ZIMBABWE National Army (ZNA) Chief of Staff (General Staff) Major General Trust Mugoba has been redeployed to the African Union (AU) standby force and is expected to leave the country at the weekend as the process of security realignment gathers momentum.
By Bernard Mpofu
As first reported by the Zimbabwe Independent last month, 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.
Military sources told the Independent that Mugoba is expected to leave the country for Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where he will be one of the commanders of the African Union force. His redeployment is also seen as a move to neutralise the potential threat from the military which is perceived to be backing under-fire Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa who is leading a faction angling to succeed Mugabe.
Sources said Mugoba’s move was also part of Mugabe’s coup-proofing by giving the security forces preferential treatment in the face of worsening economic conditions in the country. Besides the special treatment on salaries, the military has been getting constant promotions and huge perks to keep them quiet.
“Major-General Mugoba held a farewell party last week and is now expected to leave the country this weekend for Ethiopia. His redeployment is part of President Mugabe’s realignment of the security sector,” a source familiar with the developments said.
“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. Mugoba 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.
“There won’t be any purges, but realignments in the security services.”
Top security sources told the Independent this week that Mugabe is still 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.
Other sources, however, said Mugabe is also considering other directors to take up the position of spy chief, meaning that Nhepera could also be reassigned.
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 completing 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.
Mugoba, 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), is regarded as a competent commander hence his redeployment to the AU. 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.
Since the late 1990s, internal Zanu PF and national politics in many respects have been shaped by Mugabe’s protracted succession issue 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 fight 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 Mnangagwa, 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.
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.