The world’s oldest leader, 92-year old Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, has been in power since the country gained independence in 1980. He has been clinging to his presidency, even in the most fruitless situations, ever since. Though he is heavily criticised by foreign politicians and human rights officials, he enjoys great popularity in Africa. In 2015, he was elected as chairman of the African Union, and before that he chaired the South African Development Community (SADC). He has been democratically elected by his own nation several times since the 1980s.
However, opposition party leaders might have a word against his ‘democratic’ rule in Zimbabwe as many of them had to flee to neighbouring countries to protect their lives from his militia. Throughout the 1980s, his Fifth Brigade killed more than 20,000 people during Operation Gukurahundi, which targeted exclusively the Ndebele ethnicity. Opposition leader Joshua Nkomo was also a Ndebele, and later he was pursued to merge his party into the ruling ZANU-PF. Mugabe’s attitude towards opposition leaders has not changed much over time. But now, even his strongest allies want him to go.
Mugabe’s main supporters are the war veterans who fought with him for independence. Due to Zimbabwe’s declining economy, the former fighters experience less patronage from the state, which led to them withdrawing their support for Mugabe as ZANU-PF leader. Mugabe’s former deputy, Joice Mujuru was fired in 2014 after pressures coming from the First Lady, Grace Mugabe. The former vice president soon launched a new party, the Zimbabwe People First. She is said to challenge Mugabe in the upcoming elections in 2018.
Meanwhile, ZANU-PF has two rival factions – namely the G40 and Team Lacoste. The former is led by Grace Mugabe while the latter is a political faction backed by the war vets and headed by Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa. The First Lady claimed she had no intention to run for the presidency. However, many believe that she is the most prominent candidate to succeed her husband. Mugabe, nevertheless, strictly refuses any discussion about his successor. He said in an interview lately that he would rule Zimbabwe until God allowed him to do so and that he has no intention to leave.
Despite his refusal to step down, Zimbabweans are protesting. War veterans planned a demonstration in February against his rule, but they were shot with tear gas and water cannons by the police. In April, Movement for Democratic Change leader, Morgan Tsvangirai organised a march to denounce Mugabe’s misrule. Thousands participated and this was the biggest protest in Zimbabwe in the past few years. Zimbabwe’s economic decline, growing unemployment, and company closures are behind high attendance rates. Surely, it says something about the changes and new times coming to Zimbabwe.