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World

Despite Military Pressure, Zimbabwe's Mugabe Refuses To Step Down

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We're going to start the program again in Africa, where two important nations, Zimbabwe and Kenya, are in the midst of serious political upheaval and potentially historic change. In Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe held a public address over the state TV broadcaster this afternoon. Numerous reports suggested that he would announce that he was resigning the presidency after 37 years in power. Instead, he gave a long, confusing speech in which he rambled about the economy, work culture and political party rules, reading off sheets of paper and flanked by several men in military uniforms.

The announcement today followed a weekend of protests against the former liberation-hero-turned-strongman, who was once revered for leading his country out of colonial rule but who's also been blamed for years of economic mismanagement and human rights abuses. This is the latest development in a confusing week in which the military placed him under house arrest but claimed it was not a coup.

For more, we're going back to Kevin Sieff. He's the Africa Bureau Chief for The Washington Post. We reached him in Harare, the capital, via Skype. Kevin, thanks so much for speaking with us once again.

KEVIN SIEFF: Sure.

MARTIN: So help us understand what happened with that speech. Is Mugabe still the president or not?

SIEFF: (Laughter) Yeah, that's the question that a lot of Zimbabweans are asking right now. I think the entire country assumed that Mugabe was going to get on state television and announce that he was resigning as president. Instead, he gave a meandering speech that led to no resignation at all. So as far as anyone understands, he is still the president. He's the president with diminishing support by the day. But until he resigns or until he's forced out of power or until the country finds a legal path to dismissing him, he remains the president of Zimbabwe.

MARTIN: What are your takeaways from that speech?

SIEFF: I think the one thing that's clear at this point is that this is not going to be an easy process nor is it a textbook coup in any way. I mean, as you mentioned, on Tuesday night, military detained Mugabe, arrested some of his key allies in what seemed like it was going to be a fairly quick dismissal. And instead, here we are. It's Sunday night in Zimbabwe, and it doesn't look like Mugabe is going anywhere. Parsing this sort of confusing speech that he just gave, it looks like he thinks he's capable of addressing the problems, the concerns the country has about his rule and that he can somehow find a way to stay in power. But until he comes to terms with the country's dramatic opposition to his rule, it's going to be very difficult to get him out of power.

MARTIN: Well to that end, when we spoke with you yesterday, there were enormous protests demanding Mugabe's resignation. And this was remarkable as you told us because this is a country where protest has been met with an iron fist for years. And so there is a sense of kind of relief and release as people were coming out. So what has been the reaction to this latest set of developments so far?

SIEFF: I think it will be very interesting to see tomorrow how the country reacts to this - a country that was expecting to see success in some way after these days of kind of national catharsis. And now that that success hasn't been delivered, I think there's going to be enormous frustration across the country. And so, you know, I think it's very likely that we'll see more demonstrations in front of the state house. But I think this is a country with enormous respect for the Constitution. So I think this is not going to end with Mugabe being carried out of the state house. This is going to end with a sort of respectful, legal solution to a very complicated political problem.

MARTIN: That's Kevin Sieff, Africa Bureau Chief for The Washington Post. We reached him via Skype in Harare. Kevin Sieff, thanks so much for speaking with us.

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