Robert Mugabe is no longer the leader of Zimbabwe. After maintaining a vice-like grip on power for 37 years, the former revolutionary lost the support of key allies through his attempts to line up his wife, Grace, as his successor. The citizens of Zimbabwe, his own party and the wider world welcomed his deposition.
But as the dust settles and jubilant celebrations fade into memory, work must begin on rebuilding the precarious finances of the state of Zimbabwe. It is unlikely to be easy: over his nearly four decades in power, Mugabe did much damage to what was once one of Africa’s most advanced and diversified economies.
Perhaps the most infamous of Mugabe’s policies, his seizure of white-owned farms, crippled the country’s agricultural output. The government’s subsequent decision to simply print more money in order to fund a war in the Democratic Republic of Congo and line the pockets of Mugabe’s political and military friends sent Zimbabwe into a barely comprehensible monetary crisis. Between 2008 and 2009, hyperinflation in the country was estimated to be between 500 billion and 89.7 sextillion percent.
Over his nearly four decades in power, Mugabe did much damage to what was once one of Africa’s most advanced and diversified economies
And yet, with Mugabe now out of the picture, there is renewed hope that Zimbabwe’s economy can get back on its feet. Underutilised farmland could once again supply the maize, tobacco and sugarcane to revive its agricultural exports. With abundant reserves of platinum and lithium, it could become a major player in the medical, automotive and chemical industries.
A more stable political and economic landscape could also entice the three million or so Zimbabweans living in exile to return, adding their skill set to an existing workforce that is already one of the most able on the continent. There is much potential here, but it will remain unfulfilled if the country does not see significant and sustained political change.
Much will depend on the actions of Mugabe’s successor, Emmerson Mnangagwa. Known as the “crocodile” due to his political cunning, he is said to be open to economic reforms, but as a party veteran and Mugabe’s former right-hand man, he hardly represents a clean break from the past. Zimbabwe is right to celebrate the end of Mugabe’s reign, but its people should remain cautious as Mnangagwa’s begins.