Revolution in Zimbabwe; What Will Happen?

What will become of Zimbabwe is a challenge to open source. We look for fault lines. One is obvious, the purge of military veterans in favor of Grace Mugabe and the ZANU-PF youth wing. If this is the only fault line, it is possible that even a military junta offshoot could run the country better than Mugabe’s circle. It would merely have to deal with:

  • Total destruction of the economy.
  • A Transparency International corruption index of 154/172.
  • Emigration of 1/4 of the population.
  • Harare, almost the world’s least livable city.

The statistics are the tip of the iceberg. Things can only be so bad if an economy is fractured down to sheer rubble, so that it is unavailable to  a workforce,  economic multipliers, and capital.

There are two possible extremes: a few own everything, or everybody owns nothing. But even basic information is in dispute. On this particular subject, one might look at land reform. (Wikipedia) Land reform in Zimbabwe , quotes  the  Institute of Development Studies

...the Zimbabwean economy is recovering and that new business is growing in the rural areas.[48] ...(or 20% of Zimbabwe's area), 49.9% of those who received land were rural peasants, 18.3% were "unemployed or in low-paid jobs in regional towns, growth points and mines," 16.5% were civil servants, and 6.7% were of the Zimbabwean working class. Despite the claims by critics of the land reform only benefiting government bureaucrats, only 4.8% of the land went to business people, and 3.7% went to security services.

But perhaps the above is a neat paper fiction. Perhaps the distributions were along family lines, recreating virtual tribal villages, with civil servants and security forces as  virtual  headmen. With competing  interpretations, the statistics reveal  nothing about fault lines. (Reuters)  Zimbabwe’s army seizes power, targets ‘criminals’ around Mugabe offers an interesting tidbit relating to VP Mnangagwa, whose firing was one of the triggers of the coup:

According to a trove of intelligence documents reviewed by Reuters this year, Mnangagwa has been planning to revitalize the economy by bringing back white farmers kicked off their land and patching up relations with the World Bank and IMF.

But all intelligence “troves” are subject to suspicion. Without the provenance, understanding the sources and their motives, it is impossible to rule out fiction, or contamination of fact with fiction, either by one of Mnangagwa’s many enemies, or someone turning a buck on the side with creative writing. If Mnangagwa really intended to bring back white farmers, the reasons might be:

  • Turning to an outside group skirts the problem of favoritism.
  • The outside group can be enfranchised and disenfranchised at will.
  • Industrial farming is not a native skill. ZANU-PF neglected to transfer it when the whites were kicked out.

Robert Mugabe has ruled Rhodesia since 1980. An occasionally independent judiciary, and skeletal opposition remain.  The tolerance of of a skeletal opposition is usually to make it easier to watch. The phenomena of the judiciary is not as easily explained, but it may be an unconventional mechanism for building concensus.

Excepting Rwanda, the Niger Delta, and the borderland between North and Equatorial Africa, most of Africa’s current conflicts are not basically tribal or cultural. They are fueled by resources, in areas hospitable to private armies lead by charismatic madmen. If tribal frictions remain in Zimbabwe, they are dormant, at least until a conflict over legitimacy emerges.

But  how does a new ruler or clique attain legitimacy? Until yesterday, it all stemmed from Mugabe himself, who attained it by ending white rule. There is no other symbol, purpose, or status that can grant the junta  the equivalent. So Mugabe has been installed in a glass case, where respiration continues while the men with guns try to figure this out.

The history of other African states suggests  a hypothesis for events following the passing of Mugabe:

  • The national myth, centered around Mugabe, disintegrates.
  • The men with guns start shooting at each other.
  • Dormant tribal frictions activate as clans look for allies.
  • The junta disintegrates into competing strongmen.

Factors that tend to limit the duration of conflict:

  • Homogeneous religion, with no apparent potential for radicalization.
  • Immunity to the oil curse, because, if Zimbabwe has some oil, it isn’t enough.
  • Conflict requires energy. In the classic Anatomy of Revolution, Crane R. Brinton remarks that revolution is rare in countries of grinding poverty. The book was published  in 1938, before our awareness of the form of energy that derives from ideological or religious fanaticism. But since neither exists in Zimbabwe, it’s a good rule for the circumstance.

So we have a projection for a conflict of limited duration, followed, perhaps, by the stasis of a dictatorship as in nearby Uganda. The probabilities for the projection cannot be assigned. There is too much uncertainty in the data at this juncture.

If you get to Harare, check out the Catinca Tabacaru Art Gallery. The trip to the suburb is best taken in an FWD, but I hear it’s worth it!

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