Robert Mugabe resigns as Zimbabwe’s president after 37 years

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe introduces his cabinet minister during his meeting with South African President Jacob Zuma at the Presidential Guesthouse in Pretoria, South Africa. (AP)
Updated 21 November 2017
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Robert Mugabe resigns as Zimbabwe’s president after 37 years

HARARE, Zimbabwe: Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe resigned as president Tuesday after 37 years in power, as parliament began impeachment proceedings against him.
“My decision to resign is voluntary on my part and arises from my concern for the welfare of the people of Zimbabwe and my desire for a smooth, non-violent transfer of power,” said Mugabe in his letter which was read out in parliament, sparking cheers and dancing.
Cars began honking horns and people cheered in the streets, as the news spread like wildfire across the capital, Harare.
Mugabe, who had been the world’s oldest head of state at 93, said that proper procedures should be followed to install new leadership.
Mugabe’s resignation brought an end to the impeachment proceedings brought by the ruling ZANU-PF party after its Central Committee voted to oust the president as party leader and select recently fired Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa as his replacement, a move that eventually could lead to Mnangagwa becoming head of state. Currently in exile, Mnangagwa served for decades as Mugabe’s enforcer, with a reputation for being astute and ruthless, more feared than popular.
Before the resignation, crowds rallied outside Parliament, dancing and singing. Some people placed photos of Mugabe in the street so that cars would run over them. Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai of the MDC party said the culture of the ruling party “must end” and everyone must put their heads together and work toward free and fair elections.
Earlier Tuesday, Mnangagwa said in a statement that Mugabe should acknowledge the nation’s “insatiable desire” for a leadership change and resign immediately.
Mnangagwa added to immense pressure on Mugabe to quit after nearly four decades in power, during which he evolved from a champion of the fight against white minority rule into a figure blamed for a collapsing economy, government dysfunction and human rights violations.
“The people of Zimbabwe have spoken with one voice and it is my appeal to President Mugabe that he should take heed of this clarion call and resign forthwith so that the country can move forward and preserve his legacy,” Mnangagwa said in his statement, after more than a week of silence.
Mnangagwa, who fled the country and has not appeared in public during the past week’s political turmoil, said Mugabe had invited him to return to Zimbabwe “for a discussion” on recent events. However, he said he will not return for now, alleging that there had been plans to kill him at the time of his firing.
“I will be returning as soon as the right conditions for security and stability prevail,” said Mnangagwa, who has a loyal support base in the military. “Never should the nation be held at ransom by one person ever again, whose desire is to die in office at whatever cost to the nation.”
Zimbabwe’s polarizing first lady, Grace Mugabe, had been positioning herself to succeed her husband, leading a party faction that engineered Mnangagwa’s ouster. The prospect of a dynastic succession alarmed the military, which confined Mugabe to his home last week and targeted what it called “criminals” around him who allegedly were looting state resources — a reference to associates of the first lady.
Mnangagwa was targeted by US sanctions in the early 2000s for undermining democratic development in Zimbabwe, according to the Atlantic Council, a US-based policy institute. However, J. Peter Pham, an Africa expert at the council, noted that some Zimbabwean opposition figures have appeared willing to have dialogue with Mnangagwa in order to move the country forward and that the international community should consider doing the same.
“We’re not saying whitewash the past, but it is in the interests of everyone that Zimbabwe is engaged at this critical time,” Pham said in a statement.
Regional leaders continued efforts to find a solution to the political turmoil, with South Africa’s state-run broadcaster reporting that the presidents of South Africa and Angola would travel to Zimbabwe on Wednesday to meet with “stakeholders” in the political crisis, including Mugabe and the military.
Impeachment proceedings began days after huge crowds surged through the capital, Harare, to demand that Mugabe quit. The ruling party had instructed government ministers to boycott a Cabinet meeting that Mugabe called for Tuesday morning at State House, the president’s official residence, and instead attend a meeting at party headquarters to work on the impeachment.
It was not clear how long the impeachment process could take. The ruling party has said Mugabe could be voted out as early as Wednesday but some analysts believe the impeachment process could take weeks and would, if conducted properly, allow Mugabe to make a case in his defense.
Mnangagwa called for unity and appeared to embrace the prospect of taking over power.
“I will not stand in the way of the people and my party,” he said.


Singapore’s Arab community traces ancestral roots stretching back centuries to Yemen's Hadhramaut Valley

Wadi Dawan in the Hadhramaut Valley, main picture. (Supplied photo)
Updated 3 min 48 sec ago
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Singapore’s Arab community traces ancestral roots stretching back centuries to Yemen's Hadhramaut Valley

  • Though the Indian Ocean separates the Asian metropolis of Singapore and the Arabian deserts of Hadhramaut, the ties that bind them run deep and go back centuries
  • Situated at the crossroads of Africa, Asia and the Middle East, Hadhramaut was at that time a key post on the ancient spice trade route

SINGAPORE: The first car to arrive in Tarim, a historic town in the Hadhramaut Valley of Yemen, was an American Studebaker.

It had traveled across oceans and continents to get there — but not without the help of one prominent Arab family in Singapore.

“Tarim’s first car was bought and imported to Singapore by the Alkaff family,” said Zahra Aljunied, whose forefathers came from Tarim. The 62-year-old senior librarian is a fifth-generation Singaporean Arab from the lineage of Syed Omar Aljunied, one of the first Arabs to set foot in the port in 1820.

“They disassembled the car, put it on a ship, and brought it to Mukallah, which is nine hours’ drive from Tarim,” she told Arab News. “Then it was put on the back of camels, brought all the way to Tarim, where they reassembled the car with the S (Singapore number) plate before it was driven.”

Though the Indian Ocean separates the Asian metropolis of Singapore and the Arabian deserts of Hadhramaut, the ties that bind them run deep and go back centuries.

Almost all Arabs in Southeast Asia trace their ancestry to Hadhramaut, a region on the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula in present-day Yemen. Referred to as Hadhrami Arabs, they began migrating to Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore in large numbers from the mid-18th century.

Names such as Aljunied, Alkaff and Alsagoff are familiar to most Singaporeans, as streets, buildings, mosques, schools and even a district have been named after these prominent Arab clans. Yet few realize the impact the early Muslim settlers had on colonial Singapore, or on the families they left behind in the homeland.

“When Sir Stamford Raffles founded Singapore in 1819, one of the first things he did was to persuade Hadhrami families to come here,” recounted Singapore’s former foreign minister George Yeo at the launch of a 2010 exhibition about Arabs in Southeast Asia.

“Syed Mohammed Harun Aljunied and (his nephew) Syed Omar Aljunied from Palembang (in present-day Indonesia) were given a warm welcome, and from that time on Singapore became the center of the Hadhrami network in Southeast Asia,” Yeo said.

Attracted by Singapore’s free port status, the two men — already successful merchants in Palembang — brought everything they owned “lock, stock and barrel,” said Zahra, whose paternal grandmother came from the line of Syed Omar. 

Syed Omar was born in 1792 in Tarim, a small town in South Yemen widely considered a theological, judicial and academic hub in Hadhramaut. The Malays saw him as a prince because the Aljunied family, being part of the Ba’alawi tribe, can trace their ancestry to the Prophet Muhammad and were regarded as legitimate custodians of Islam. 

But growing up, Tarim was a place that Zahra and her siblings shunned.

“When we were kids, my grandmother or grandfather will say: ‘If you are naughty, we will send you back to Hadhramaut’,” she said, laughing. “So we looked at Hadhramaut as a place we didn’t want to be in. We didn’t look forward to going there.”

But her journey towards discovering her roots took a new turn in 2004, when she became part of a research team from Singapore organizing an exhibition entitled “Rihlah — Arabs in Southeast Asia.” 

That journey drew her back to Hadhramaut five times, and also to Palembang and Java in Indonesia. She discovered that decades of Southeast Asian influence gave Hadhramaut a unique culture not found in other parts of the Middle East.

“When I first went to Hadhramaut, it was so different from Sanaa … It’s their way of life — what they eat, wear, even the language,” she said. 

While men in Sanaa usually wear the traditional Yemeni dress called a thobe, men in Hadhramaut prefer shirts and sarongs, traditional Indonesian clothing often made of Javanese batik. 

“Yes, they dress differently … They eat belacan (the shrimp paste condiment used in Southeast Asia) and keropok (Malay/Indonesian prawn crackers), all imported from Indonesia,” Zahra said.

“You ask me how I’ve assimilated to the culture here, but over in Tarim, they have already assimilated to the culture that is imported from here.”

Hadhramis have been traversing the Indian Ocean for centuries, said Syed Farid Alatas, professor of sociology at the National University of Singapore.

Situated at the crossroads of Africa, Asia and the Middle East, Hadhramaut was at that time a key post on the ancient spice trade route.

“The migration to Southeast Asia was relatively recent compared with the other migrations in East Africa and southern India,” said Alatas, who is also from a prominent Hadhrami family in Southeast Asia.

Famine and economic hardship were some push factors, he added. “But I think you can’t divorce that from a certain interest that Hadhramis have because they were living in the coastal areas. Hadhramaut has a long coast and so they were seafaring and interested in going out, in exploring other places.”

However, the homeland was never far from their hearts. Parents used to send their young sons to Hadhramaut to study in religious schools, where they would to learn Arabic and Islamic values. Sometimes they also married off their local-born daughters to Hadhrami men.

“They want their sons to know Arabic, so they send them to study there for many years, like my father, my uncle, some of my brothers,” Zahra said. “My grandfather was the same like others before him. They often sent money and many things back to Hadhramaut. Maybe once in three months, my grandmother would get a big carton and put lots of things inside — keropok (prawn crackers), belacan (shrimp paste), the Three Rifles brand (a homegrown brand) men’s singlets.”

Remittances from the Far East soon became the most important source of income for those in the homeland as overpopulation, poverty and arid farming conditions made it difficult to sustain traditional livelihoods such as agriculture, herding and trade.

By the 19th century, Arabs in Southeast Asia dominated trade, commerce and maritime networks. They operated the largest fleets and vessels in the Indo-Malay archipelago, and the port of Singapore became the hub of Hadhrami shipping. For a time, Singapore was also the major transit point for Hajj pilgrims.

Hadhrami Arabs were instrumental in the spread of Islam in the region. Many held high positions in civic and religious affairs or took part in politics. Others owned large swathes of land in the early colonial days — an estimated 50 percent of Singapore’s total land mass at one time, according to one scholar. 

Known for their philanthropy, they also donated much of their land for cemeteries, hospitals and places of worship including famous landmarks such as St. Andrew’s Cathedral and Singapore’s first mosque, Masjid Omar Kampong Melaka — both of which still stand today.

After World War II, however, Arab wealth and prominence in Singapore began to fade, due in part to rent controls as the government sought to curb inflation. The introduction of the 1966 land acquisition act also affected Arab land ownership as the post-independence government bought property  for state development.

Estimates put the Arab population in Singapore at about 10,000 today, but some say that the numbers are difficult to determine as many have assimilated into the Malay community and no longer distinguish themselves as Arabs.

“Many Hadhrami emigrants intermarried with their host societies and integrated so completely that after the passing of a generation or two, their descendants could no longer be regarded as members of a diaspora. Others, however, chose to retain their affiliation to the homeland,” wrote historian Ulrike Freitag in her book “Indian Ocean Migrants and State Formation in Hadhramaut: Reforming the Homeland.”

However, she warned that “it would be premature to conclude that members of the Hadhrami diaspora have either all departed or assimilated to the extent of renouncing their Hadhrami identity.”

Some observers say that Singaporean Arabs have lost their identity since many young Arabs no longer speak Arabic and have little ties to Hadhramaut, but Alatas disagreed.

“Have Singaporean Chinese lost their identity?” he asked. “Singaporean Chinese are not like the Chinese in China. Even if they speak Mandarin, they think differently from Chinese in China. On that basis, is it fair to say that Chinese in Singapore have lost their identity?”

Arabs are no exception, he said. “You have Arabs in Singapore who feel and strongly identify themselves as Arab. On the other hand, you have those who have assimilated into Malay society — they know they have Arab ancestry, but they feel Malay.

“Then you have Arabs who are in between, who are creole.”

The war in Yemen has taken a huge human and economic toll on the country and disrupted transport links. Even those hoping to maintain ties with their ancestral home find it hard to return.

Flights have become irregular and expensive, and reaching Tarim now involves a 10-hour bus journey from Salalah in Oman, Zahra said.

“My father also stopped going,” she said sadly. “I miss Tarim.”