Frequent predictions of the demise of President Robert Mugabe and Zimbabwe’s collapse have underestimated Mugabe’s political abilities and staying power and the support he enjoys among Zimbabweans. In his transformation from liberator to tyrant, Mugabe has managed to ride out even the worst self-inflicted economic storms, including hyperinflation. As Bratton’s fine book documents, Mugabe’s grip on power relies on a patronage-ridden political economy, the efficient authoritarianism of his ruling party, a weak and confused opposition, and a conspiracy of silence among regional leaders, especially in South Africa, who have long refused to denounce Mugabe. This portrait of Harare’s own Machiavelli is quite timely: in recent months, Mugabe has orchestrated a purge of sorts, casting out a number of longtime loyalists and paving the way for the rise of his own wife, Grace, and that of a close ally, Emmerson Mnangagwa, who now seems to be his most likely successor. A perplexing aspect of the Mugabe story is why so many Zimbabweans, perhaps even a majority, continue to support a regime that has done them so much harm. Even for an astute analyst such as Bratton, this remains a puzzle. Bratton, a Zimbabwean himself, writes that he would like to eventually return to Zimbabwe, but absent a “genuine political settlement,” this remains a dream deferred. His analysis suggests that the country will continue to muddle through and that a change in leadership is likely only to perpetuate, rather than reform, the country’s perverse politics.
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