Dictators Fall, but States Remain: Zimbabwe’s (Already) Missed Chance

Last week, the fall of Robert Mugabe’s regime made headlines across the world, and was greeted with relief and hope by international commentators as well as Zimbabweans. Overall, the general feeling was that of a new beginning, long awaited in a country that had been stuck for four decades under rampant inflation, corruption, and an oppressive rule. There seemed to be little doubt, given how the news was presented, that this is a pivotal and far-reaching transformation for this African nation.
And yet, if one looks closely, there are signs that, despite the current sense of hope in Zimbabwe, Mugabe’s removal will not bring the long awaited change. Mugabe “retired’ with immunity, a $US 10 million severance check, and a promise to be paid a salary for the rest of his life. He has now been succeeded by his vice-president, who lead the coup d’tat and capitalized on the year long public protests against his disputed predecessor. With the new president, the rule of the ZANU-Patriotic Front will continue, as will the party’s Marxist-Leninist ideology and its politburo.
How can one know that things won’t change? There are many similarities between the recent history of Zimbabwe and the not too distant history of socialist republics, like Romania, from the decades of oppression and poverty to the overwhelming hope of a new start following the revolution. But one important common aspect of the two regimes – Ceausescu’s and Mugabe’s – is that neither or them were actual autocracies, or ‘personal’ states. A forty year totalitarian rule is not a one-man feat, but must be necessarily supported by an entire state apparatus for which the dictator himself often becomes no more than a mouthpiece.

This post was published at Ludwig von Mises Institute on November 28, 2017.

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