… from riots, palace coup or impeachment to talks
AS Zimbabwe’s economic turmoil intensifies and the country reaches a crossroads, government security experts and foreign diplomats based in Harare have started drawing scenarios and weighing consequences of the current simmering social unrest, the Zimbabwe Independent has learnt.
BY BRIDGET MANANAVIRE
Briefings with security and diplomatic sources show that three scenarios have emerged of what could happen in the short to medium-term in months ahead. The three postulated sequence or development of events, include President Emmerson Mnangagwa sooner or later facing riots, a palace coup or impeachment, and talks.
“Within the security sector and diplomatic community, there are three major scenarios being bandied about of what could happen in months ahead,” a source told the Independent. “There could be riots, a palace coup or impeachment, or rebooted inclusive talks. These situations are not mutually exclusive; they could happen simultaneously or in a quick succession of related events.”
The prospect of the country being plunged into street protests, which maybe be potentially bloody given that the opposition MDC Alliance and its civil society allies are preparing to storm the cities and towns with demonstrations, while Zanu PF and government are planning a fierce backlash.
Mnangagwa and his ministers, including those in charge of Home Affairs and Defence Cain Mathema and Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri respectively, have warned they would crush any mass anti-government demonstrations by the MDC and its allies over the deteriorating economic conditions.
As first reported by the Independent in a series of reports to shed light and insight into the current political developments, Mnangagwa’s government fears an uprising from the disgruntled masses.
As a result, government has recently acquired an assortment of arms and ammunition, which includes 3 343 AK-47 assault rifles and about 600 sniper rifles as well as 5 000 mortar bombs and 58 500 grenades, to boost its arsenal to quell protests.
After subjecting more than a thousand regular police officers to paramilitary training, purchasing an assortment of weapons, including AK assault rifles and sniper rifles, government has also moved to acquire millions of ammunition, 5 000 mortar bombs and 58 500 grenades to reinforce its armoury in preparation for looming protests as the intractable political and economic crisis worsens.
However, diplomats say any new killing of civilians by security forces would cause outrage and wide condemnation of Mnangagwa’s government. They say it would also render Zimbabwe a pariah state again.
But security experts insist push factors for protests remain strong, hence looming civil unrest and possible bloodshed.
Prices of basic commodities continue to skyrocket daily, while shortages have become commonplace. Power cuts, unemployment, poor social services delivery, shortages of medical drugs, food, fuel shortages and many other problems are worsening.
Annual inflation for May rose to 97,85%, up 21,99 percentage points on the April rate of 75,86%.
Security sources also say given the current crisis, Mnangagwa faces the risk of a palace coup or impeachment, particularly in view of the escalating power struggle between him and his co-deputy retired army commander General Constantino Chiwenga.
Insiders say Mnangagwa has been purging Chiwenga’s political and military allies in a bid to coup-proof himself.
In a daring manoeuvre, Mnangagwa in February retired some influential military commanders — who thrust him into power — pending diplomatic postings.
He also changed critical personnel and commanders in strategic military units such as the Presidential Guard and Mechanised Brigade in a major shake-up among troops that staged the coup which ousted of former president Robert Mugabe and facilitated his dramatic rise to power.
Senior military commanders retired pending diplomatic assignments include Major-General Anselem Sanyatwe, who was commander of the Presidential Guard; former Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA) chief-of-staff (administration) Douglas Nyikayaramba, chief-of-staff responsible for service personnel and logistics, Major-General Martin Chedondo, and Air Vice-Marshal Sheba Shumbayawonda.
Informed security sources told the Independent the retirements were designed to contain Chiwenga, who was the commander of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces during the coup, as he has presidential ambitions.
Mnangagwa’s allies say the changes are part of the security sector reform.
As the European Union (EU) and Zimbabwe recently resumed formal re-engagement talks, with Brussels insisting on sweeping reforms, including security sector overhaul, Mnangagwa has found himself between a rock and hard place.
Security sector reform is one of the key demands from Western countries, which have imposed sanctions, including arms embargoes, on Harare, before Zimbabwe could be accepted back into the international community fold and receive new funding.
Diplomats say Mnangagwa is under pressure to reform the military, which brought him to power, but government and army insiders warn he fears rocking the boat and is in any case unable to overhaul the edifice which forms his administration’s bedrock.
Acting ambassador EU ambassador to Harare Thomas von Handel recently told the Independent in an interview reforms were critical to dialogue and bilateral issues between Harare and Brussels United States Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Tibor Nagy this week told Mnangagwa — during a private meeting at the ongoing US-Africa Business summit in Mozambique — to implement bold political and economic reforms as a precondition of mending relations between the two countries.
Mnangagwa was also pressured by Nagy to bring to justice military officers who killed six civilians on August 1 in the aftermath of last year’s disputed polls. The security forces also killed 17 people in a crackdown against protestors in January.
Security sources say Mnangagwa also fears possible impeachment in parliament by a joint force of MDC Alliance MPs and disgruntled Zanu PF legislators loyal to Chiwenga.
“We are hearing that MDC MPs say should an opportunity arise for them to collaborate with some of their Zanu PF counterparts, impeachment remains an option for them to remove Mnangagwa,” a source said.
“A coalition is forming between MDC and disgruntled Zanu PF MPs to explore a possibility of joining forces in parliament to table an impeachment motion against the President at the appropriate stage.”
In terms of Section 97 of the constitution, a president can be removed from office for serious misconduct, failure to obey, uphold or defend the constitution, willful violation of the constitution or inability to perform his duties because of physical or mental incapacity.
Diplomats also say focussing on the possibility of talks between Mnangagwa and Chamisa to resolve issues around the disputed elections, political legitimacy and economic problems is another option.
Mnangagwa is already holding dialogue through the Political Actors Dialogue meetings, which Chamisa has boycotted.
Former South African president Thabo Mbeki, who played a leading role in the 2009 Government of National Unity negotiations, last week said a dialogue process, which includes the MDC, should be pursued to resolve the Zimbabwe crisis.
“The MDC must be part of that process, it’s important as a continent that we deal with this matter,” Mbeki said indicating Mnangagwa’s path was right, but not the framework.
Mbeki said it was not enough for Mnangagwa and Zanu PF to say they have won the elections and that the subsequent presidential poll court petition was ruled in their favour because the current Zimbabwe issues go well beyond that.
Issues of inclusive talks and political legitimacy remain critical to dialogue, particularly given that Mnangagwa came to power through a coup before the elections.
Former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo yesterday flagged Zimbabwean political legitimacy issues when he insisted Mnangagwa came in through a coup.
Obasanjo, who steered Nigeria to democracy in 1979 when he handed over power to a civilian as military ruler, said the Mnangagwa administration was initially at pains to explain to the world that it was not a coup to avoid censure from the African Union.
“They were shouting from the rooftop that it is not a coup,” Obasanjo told reporters yesterday during the ongoing Afreximbank annual general meetings being in Moscow, Russia.
“If the President is removed by the military and you say it is not a coup, so what is it?” Obasanjo, a panelist at a session, titled ‘Reflections on the Development of the South-South Trade’.”
Article 4 of the AU Constitutive Act condemns and rejects unconstitutional changes of governments. The AU recently suspended Sudan until there is a civilian-led government following the ouster of longtime ruler Omar al-Bashir in April.
Chamisa says he will not come to the negotiating table for political dialogue until there are inclusive consultations, a properly designed talks process preceded by a root-cause analysis of the problem, a support structure in terms of funding and logistics and credible facilitation, among other fundamentals.
Mnangagwa, however, insists he would not force anyone into dialogue with him.