Without some element of democracy, without a means of recognizing the existence of other leaders and parties, without some way of legally managing a change of power, it seemed impossible to remove him. Without some element of economic freedom and rule of law, only those with insider connections could prosper. The army’s intervention appears to have been the last chance: Mugabe was believed to be preparing to hand over power to his widely loathed wife.

The intervention may or may not end well. I asked one Zimbabwean in the diaspora how he felt about the coup, and he shrugged: “Anything is an improvement.” But the reassertion of an identical political system, this time with a different strongman on top, won’t bring real change. The only long-term hope is some form of power sharing, some form of economic decentralization, some opportunity for small businesses to thrive and ideas to be exchanged. The belief that authoritarianism is necessary for development led Zimbabwe, like so many other countries, into a dead end. If it’s tried again, it will eventually happen again, too.