On Nov. 15, the military was reported to have seized control of the government in Zimbabwe. Robert Mugabe, 93, who had ruled over the country for the past 37 years, was forced out. He was replaced as the leader of the ruling Zanu-PF by Emmerson Mnangagwa. No one, including the media and opposition that supported it, wanted to call this transition a coup. Everyone was arguing that the process was handled by civilians in a very civil way.
In addition to famine, hunger, poverty and epidemic diseases, Africa is also known for its never-ending coups. In the past 60 years since decolonization, there have been some 200 coups across the continent. The most populated country on the continent, Nigeria, has been ruled for most of its post-colonial half century by military governments. Burkina Faso was confronted with 10 military coup attempts in the past 50 years, some successful and some not. Blaise Compaore, who came to power in the country through a military coup, failed to prevent the toppling of his government in another coup in 2014. In other words, coups have become almost the standard or accepted way to replace governments in Africa.
There are some pundits who call on us to see what happened in Zimbabwe the same way. At the end of the day, we are talking about a 93-year-old leader who has been in power for 37 years. It appears the era of an absolute military takeover is coming to an end. Such attempts invite furious public response, as was seen on the streets of Turkey on July 15, 2016. Putschists nowadays need and seek public support. We should remember the crowds who saluted the helicopter of the Egyptian coup leader, the general and current President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi. With the public in the streets, media and opposition groups were exploited to give the impression that the military was a more compassionate safeguard for their rights than the legitimate government.
Mnangagwa's move in Zimbabwe was also supported by foreign governments, as usually happens in such instances.
A military coup can and should never become a legitimate way to replace a government. In the post-colonial era, African nations were told to make do with what they had as leaders, until, of course, the next gun-toting man with appropriate foreign support spills the most blood to emerge as the subsequent coup's leader. Almost no support was given to encourage a democratic transition of power. As Turks can well testify, the same thing happened here last year on July 15. Only after hundreds died and the coup attempt conclusively failed did most foreign governments deem it suitable to voice their support for the legitimate government.
What Africans are once again told is to accept military-led political transitions and leave peaceful civilian democratic transition to those living on other continents.
Mnangagwa, meanwhile, is currently the president and is said to be considering running for the job in next year's planned elections. He will probably run the country for the next two decades, or until the next time the military decides the time has come for a change at the top.
Then we will again hear about how Mnangagwa tried to hold on to the top post undemocratically and tried to eliminate the opposition, legitimizing the results of the backroom dealings that decide the next leader. We should all feel rest assured that the time had come for his replacement, because he had been in power for decades already, ignoring the unfulfilled potential of millions of fellow human beings whose lives are ruined because we chose to look the other way. It is Africa after all. It is so far.
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