Thursday, September 24, 2020

A Military Coup in Zimbabwe: How the world got fooled

Zimbabwe is experiencing an unusual kind of a coup. Commonly, coups are associated with the overthrow of sitting governments. But in the unique case of Zimbabwe, the coup is organized against an incoming government. It is organized by the former ruling ZANU party and the security establishment in order to prevent the MDC from taking over state power. The coup has confused the SADC, some of whose members call it a crisis while others deny the crisis. None of the SADC members, except, may be the MDC, the governments of Botswana and Tanzania, realize that a coup is taking place in Zimbabwe.
The international community too is also not aware of the coup.

Several factors explain the confusion that the majority of the SADC and the international community find themselves in. Part of the confusion comes from the delayed outcome of the presidential election and the possibility of a run-off. Their eyes are focused on the delayed election outcome and the run-off, and fail to see that ZANU and the security establishment are arming and readying themselves for a possible regional and international response later.

Part of the confusion gripping SADC and the international community comes from the fact that Zimbabwe held a peaceful and fair election for the first time in its history and everybody expected a peaceful outcome. Election observers were united in their praise of the Zimbabwe Election Commission (ZEC). The SADC Electoral Observer Mission noted that the ZEC demonstrated high levels of professionalism, resilience and hard work in organizing these complex elections. The Common Market for East and Southern Africa (COMESA) noted that Zimbabwean election officials had good knowledge of rules of procedures on counting and closing operations and adhered to the law meticulously.

The Electoral Institute of Southern Africa (EISA) which deployed 50 observers noted that ‘with regard to the Harmonized Elections, the EISA Mission noted with some satisfaction, the peaceful environment within which the 2008 elections were held, despite some incidents of intimidation and political violence. EISA commends the constructive role played by all key stakeholders in creating and maintaining an atmosphere of calm and tranquility in which candidates, parties and people from diverse political backgrounds were able to operate’ (EISA, 2008: p2). Thus, even civil society electoral bodies and influential individuals were satisfied with the conduct of the Zimbabwean elections. Thus, everybody (including the Zimbabwean security forces) expected a peaceful outcome. There was no indication at that time that results would be delayed and that the presidential results would not be released.

The most confused person has been President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa. He successfully mediated the constitutional and electoral reforms that led to the peaceful and fair election of 2008. He worked so hard and convinced ZANU and the Zimbabwean security forces to enable a peaceful and fair election. Mbeki now finds it extremely hard to believe that a negotiation that went so well could end up in a military coup. While he is still confused, the Zimbabwean security forces are passing weapons of war through his country and his cabinet is immobile. It will take time for President Mbeki and his cabinet to adjust to the dramatically changed reality of a coup in Zimbabwe. (By then weapons of war would have passed through his country).

The current Zimbabwean armament characterized by the Chinese freighter carrying 70 tons of Chinese weapons (3-million rounds of AK-47 ammunition, 3500 mortars and mortar tubes and grenade launchers) (Business Day, 18 April 2008) is also being misunderstood.

These weapons cannot be meant for killing civilians as the Democratic Alliance of South Africa thinks. These are weapons of war in case SADC and the international community responds militarily. While the South African government is of the view that it could not stop the weapons transfer to the Zimbabwean army, it fails to see that those weapons would be used to counter military intervention either by SADC or the international community or both (there is a high likelihood that South Africa would be part of the counter-coup after Mbeki realizes the full implications of the coup or after he is gone next April). Therefore, while ZANU and the Zimbabwean security forces have executed a coup and are now arming for a possible war, President Mbeki, SADC and the international community are still talking about releasing the results of the presidential election and mediation.

Sooner or latter when presidential results and a run-off are not forthcoming, SADC and the international community would come to the realization that a peaceful election had been followed by a coup, but then ZANU and the security establishment would have armed and ready for them.

Dr Maundeni is a University of Botswana political analyst

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