Zimbabwe: Who Will Take Power After a Bloodless Coup?

We should not overestimate the role of external forces in organizing a coup in Zimbabwe, says Valdai Club expert Olga Kulkova. This crisis has an internal political nature, although there are many external players interested in its outcome.

The issue of the tenure of African leaders is quite sensitive and delicate. The change of power in African countries should happen, as elsewhere in the world, in accordance with constitutional norms and election results. However, these provisions are often violated in one way or another. For Africa this problem is so challenging, that in 2007 British-Sudanese businessman Mohamed Ibrahim established a special annual award of $ 5 million, which is handed to democratically elected leaders of African countries who voluntarily leave their post. Nevertheless, for several years this award was left without a laureate.

Robert Mugabe is a highly respected politician-patriarch on the continent, one of the leaders of the anti-colonial struggle. Nevertheless, he has been in power since 1980: until 1987 he was prime minister of independent Zimbabwe, and since 1987 – president and simultaneously head of government (only in 2009-2013 the post of prime minister was restored and occupied by the opposition politician Morgan Tsvangirai). Thus, Mugabe has been in power for 37 years, being the oldest acting head of state in the world. He could find for himself an alternative in public activity, moving away from power, but, nevertheless, this did not happen until the coup, held on November 15, 2017. Now the president is under house arrest.

The reason is the confrontation between Emmerson Mnangagwa, vice-president of Zimbabwe (whose displacement triggered the coup), and Grace Mugabe, wife of the President. Apparently, the problem was who would succeed the aging Mugabe. Mnangagwa for decades was one of the most loyal and devoted associates of Robert Mugabe, his confidant, he also participated in the national liberation struggle. In the first government of independent Zimbabwe Mnangagwa occupied the post of State Security Minister. He was in charge of the main intelligence service of Zimbabwe, the Central Intelligence Organization (CIO). Subsequently, he held the posts of Minister of Justice, Minister of Finance, Chairman of the lower house of parliament, Minister of Housing and Social Policy, Minister of Defense.

In 2013, Mnangagwa returned to the post of Minister of Justice, combining this post with the position of Vice-President from 2014. Mnangagwa enjoyed support in the army circles. He was considered as the most likely successor to Mugabe. However, Mugabe's wife Grace also decided to run for office, she organized rallies and meetings with her supporters. Feud between Mnangagwa and Grace Mugabe began in the fall of 2015 and has now reached a peak. Mugabe accused Mnangagwa of preparing a coup d'état and dismissed him on November 6, 2017. High-ranking army officials were outraged because they did not want Grace Mugabe as the president's successor. The organizers of the coup thought, that Grace aimed to gain power not on general grounds, but through a kind of "inheritance".

Under the present conditions, the commander-in-chief of the armed forces Constantino Chiwenga, who headed the bloodless coup, is fully able to take power into his hands. De facto he has already become a new leader, at least for the transition period. He said that what is happening is not a coup. On November 13, general Chiwenga warned that if the country's politicians could not understand each other, the army would not look at this indifferently, but take the events under its control in order to stop the growing political instability in the country. In response, the ruling party of Zimbabwe accused him of "treacherous behavior." Contradictions continued, and the general fulfilled his promise. It is interesting that on November 16, 2017, Emmerson Mnangagwa, who fled to South Africa, returned to the country to head the government, which is a signal for the achievement of a political agreement in the country. Morgan Tsvangirai, former Prime Minister and leader of the oppositional Movement for Democratic Change, also returned to the country.

Morgan Tsvangirai seems to re-engage actively in the political struggle after Mugabe's removal. In principle, in case of early presidential election he can take part and possibly even win. He has many supporters in the country. In the scandalous elections in 2008, he nominated himself against Mugabe and scored in the first round 47% of the vote, while Mugabe - only 43%. The second round of elections took place in violation of all rules only after 3 months, and Tsvangirai withdrew his candidacy because of the campaign to intimidate his supporters. In fact, he won the previous election, but Mugabe took away his victory and put him in jail. Subsequently, at the request of Jacob Zuma, President of South Africa, Mugabe released Tsvangirai and he left the country. However, we cannot say, that properly Tsvangirai will come to power. Most likely for the nearest period the country will be headed by Emmerson Mnangagwa with support of the army, who organized the coup. However, in this situation, the political atmosphere may become more favorable for Tsvangirai's political activity and his participation in the next elections, which one should hope for.

The ‘Non-Coup’ in Zimbabwe and Its Repercussions Vladimir Shubin
For many years, the West, including the United States and the EU states, especially the former colonial power United Kingdom aimed to “change the regime” in Zimbabwe, applying sanctions and waging a constant information war, which, of course, could not but affect negatively the situation in this country.

We should not overestimate the role of external forces in organizing the coup. I believe that this crisis has an internal political nature, although there are many external players interested in its outcome. In early 2000s the British and the US authorities discussed the possibility of overthrowing the president of Zimbabwe Robert Mugabe through military intervention. Ex-president of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, reported about it and made significant efforts to prevent such a development of events. South Africa under Mbeki and Zuma continues to play the role of an intermediary in relations between Zimbabwe and the West, and in general as a mediator in domestic political processes in Zimbabwe. During this crisis South African authorities sent their officials for political talks with Constantino Chiwenga and Robert Mugabe. China, which in recent years has actively developed cooperation with Zimbabwe in opposition to Western sanctions, reacts with restraint to news about the coup and expresses hope for the continuation of mutually beneficial cooperation. In any case a week before the coup general Chiwenga visited China, but, according to statements of Chinese officials, his visit was part of the planned talks about military cooperation.

Russia has traditionally maintained and still maintains friendly relations with Zimbabwe. There is a great hope that they will be preserved at a new stage. If no early elections are held, then, most likely, a representative of the ruling ZANU-PF party will remain in power. It is important to develop our relations at all levels of cooperation - not only at the level of the leaders of both countries, but also at the level of cooperation between societies, business structures and so on.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.