What comes next in Zimbabwe?

The speaker of Zimbabwe's National Assembly announced the resignation of President Robert Mugabe on Tuesday. The 93-year-old leader ruled over the country with an iron fist for almost forty years, until the army took control last week and put Mugabe under house arrest. Europe's press discusses the background to the coup and calls on Europe to do more to promote change in the country.

Open/close all quotes
Magyar Nemzet (HU) /

Mugabe was not a born dictator

Mugabe's career is instructive in the worst sense, journalist Gyula Hagyi writes in Magyar Nemzet:

“It shows how a talented politician and freedom fighter can become a hated dictator. ... At the start of his time as prime minister of Zimbabwe, Mugabe made generous gestures to the former white oppressors. Later his attitude changed, and his policies became increasingly brutal. ... As an all-powerful leader his efforts focused not only on consolidating the autocratic one-party system and neutralising the opposition, but also on stripping the white settlers of their property. ... Mugabe was not born an evil dictator. He was an idealistic politician from a modest background who wound up being corrupted by his omnipotence and his close acquaintances.”

Süddeutsche Zeitung (DE) /

Europe mustn't let itself be duped

Even after Mugabe's resignation the fresh start the people of Zimbabwe are hoping for is still a long way off, the Süddeutsche Zeitung warns:

“The presumed successor Emmerson Mnangagwa and his clique have made clear what this changeover is for them: an internal affair in which one corrupt criminal is replaced by another. But they failed to understand how much the people want to be rid of them, with hundreds of thousands flowing onto the streets and turning the coup into a kind of revolution that aspires to more than just cosmetic changes. ... The West can also take action to ensure that the revolution in Zimbabwe isn't smothered. Mugabe was deposed by his own clique also because there was nothing left to plunder. The new leadership will talk of reforms because they need investments. Europe must not fall for this ploy. It should provide money only in the event of genuine change.”

Helsingin Sanomat (FI) /

A coup against Grace Mugabe

Not Robert Mugabe but his wife Grace was the real target of the coup, Helsingin Sanomat stresses:

“Ever since the army started its peculiar, step-by-step coup last Wednesday morning in the capital Harare the focus has been on the wrong Mugabe. This is not about Robert, but about Grace. ... Robert Mugabe is the oldest head of state in the world, meaning that the problem wasn't his removal but his successor. The coup has relegated the 52-year-old first lady Grace Mugabe, whose rise to power as her husband's successor was openly being prepared, to the sidelines. Grace Mugabe is reputed to be ruthless and violent. In the end all the powerful groups in the country were against her.”

Público (PT) /

Little hope for the future

If the present situation wasn't so tragic it would be laughable, Público comments:

“A deposed president who simply refuses to go. Even though everyone had hoped he would use this opportunity to give up his power with dignity, the dignity of a dictator who never cared about his people. ... [His former deputy] Mnangagwa will have to continue waiting for the power he deserves after years of living in the old dictator's shadow. Unfortunately for Zimbabwe real change doesn't seem to be on the cards for now: the country's wealth remains under the control of an elite that will do all it can to preserve its power. ... Whether it's Mugabe or Mnangagwa who's in charge, democracy won't come to Harare any time soon.”

Contributors (RO) /

Mugabe was a grotesque tyrant

Mugabe's era has ended, Romanian political scientist Ioan Stanomir concludes on web portal Contributors:

“Under house arrest Robert Mugabe will be able to reflect on the end of his rule. His legacy is a plundered economy and the military discipline of a state that was based on a single party. As a hero of the international left, as a world champion in the fight against the imperialists throughout four decades Robert Mugabe was the dogged architect of an African-style people's democracy. With his megalomaniac personality cult and his inability to accept compromises Robert Mugabe is the image of a century of autocracy.”

Diário de Notícias (PT) /

A missed opportunity

The main priority now is Zimbabwe's future, Diário de Notícias argues:

“Mugabe could have been a great statesman. But he missed that opportunity. ... The 93-year-old president who has now experienced a military coup had gradually turned into an autocrat over several decades. ... He clung so fiercely to power that he ruined the country's economy and plunged it into hyperinflation. And the time came when Mugabe accepted his people's will only when it was in his interest. ... The big question now is not Mugabe's fate but what will become of Zimbabwe. Its founder missed the opportunity to play a role of any significance.”

Hospodářské noviny (CZ) /

Emergency brake pulled on Mugabe clan

Hospodářské noviny expresses vague hopes for Zimbabwe's future:

“If you cherish democratic values a coup is not something that earns applause. In the case of Zimbabwe it seems to be an emergency brake pulled by the military. Thank god. If the army removes the Mugabe clan, including his wife, from power, it will give the country the chance to change. The chance to be ruled by someone else - perhaps someone undemocratic and authoritarian, but at least not as rapacious, bloodthirsty and insane. Perhaps someone like Paul Kagame, the president of Rwanda. Although he doesn't allow a free press or opposition, the country is peaceful and making progress for African standards.”

Finanz und Wirtschaft (CH) /

Path free for new loans

The coup could help improve the economic situation in the country, Finanz und Wirtschaft hopes:

“Many fear a return to hyperinflation. The US dollar was introduced after the worthless national currency was abolished in 2009. In the meantime the lack of foreign currency has reduced imports to a minimum. Only a few weeks ago food and fuel shortages triggered panic buying across the country. At the same time prices have soared. In October the government begged the World Bank and International Monetary Fund at their annual meeting for yet another debt waiver and new loans for the ruined economy. But as long as Mugabe was in charge that was unthinkable. Now, after his long overdue departure, this could change.”

Frankfurter Rundschau (DE) /

Hold elections as soon as possible

The Frankfurter Rundschau's Africa correspondent Johannes Dieterich is of two minds regarding the recent events:

“On the one hand, a military coup could put an end to a nation's suffering: the coup against the unpopular president Robert Mugabe and his even more unpopular wife Grace could protect the failed southern African state from further calamity. ... Nevertheless solving the country's problems in such a way inevitably entails great risks. Because now the army is in power, and no one can force it to relinquish the rule it has secured by unlawful means. The 'humanitarian' usurpers are now the only ones in a position to put the country's fate in the hands of true popular representatives. Zimbabwe needs elections - as soon as possible.”

NRC Handelsblad (NL) /

Unscrupulous hardliners still in power

NRC Handelsblad, on the other hand, fears the coup won't bring any improvement for the country:

“Those behind the coup are the same more or less communist military hardliners who have been responsible for human rights abuses and boundless corruption in this African country since 1980. ... Clearly this is about a power struggle between two factions who want to take over now that old age and poor health have initiated the natural end of Mugabe's rule. ... For the opposition this grab for power won't bring any improvement. It is also weakened by internal problems. The citizens of Zimbabwe can only hope that international pressure on Harare will improve their situation in the long term. ... That pressure must come above all from other African states, first and foremost neighbouring South Africa.”

Upsala Nya Tidning (SE) /

Can frenzied revenge be prevented?

Upsala Nya Tidning speculates on the fate of the deposed dictator:

“The question of revenge against Mugabe by the families of those who were abused, imprisoned or killed under his almost 40-year rule will be next on the agenda. They won't want him to end his life living in comfort abroad like so many other African dictators before him. But the opposition leader Tendai Biti has different ideas and sees Singapore (where the Mugabes have spent a lot of time) as a potential domicile. ... The Guardian columnist Jonathan Freedland believes Biti would like to follow the example of Tunisia, where Ben Ali left the country and democracy was introduced - as opposed to Libya where Gaddafi was murdered and the result was chaos.”