Saturday, the 18th of November
We lead this issue with a story that spans a century. For most of that time it has existed on the periphery of global consciousness. This week it was front and centre. 

It is said that there are decades when nothing happens and then there are weeks in which decades happen. This week Robert Gabriel Mugabe, Zimbabwe's President, tenacious despot, and venerated patriarch was ousted in a bloodless coup. He watched as his 37-year-long reign crumbled in a few short days.

Mugabe is best known in the West for his brutally repressive regime and a shattered economy that struggled with astronomical levels of hyperinflation. But in southern Africa he is this and more; a former revolutionary leader, iconoclast and teacher.
Troops on the streets of Harare.
Mugabe was born in 1924 in what was then known as Rhodesia, a territory that had recently been annexed by the British Empire and named for Cecil Rhodes: a monolithic figure from British imperial history who dreamt of connecting Cape Town and Cairo by rail (and did his best to incite the Second Boer War). As a self-governing British colony Rhodesia was beholden to London.

As a young man in his twenties Mugabe studied at Fort Hare in South Africa, the academic cradle of many African nationalist projects. Following his studies he left the country to travel and work as a teacher across Africa. By this time Britain had mismanaged, consolidated and split up Rhodesia, and there were growing calls for self-determination.

During this time both Russia and China were also providing support for anti-colonial movements all over Africa. In Zimbabwe they found common cause. An uneasy coalition was formed between the Soviet-backed Zimbabwean African People's Union (ZAPU) in the North, and the Chinese-backed Zimbabwean African National Union (ZANU) in the south-east. When Mugabe returned to Zimbabwe after his travels, he was immediately drawn to ZANU's movement, and assumed a visible role as an active public speaker. He was arrested for sedition in 1963 and jailed the following year. 

But by 1965 the situation in Zimbabwe had reached a tipping point. On Remembrance Day that year, Rhodesia's cabinet adopted the Universal Declaration of Independence and the British were swept aside. What followed was a chaotic period of 15 years. Under an unrepentantly racist Smith, the new Rhodesian administration became an international outcast. It also quickly found itself fighting a gruelling civil conflict known as the Bush War. 

Mugabe ended up spending a decade in prison. During that time racial violence exploded across the country. The black population targeted rural white farmers with terrible violence, and in return the government dropped napalm on their villages. Upon his release Mugabe fled to Mozambique and from there he wrested control of ZANU's guerrilla war.
Mugabe (centre-right) standing next to General Chiwenga.
By 1979 the Bush war at a stalemate. Smith controlled the city centres, his opponents controlled everything else. 20,000 guerillas and security personnel had died in the war, along with hundreds of white civilians. Black civilian deaths were considerably greater. An uneasy peace agreement was finally struck, and the following year Mugabe ascended to the position of prime minister in a newly formed united government. 

Mugabe, now overseeing a weak capitalist economy, found it exigent to step back from his socialist ideals. He sidelined the revolutionary ZAPU leader - Joseph Nkomo and elevated the role of Emmerson 'the crocodile' Mnangagwa. Mnangagwa was a former ZAPU member who had joined ZANU in 1963 and later became a hero in Zimbabwe's fight for independence. He oversaw a savage operation to kill off Nkomo's power base and orchestrated the executions of thousands of his one-time comrades. It was cynically named Gukurahundi, "the early rain the washes away the chaff before the spring rain" in Mugabe's native Shona tongue. Over 20,000 people died in the crackdown. Nkomo was forced into submission and folded what remained of his party into Mugabe's, to form the ZANU-PF.

Mugabe himself had by then made the leap from prime minister to president (after rewriting the constitution); he was now an absolute ruler. But the economy had continued to suffer. The government sought International Monetary Fund aid money but despite that the unemployment rate breached 50% by 1998. 

After the death of his first wife in the early 90s, Mugabe married his paramour Grace. Their lavish lifestyle soon provoked outrage amongst a starving population, but dissent was severely punished. A coup attempt came and went. Journalists were routinely tortured. And Mugabe turned a blind eye to the violent expropriation of land from white farmers. A racial exodus followed. 

Mugabe threw himself increasingly extravagant parties and his wife's profligacy earned her the nickname 'Gucci Grace'. Like so many other strongmen, Mugabe spent the autumn of his life trying to hold on to power. The long-standing assumption had been that his ally Mnangagwa would ascend after his death. But earlier this year, at the ripe old age of 93, Mugabe decided that Grace should be his successor. Mnangagwa protested and was promptly ejected from government. It would prove to be a costly mistake for Mugabe. Even those his own influence over the military had waned over the years; the Crocodile's hadn't.

As coup d'etats go, this was a quiet affair. Two columns of armoured personnel carriers rolled into the capital late at night. Two loud explosions were heard and some gunfire was reported, but when morning broke there were few obvious signs of violence. The army announced its loyalty to ZANU-PF, rather than to Mugabe himself, and said that it would seek a peaceful transition of power.

Grace Mugabe has fled the country, leaving behind luxuries and her husband who is now under house arrest. Robert Mugabe has so far refused to resign. Even with his empire in ruin the nonagenarian is still trying to cajole, coerce and outfox his captors; claiming to be the only legitimate ruler of Zimbabwe.

The military now faces a conundrum. If Mugabe is removed swiftly the country may face sanctions. Meanwhile conspiracy theories abound regarding China's hand in the coup. The country has tipped billions into Africa in recent years and Chiwenga, the leader of Zimbabwe's armed forces, has only recently returned from Beijing. .

Mnangagwa may return to government as president. If he does he may also bring back many of the old habits learned during Gukurahundi. Another possibility would be Morgan Tsvangirai, the long sidelined opposition leader who was routinely outflanked by the wily Mugabe. Or Chiwenga may just decide that he likes the taste of military rule.

We shall see.
India's Narendra Modi, China's Li Keqiang and host Rodrigo Duterte share a moment.
Manila - The Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) held its annual gathering in the Philippines after a year of heightened uncertainty and tension across the region. Much of the focus this year was on US President Donald Trump, for whom the conference marked the end of a moderately successful first trip through Asia.

In the Philippines - as in Vietnam at the APEC talks the week before - Trump reiterated his preference for bilateralism and protectionism. In sharp contrast, the Chinese delegation led by Premier Li Keqiang worked assiduously to make the most of America's waning influence. Beijing proposed closer economic integration with the region an a goal of securing $1tr in two-way trade by 2020. The sheer sums that China deployed ($150b in direct investment) have allowed it to smooth over relations with neighbours; nations with whom China's recent attitude could best be described as dysfunctional or bellicose. The impact has been striking: official ASEAN documents now call for the 'non-militarisation' of the South China Sea dispute yet make no specific reference to China's aggressive revanchism. Likewise, in speeches and interviews the summit's host Rodrigo Duterte acted like Li's offsider.

There was laudable agreement on issues of shared priority; a denuclearised Korea Peninsula, greater regional counterterrorism cooperation and increased trade between South Korea and the EU. But on the other hand, ASEAN also reinforced the rigid power structures of the region, best exemplified by the galling omission of any meaningful statement on the continuing Rohingya crisis in Myanmar.
Another livelihood destroyed in the worst-hit Kermanshah province.
Iran picks up the pieces - Seismic activity in the tectonic zone where the Arabian and Eurasian plates collide produced a 7.3 magnitude earthquake beneath the Iran-Iraq border last weekend. The aftershocks and repercussions of Sunday nights earthquake are still being felt across Iran and the Middle East. At least 530 people were killed in the western provinces of Iran and another 10 across the border during the 30-second convulsion. The quake was felt as far away as the eastern coast of the Mediterranean.

Sarpol-e-Zahab suffered grievously from the tremors; collapsed apartment blocks left over 300 dead and a further 70,000 homeless in the Kurdish-majority town. Many are now sleeping rough in the cold and aid has been slow to reach the injured. The Red Crescent found fewer and fewer survivors amidst the ruins with each passing day. Despite this, hope glimmered in the town this week when an unharmed baby was pulled from the rubble three days after the earthquake. 

Iranian state television was quick to level the blame at builders who cut corners to save money and at local officials whose bribes sap money from the projects. The example of the Imam Khomeini hospital in Eslamabad is particularly egregious. The 40-year old structure survived the quake whereas the new wing added in 2016 crumpled immediately. In a country prone to tremors, the anger and disappointment is as palpable as it is understandable.
Off to a shaky start at ASEAN.
  1. Congress passed the first version of Trump's tax reform.
  2. The US sent coal evangelists to an anti-coal summit
  3. A mooted Special Counsel investigation into Clinton flopped
  4. The Alabama GOP dug in behind accused child abuser Moore
  5. The Pentagon retweeted a call for Trump's resignation
  6. The US lifted an elephant trophy imports ban
  7. Don Jr tweeted evidence of possible campaign violations
  8. A Homeland Security official quit over racist comments
  9. A mass shooting killed 4 at a Californian school
  10. Sessions contradicted his own testimony
A new look for the Vatican.
A papal bull - Pope Francis raised eyebrows in the Holy City this week when he donated a custom-built Lamborghini to charity. Having announced that this coming Sunday shall henceforth be known as 'The Day Of The Poor' his Holiness set out on a campaign to auction things for charitable causes.

COP23 conference - That Donald Trump continues to snub climate change conferences is a terrible thing. But don't just rely on your newsfeed. In an overwhelmingly positive statement a coalition of 15 countries have vowed to make up for the USA's omission. That is forward thinking.
This is unnecessary.
Addiction - New figures show that an overwhelming number of guns in the USA are owned by a tiny minority of weapons hoarders. The rate of gun violence in America is well known but a new survey shows that a whopping 133m firearms are owned by just 3% of the population. 

Polish extremism - This week the streets of Warsaw were flooded with 60,000 agitated Poles. Many were simply expressing their support for a typically Polish way of life, but others were far more radical. Hundreds of people marched beneath banners calling for a holocaust of Muslims. This is deeply concerning.
Your weekend long read... If you ever read an article about California's tech giants, make sure it is this extraordinary piece from the Financial Times. 

Enjoy your weekend, and please share this issue of The Wrap with friends and family if you found it interesting.

Thank you.