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Zimbabwe: End of an Era

November 15, 2017

Speaker of parliament Jacob Mudenda today, 21 November, announced that President Robert Mugabe has tendered his resignation with immediate effect, preempting an impeachment process that had begun in parliament.

The formal resignation lends constitutional legitimacy to Mugabe’s exit, which was triggered by a military intervention and the ruling party ZANU-PF’s withdrawal of support for Zimbabwe’s only post-independence president. The resignation is credit positive and will fuel hopes of a nascent economic recovery, though the transition government will inherit huge fiscal and monetary legacy issues.

All eyes will now be on Emmerson Mnangagwa, the vice-president whose recent ousting precipitated the internal ZANU-PF showdown that has ultimately proved to be Mugabe’s undoing. Mnangagwa’s whereabouts have been unclear, but he will likely return to the country quickly to lead the transition process. According to the constitution, following Mugabe’s resignation second Vice President Phelekezela Mphoko becomes acting president for up to 90 days. During this time the ruling party must nominate a replacement to serve out the remainder of Mugabe’s term, which could be done imminently and expedite Mnangagwa’s ascent.

The best outcome of the remarkably peaceful transition to date would be a broad-based government, with a roadmap to credible elections in 2018. Recent statements from Mnangagwa signal that he may invite members of the opposition, for example, Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) who served as prime minister in the government of national unity (GNU) that was negotiated following the disputed 2008 elections. Although the GNU at the time undermined the MDC’s political fortunes, in the current unprecedented situation opposition participation would improve perceptions of a genuine political new beginning out of circumstances that could otherwise be portrayed as a ZANU-PF palace coup.

Mugabe’s departure will also fuel hopes for immediate improvements to economic policy. The most pressing concern will be to avert the fresh monetary crisis towards which Zimbabwe has been stumbling, as well as fiscal challenges, low GDP growth and a legacy of sovereign debt. While politics and electoral prospects will take center stage in the transition phase, the reappointment of more respected former cabinet figures, for example, finance minister Patrick Chinamasa, would increase expectations of improved economic policy. It could begin to lead to a tentative rapprochement with the IMF and the wider international community, while neighboring South Africa may play a role in the resolution of the bond-related monetary challenges.