legitimization, which bars the perpetrators of unconstitutional action from contesting elections held to reestablishing democracy, as well as from holding any political position of responsibility in the political institutions of their country.

Therefore, military coups are no longer an effective tool in part because the African Union has said it would not recognize governments that come to power through a military mean. However, African leaders are not willing to abide by term limits. They also do not believe in what they termed, “Western Democratic system.” Uganda and Kenya elections demonstrate the behaviors of African leaders who would not mind changing the rules of the game even during the game time. They prefer to simply change the laws and constitutions that stand in their way when they are confronted with unfavorable election results. They utilize their political position of powers to legally maneuver their election systems and brutally crackdown on those who may object their actions.

Indeed, these leaders are making coups to their citizens even though they are not calling them as such. These constitutional maneuvering coups are ways to cement presidential powers — and they are doing so using legal means they adopted to misinform their masses. African leaders clearly tend to proceed for their own political interests to remain in powers. Between 2005 and 2015, for example, presidents in a number of African countries, such as Senegal, Burkina Faso, Congo Republic, Congo, Uganda and Rwanda, etc. attempted to extend their terms in power through constitutional or other legal amendments. Majority of them succeeded anyway! If I ask how many among these African leaders have programs and plans for their countries and people, including created lasting impacts in term of developments, the answer could not be far from none. But why would they want to grip on powers for many years? I do not have the answer!

Robert Mugabe, the 93-year-old Zimbabwean leader, is a prime character to the denouncement of the prolonging leaders in the political power for far too long. Pres. Robert Mugabe was one of the respected leaders behind Pres. Mandela and few others who shaped the political culture of the African continent. He will also have retired as one most educated presidents in the continent if not the whole world. The question one would like to ask is why would he chose not to retire with a dignity he deserved? How could any additional year after 37-years in power make a different in term of human lives when he knows recycling ideas never cut it? He is now confined to house arrest in Harare, what a shame!

Knowing what the African Union agreed in 2000, I thought the Zimbabwean military leaders made a strategic calculation that only smart few can replicate. The fact that the troops secured the airport, government offices, parliament and other key sites while calling for the calm, as well as saying it is not a coup but stopping what they labelled “political instability” among the ruling party is a smart strategic move and thinking that will definitely yield a successful outcome on their new strategy.

According to a 2013 study by Management Research Group (MRG) published in the Harvard Business Review, 97% of a group of 10,000 senior executive leaders stated that strategic thinking is the most critical leadership skill when it comes to the success of achieving a strategic outcome. I think these Zimbabwean military leaders have outsmarted, not only Pres. Robert Mugabe and his wife Grace, but also the AU and the rest of us in the world. South Africa which is key partner to Zimbabwe already supported the military move as long as it is “peaceful.” UK’s foreign secretary, told their parliament that “the UK wanted to see a proper, free and fair elections” in their former British colony.

Who else in Africa and in the world would say otherwise? So now, what could African leaders learn from Pres. Robert Mugabe lesson?

Dr. Gatluak Ter Thach lives and works in Nashville, Tennessee, United States of America.

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