Military Take Control in Zimbabwe – Political Risks
15 Nov 2017
On 14 November 2017, military units, including tanks converged on Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare. The reason for the movement was initially unclear but was thought to have been a show a strength by the Zimbabwean military. However, overnight, sounds of gunshots and several explosions were reported in the city, primarily near the private residence of the Mugabes and around the main government buildings.
- The Zimbabwe military has taken control of the control in an apparent bloodless coup.
- Robert Mugabe, in power since 1980, and his wife Grace, his apparent successor, remain safe.
- Mugabe’s sacked deputy, Emmerson Mnangagwa, has been announced as interim president.
Political: On 14 November 2017, military units, including tanks converged on Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare. The reason for the movement was initially unclear but was thought to have been a show a strength by the Zimbabwean military. However, overnight, sounds of gunshots and several explosions were reported in the city, primarily near the private residence of the Mugabes and around the main government buildings.
On the morning of 15 November, it was announced that the military had seized control of the central state apparatus, as well as the ZBC broadcaster. In addition, the military is thought to have detained both Robert and Grace Mugabe, and announced that Emmerson Mnangagwa is interim president. However, reports suggest that Grace Mugabe has fled Zimbabwe for neighbouring Namibia. South African President Jacob Zuma, has spoken with his Zimbabwean counterpart and has been told that he is in good health, but being confined to his home.
Some reports also indicate that key allies of Grace Mugabe have been arrested, including the head of the ZANU-PF Youth League, Kudzai Chipanga. Other reports also suggest that Finance Minister Ignatius Chombo has also been detained. The military have claimed that they have taken control of the country to “target criminals” around the country’s head of state.
Solace global comment
The current political crisis in Zimbabwe stems from the succession process for Robert Mugabe. The president is 93, and was due to run in the 2018 presidential elections. However, on 6 November 2017 Mugabe fired the vice president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, who many had believed would succeed Mugabe. This paved the way for Robert Mugabe’s wife, Grace Mugabe, to become vice president and successor to the presidency. It is thought that she would be elected to this position during the ZANU-PF annual conference in December 2017. Following his deposition, many of Mnangagwa’s political allies were removed from office and from ZANU-PF party positions. Yet Mnangagwa continued to maintain the support of many senior military figures, who in turn are heavily opposed to Grace Mugabe. This includes the head of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces, General Chiwenga; on 13 November, Chiwenga warned Mugabe to stop the political purges within ZANU-PF.
Many officials have already pledged their allegiance to Emmerson Mnagagwa, including the official social media profile of ZANU-PF. However, there have been conflicting reports on the current state of the crisis. Military officials have denied that a military coup has taken place, despite their continued presence, including tanks and armoured vehicles, in Harare. They have also announced that Robert Mugabe and his family are ‘safe and sound’. Yet other official ZANU-PF outlets have criticised the army for ‘treasonable actions’, and maintained that Robert Mugabe remains in charge. Robert and Grace Mugabe have yet to make a statement; there is a general state of confusion at this time.
What happens next?
It is not entirely clear in what direction this apparent coup is heading. It seems likely that the ailing Mugabe will be unable to resist this move by the military. Mnagagwa looks like his most likely successor as he, rather than Grace Mugabe, maintains the support of Zimbabwe’s military brass. The exact whereabouts of the vice president is unclear, but media reports suggest he returned to the country on the morning of 15 November; having fled to South Africa after being sacked earlier in the month.
The success of this takeover of the country by the military may largely depend on the reaction of the international community. Most importantly the United States, the African Union, neighbouring South Africa, and the European Union. Indeed, South Africa’s president, Jacob Zuma, is sending the minister of defence and military veterans, Ms Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula and the minister of state security, Adv Bongani Bongo to Zimbabwe to meet with president Robert Mugabe and the Zimbabwean Defence Force.
There is currently a heavy military presence around the central government buildings in Harare, including State House and the Zimbabwe Parliament, as well as near the Mugabe residence in the Borrowdale area. Roads leading to government offices and state courts have also been sealed off. This includes Nelson Mandela Avenue, which leads to parliament, and Samora Michel Avenue, which is near the office of Mugabe. Military checkpoints have been set up throughout Harare, although the Harare International Airport is thought to be operational.
Since the initial gunshots and explosions, there has been no further reported violence in the capital. The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office is advising that British citizens remain indoors and avoid travelling in Harare. This sentiment has been reiterated by the US Embassy in Harare. The US Embassy is currently closed until further notice due to its proximity to State House, which is an apparent focal point in the current crisis. There is the potential for heightened civil unrest, including protests and demonstrations, within the central business district in Harare. However, individuals in Harare have noted that the city remains calm, despite the increased military presence. Despite this, there is a high potential for violence. Mugabe remains popular in some areas of Zimbabwe and it is unclear what actions his supporters may take.
It is recommended that any travel itinerary in Harare is assessed prior to travel and movements of travellers are monitored whilst in country. The current advice is to stay indoors, although this is fluid and changing. Airport meet and greet assistance is recommended to mitigate the threat of military checkpoints as well as corruptive practises by local officers. Locally-vetted drivers and low-profile vehicles should be employed to mitigate the security risks associated with road travel. Executive close protection is also optional, based on the changing situation. Furthermore, travel tracking is strongly recommended for travel in Harare. This will serve as an added measure to ensure travellers are safe and secure, kept informed of the current situation or to assist in identifying their location in the event of an emergency.
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