The news out of Zimbabwe this morning is as confused and jumbled as the information we got last night. African Defense Review tried to throw cold water on the talk of a coup, because all we had early yesterday was a few images of some APCs and Trucks.
Well, the armored personnel carriers were replaced by infantry fighting vehicles, mortars, and a lot more equipment than what we saw in the light of day yesterday.
The state broadcaster, ZBC, has been siezed by the military, who gave the following statement:
FELLOW Zimbabweans‚ following the address we made on 13 November 2017 which we believe our main broadcaster‚ ZBC and The Herald/The Chronicle were directed not to publicize‚ the situation in our country has moved to another level.
Firstly‚ we wish to assure the nation that His Excellency‚ The President‚ of the Republic of Zimbabwe‚ Head of State and Government and Commander in Chief of the Zimbabwe Defense Forces‚ R.G Mugabe and his family are safe and sound and their security is guaranteed. We are only targeting criminals around him who are committing crimes that are causing social and economic suffering in the country in order to bring them to justice.
As soon as we have accomplished our mission we expect that the situation will return to normal.
To the civil servants: As you are aware‚ there is a plan by the same individuals to influence the current purging taking place in ZANU-PF to the Civil service.
We are against that act of injustice and we intend to protect everyone of you against it.
To the judiciary‚ the measures underway are intended to ensure that‚ as an independent arm of the state‚ you are able to exercise your independent authority without fear of being obstructed as has been the case with this group of individuals.
To our Members of Parliament: Your legislative role is of paramount importance for peace and stability in this country and it is our desire that a dispensation is created that allows you to serve your respective political constituencies according to democratic tenets.
To the generality of the people of Zimbabwe: We urge you to remain calm and limit unnecessary movement. However‚ we encourage those who are employed and those with essential business in the city to continue their normal activities as usual. Our wish is that you enjoy your rights and freedoms and that we return our country to a dispensation that allows for investment‚ development and prosperity that we all fought for and for which many of our citizens paid the supreme sacrifice.
To political parties; We urge you to discourage your members from engaging in violent behavior.
To the youth: We call upon you to realize that the future of this country is yours. Do not be enticed with dirty coins of silver‚ be disciplined and remain committed to the ethos and values of this great nation.
To all Churches and religious organisations in Zimbabwe: We call upon you and your congregations to pray for our country and preach the gospel of love‚ peace‚ unity and development.
To both our people and the world beyond our borders: We wish to make it abundantly clear that this is not a military takeover of Government. What the Zimbabwe Defense Forces is doing is to pacify a degenerating political‚ social and economic situation in our country which if not addressed may result in violent conflict.
We call upon all the war veterans to play a positive role in ensuring peace‚ stability and unity in the country.
To members of the Defense Forces: All leave is cancelled and you are all to return to your barracks with immediate effect.
To our respected Traditional leaders: You are the custodians of our culture‚ customs‚ traditions and heritage and we request you to provide leadership and direction to your communities for the sake of unity and development in our country.
To the other Security Services: We urge you to cooperate for the good of our country. Let it be clear that we intend to address the human security threats in our country. Therefore any provocation will be met with an appropriate response.
To the media; we urge you report fairly and responsibly.
Some of the information here is very clear. The Military is drawing its authority to take this action from the constitution, and argues that they are defending the revolution by taking this action.
When they talk of a “purge” in the party and the civil service, they’re referring to recent efforts by Mugabe to pass his position to his wife, Grace. This all has to do with the expected succession. There is a faction within the Zimbabwean government and military that has been waiting, patiently, for Mugabe to die. So when Mugabe tried to turn the office of the presidency into a family affair, they were deeply unhappy. The pro-Grace Mugabe faction responded by trying to purge the anti-Grace Mugabe faction from their positions within the government and civil service.
The commander of the Zimbabwe Defense Force, Constantino Chiwenga, threatened to step in if the purge wasn’t stopped. The ruling ZANU PF party accused the commander of “Treasonous Activity.” The military responded by taking the capital, putting Mugabe under house arrest, seizing ZBC, the state broadcaster, and arresting any member of Mugabe’s cabinet they could find. Some have reportedly fled the country.
Comparing this “totally not a coup” to coups in the past, this is an effective tactic. For decades, corruption laws in Zimbabwe have gone unenforced, and so every member of Zimbabwe’s government is allegedly involved in some form of scandalous corruption or another. The Military gets to play law enforcement, and announce that they’re simply enforcing the laws that the rest of the security forces have refused to enforce. This “we swear its not a coup” has significant pretensions to legitimacy, and the argument they’re making via the state media they now control seems to be successful.
Official Zimbabwean media accounts have apparently been seized by supporters of the military intervention, which they insist, again, is totally not a coup.
“Neither Zimbabwe nor ZANU are owned by Mugabe and his wife.” This is Mugabe’s own political party making this statement.
That last tweet: “an elderly man who had been taken advantage of by his wife” seems to mean Mugabe.
The ZANU PF youth wing had an interesting way of describing the situation:
With this creative language, the military and the ZANU PF are insisting that they are simply enforcing the constitution. With “peaceful aplomb.” And armored fighting vehicles.
They also made two other direct threats. They asked journalists to “report responsibly and fairly.” What they meant was “We just took over the largest news organization in the country, we’ll have no trouble raiding your back woods printing press, so don’t mess with us.” There are as yet unconfirmed reports that the journalists at ZBC were “manhandled” or “roughed up” when the ZDF took their headquarters.
The second threat was to other “security forces” in the country. They said they would respond “appropriately” to any “provocation.” Translation: We’re the military, you’re the police, we’ve got bigger guns. Sit down, and shut up. There are images on twitter of police stations that have been seized:
Zimbabweans on twitter and other social media seem to be supporting the military. One comment on Reddit said “I have never in my life felt more patriotic.”
I’ve been searching for Anti-Coup sentiment, and the closest I found was the twitter account of Jimmy Wanjigi, referred to by the media as an Oligarch.
We know from the seizure of party assets and media companies that anti-coup sentiment is being suppressed. But it’s also true that anti-Mugabe NGOs were having their voices suppressed. The day of the coup, Free Speech activists with the Magamba Network had their laptops and printers siezed by the police. Activists called this a Cyber Clampdown:
(Free Martha refers to American Martha O’Donovan who was arrested in Zimbabwe for an anti-Mugabe tweet.)
Due to suppression of expression, it isn’t clear where Zimbabwean opinion stands on today’s events. Even seasoned Africa watchers who said last night that there is “probably not a coup” were surprised by the ZDF’s actions. But they were equally surprised by the overflow of anti-Mugabe sentiment from both inside and outside Zimbabwe. One writer posted:
While there are a number of Zimbabweans who support Robert Mugabe, it’s clear that Grace Mugabe has nowhere near that level of support.
It is not clear what will ultimately come of this military action, which a significant number of Zimbabweans are insisting, again, is not a coup.
It’s likely that one of three things will happen. Either the military is genuine in its desire to achieve a post-Mugabe democracy, or they’re simply trading the old president for life for a new one of their choosing. Or there could be a civil war. But from the way the military has moved so quickly in seizing police and presidential guard positions, I’m not sure what weapons that war would be fought with. At this hour, the military has control of Zimbabwe.
It’s now up to them to be true to their word.
I hope they’re not blowing smoke, and that they genuinely mean the things they’ve proclaimed. The world would welcome a post-Mugabe democracy.
But only time will tell if that’s the outcome of this action.