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Amid Overwhelming Calls For Mugabe To Step Down, What's Next For Zimbabwe?

Nov 18, 2017
Originally published on November 18, 2017 8:15 pm
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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Now to Zimbabwe, where there are events taking place that couldn't have been imagined just a few months ago. Thousands of protesters marched outside of the Zimbabwe statehouse in the capital Harare this morning. The protesters were there to show their opposition to longtime president Robert Mugabe, an act that would have led to arrests during most of the 37 years that he was in power. Mugabe was placed under house arrest by the military earlier this week, but his motorcade has since been seen moving around the capital. And his apparent removal from power also raises questions about what's next for the country and for the region.

For more on this, we've called Kevin Sieff. He's the Africa bureau chief for The Washington Post. He's in Harare, and we reached him via Skype. Kevin Sieff, thanks so much for speaking with us.

KEVIN SIEFF: Sure, happy to be here.

MARTIN: So tell me more about the demonstration today. Who was there, and what did they say about what they were hoping to accomplish by coming out?

SIEFF: You know, it was really a remarkable moment to see so many people in the streets of Harare, where as you said, just a few weeks ago, a protest of this size would have been very, very quickly quelled by the police or by the military. And now the city was just full of people demonstrating against President Mugabe. There was a sort of celebratory mood. People are very confident that this is the end. After 37 years, this is the end of Mugabe's rule.

MARTIN: Who exactly is running the country right now?

SIEFF: That's a really good question. I mean, at the moment, Robert Mugabe is technically under house arrest. So while the military technically is running some of the major state institutions, Robert Mugabe has still been able to move around town. Yesterday, he presided over a university graduation, which was a pretty bizarre moment because I think most Zimbabweans expected that he was either stuck in his house or maybe involved in negotiations over the future of the country. But there he was wearing a cap and gown, handing caps and trophies to the recent graduates. And so I think today there's a little question at every kind of level of Zimbabwean civil society and the Zimbabwean public over what comes next.

These negotiations between Mugabe and the military continue. And, in fact, today, at the demonstration, there was a sort of amazing moment when the military - one of the top military commanders came out of his office and greeted the crowd. And within seconds, the entire crowd, thousands of people were silenced just waiting to hear what he had to say. And there was a clear sense that everyone was waiting and hoping that he was going to say Mugabe had stepped down or had agreed to resign. But instead what he said was, we're still working on this. This is going to be a long process. It's not easy. He didn't offer too much clarity.

MARTIN: Is there anybody positioned to serve as successor?

SIEFF: Yeah. So that's where things get even more interesting. Basically, a huge number of the people who were at the demonstrations today and the military commanders who were responsible for the coup are all supporting the former vice president who was dismissed earlier this month. His name is Emmerson Mnangagwa. And he's an interesting character. I mean, he's been very close to Mugabe for decades at this point. And while he's well-liked by the military establishment, he's well liked by many Zimbabweans, I mean, he does have a pretty spotty record.

He's currently sanctioned by the United States. He's been involved in a number of corruption scandals, some pretty well-documented cases of abuse. So that's where this gets complicated. On one hand, you know, there's this sort of catharsis in Zimbabwe right now, where for the first time in years, people are protesting against Mugabe. But on the other hand, there is concern within lots of groups in this country.

MARTIN: That's Washington Post Africa bureau chief Kevin Sieff speaking to us from Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe, via Skype. Kevin, thanks so much for speaking with us.

SIEFF: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.