At the time of writing, the non-coup in Zimbabwe is over 24 hours old. It has been quite interesting watching the international news coverage of this DEFINITELY NOT A COUP. The most striking thing to me is when news anchors ask if Zimbabweans are jubilant at the demise of Mugabe’s power. This accords very much with the western tradition of locating African state power in the person of one individual. The demise of that individual would indicate a shift of power, a change of things for the better, and thus the request for jubilant African expression. Or to paraphrase western sporting commentators, ‘Will there be dancing in the streets of Harare tonight?’ Because all Africans do is dance in the streets. Mtschewww. Abegi. Don’t let me get side-tracked jare. The idea that one person – a dictator – can hold state power is unfounded. This idea is backed by another, that one person can bring about political change by being the antithesis of the dictator. These ideas are contrary to the evidence of history and very much affected by the lens through which Africa is viewed. And ultimately the lens through which we view ourselves. See previous post of the futile quest for a messiah.
Political power is always held in a system, by a sector or sectors of society. Said system always benefits the powerful who uphold and maintain the system for their own benefit. The names and frames we use to describe the systems differ from nation to nation. The qualities and character of the systems may change from polity to polity, but at the end of the day power resides in the system and not a person. Presidents. Queens. Kings. Emirs. Prime ministers. Heads of state. Dictators. There are no true dictators. The dictator is a cipher for the system. When those who benefit from the system are threatened, the cipher is swapped, and the system remains. When those who benefit from Mugabe’s rule begin to see their power being diminished, they remove him (No, this is not a coup!) Replace him. And the system remains.
According to McDonald Lewanika: the ‘not-a-coup’ shores up the establishment, evidenced by ‘the factional stance that the Commander of the Defense Forces, General Constantine Chiwenga, took, which demonstrated that this intervention is not altruistic, but rather a clever, yet dangerous manoeuvre to shore up his precarious position.’
The system remains.
See other examples:
- Charles Taylor replaces ‘dictator’ Samuel Doe
- Buhari is replaced by Babangida who is replaced (sort of) by Sani Abacha (Who can forget the era of ‘my fellow Nigerians’?)
- Gaddafi (nuff said)
- Idi Amin is succeeded by Yoweri Museveni
The system remains.
Also interesting in this So Not A Coup, is the use of the military. Since independence from colonial rule, coups have been a frequently utilised means of governmental change in African states. Their use has been on the decline. The post-colonial involvement of the military in African politics reflects the persistent violent nature of politics in the region. From the colonial to the postcolonial. Because African politics is concerned with power and not governance. Therefore, as long as violence and power are integral to African politics ‘the specialists of warfare’ will continue as specialists and strongmen in politics. Irrespective of who fronts the system. The system remains. Irrespective of what name you call them. Dictator. Statesman. Saviour. The system remains.
As long as we presume political power is located in a person and not a system, nothing will change. The system remains. As long as politics is told as a tale of power and rule, and not governance and freedom and equality and development, nothing will change. The system remains. And we will continue to speak the myth of the African dictator or saviour. And not develop ourselves. Not develop the people. And that would be an African tragedy. Because the system will remain. Forever.