PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe is set to reshuffle key security service chiefs, having already redeployed ex-Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) boss retired Major-General Happyton Bonyongwe to become the new Justice minister.
By Bernard Mpofu
This comes as Mugabe has put in motion a process to send Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA) Chief-of-Staff (General Staff) Trust Mugova to the African Union (AU) standby force, as he seeks to realign security forces in relation to the current political environment, his Zanu PF leadership succession and next year’s general elections. Mugova is an AU expert on peace and security issues.
Top security sources told the Zimbabwe Independent this week that Mugabe is likely to promote CIO deputy Director-General Aaron Daniel Tonde Nhepera, appointed to that position in 2011 to replace the late Menard Muzariri, to take over from Bonyongwe.
Zimbabwe Defence Forces Commander (ZDF) General Constantine Chiwenga, who together with other top security service chiefs are now serving on rolling one-year contracts after finishing their constitutional two five-year tenures, remains targeted for removal as previously reported extensively by the Independent.
Security sources said Chiwenga could be replaced by Zimbabwe National Army Commander Lieutenant-General Philip Valerio Sibanda or Air Force of Zimbabwe Air Marshal Perence Shiri.
Mugabe has publicly expressed his displeasure with Chiwenga for interfering in Zanu PF succession politics. He even warned in July that some top army commanders’ political manoeuvres bordered on a coup plot.
If promoted, Nhepera could be replaced by one of the senior directors such as CIO Director of Security Albert Ngulube. Some of the senior directors in CIO are those in charge of internal, external, counter-intelligence and administration affairs.
Other sources said Mugabe could even look outside CIO for a new director-general as he did in 1998 when he replaced ex-CIO boss Shadreck Chipanga and his deputy Lovemore Mukandi with Elisha Muzonzini and Bonyongwe — recently appointed Justice minister in a cabinet reshuffle — respectively.
Mugova, one of Sibanda’s three deputies in charge of general staff together with Major-General Douglas Nyikayaramba (administration) and Major-General Sibusiso B Moyo (quartermaster staff), will soon relocate to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to play a key role in the AU army. He is expected to leave anytime from now.
The AU military logistical base will have a 25 000-strong multinational standby force made up of five brigades. It will be based in Douala, Cameroon.
The force is regarded as one of the pillars of the AU peace and security architecture established through the continental body’s constitutive Act. The Act also set out to establish the Peace and Security Council to superintend peace and security in Africa.
The idea of the African standby force was first mooted in Harare in 1997 during the African Defence and Security Chiefs’ meeting chaired by the late ZDF commander General Vitalis Zvinavashe.
“A lot of changes are expected in the security establishment soon; from the civilian intelligence, military intelligence to the army. Bonyongwe will have to be replaced. Mugova is going on a new assignment to Addis Ababa.
These changes are informed by the current political environment, President Mugabe’s succession and the forthcoming general elections,” a senior security official said. “There won’t be any purges, but realignments in the security services.”
Since the late 1990s, internal Zanu PF and national politics in many respects has been shaped by Mugabe’s protracted succession question which has affected ruling and government affairs significantly.
At that time the battle to succeed Mugabe had been between two fierce rival factions led by the late retired army commander General Solomon Mujuru and Mnangagwa.
Their fight raged until Mujuru died in a mysterious farmhouse blaze in Beatrice about 60km south of Harare in 2011.
Mujuru’s wife Joice took his mantle and intensified the combat with Mnangagwa until she was expelled from Zanu PF in 2014.
After that, Mnangagwa found himself embroiled in the messy succession conflict with a Zanu PF faction coalesced around First Lady Grace Mugabe. Grace has in recent months and of late been involved in a bitter tiff with army commanders over succession. Mugabe has also been complaining about the military’s political manoeuvres on succession.
In the process, the intelligence services got sucked into political and succession wrangling amid reports that some top army commanders were supporting Mnangagwa, while others remained loyal to Mugabe and the faction aligned to his wife.
For instance, insiders say top sections of the army and the military intelligence support Mnagagwa, while the CIO, police and some military levels remain loyal to Mugabe and by extension his wife’s faction.
Consequently, this has resulted in heightened politicisation, internal divisions and distrust in the uppermost echelons of the security establishment, something which has also compromised professionalism and efficiency. This also threatens to destabilise the already volatile political environment and country.
Security sources say the security sector’s political interventions in local politics and succession as well as the 2018 elections will largely influence the current changes. Mugabe has publicly admitted that he has used the military to controversial win previous elections.
In the past, Mugabe triggered changes in the security sector by giving some security service chiefs diplomatic postings. Muzonzini, for example, was removed in 2002 and appointed Zimbabwe country’s high commissioner to Kenya.
He was replaced by Bonyongwe. In March 2015, Mugabe appointed three high-ranking Zimbabwe Defence Forces officers as ambassadors to Japan, Russia and Mozambique. Air Vice-Marshal Titus Abu-Basutu was posted to Japan, Major-General Nicholas Dube, who was chief-of-staff joint operations and plans in the Ministry of Defence, was sent to Mozambique, while Brigadier-General Mike Sango became Zimbabwe’s ambassador to Russia, taking over from Lieutenant-Colonel Boniface Chidyausiku.
Sources said Mugabe understands the role of the security sector in politics and elections. As a result, the security sector changes will be framed and timed in relation to those issues, including succession.