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All you need to know about the turmoil in Zimbabwe

Military vehicles and soldiers patrol the streets in Zimbabwe’s capital Harare on November 15, 2017.   | Photo Credit: REUTERS

The military in Zimbabwe launched a ‘coup’ on November 15, 2017, calling it a “bloodless correction” to target “criminals” surrounding long-time leader Robert Mugabe. Here are the answers to the key questions on the situation, based on reports by news agencies AP, AFP and Reuters.

Who is Robert Mugabe?

Robert Mugabe is the only leader Zimbabwe had since it won freedom from British colonial rule in 1980. At 93, Mr. Mugabe is the world’s oldest head of state. His poor health has fuelled a bitter succession battle as potential replacements jockey for position. His lengthy rule has been marked by brutal repression of dissent, mass emigration, vote-rigging and economic collapse since land reforms in 2000.

What triggered the current stand-off between military and the civilian government?

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe listens to his wife Grace Mugabe at a rally of his ruling ZANU-PF party in Harare on November 8, 2017.

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe listens to his wife Grace Mugabe at a rally of his ruling ZANU-PF party in Harare on November 8, 2017.   | Photo Credit: REUTERS

 

On October 30, 2017, Mr. Mugabe sacked long-time ally and Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa, widely expected to succeed the former and take control of the ruling ZANU-PF party. Mr. Mugabe’s move is seen as an attempt to install his wife Grace — 41 years younger than her husband — as Vice-President and eventually take over the top job from him.

How intense is the battle to succeed Mr. Mugabe?

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe's wife Grace Mubage and Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa attend a gathering of the ZANU-PF party’s top decision-making body in the capital Harare on February 10, 2016.

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe's wife Grace Mubage and Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa attend a gathering of the ZANU-PF party’s top decision-making body in the capital Harare on February 10, 2016.   | Photo Credit: REUTERS

 

Earlier in 2016, the country was gripped by a bizarre spat between Ms. Grace and Mr. Mnangagwa that included an alleged ice-cream poisoning incident that laid bare the pair’s rivalry. Ms. Grace has become increasingly active in public life in what many say was a process to help her eventually take the top job. She was granted diplomatic immunity in South Africa in August 2017 after she allegedly assaulted a model at an expensive Johannesburg hotel where the couple’s two sons were staying.

What is the military’s stand?

Zimbabwe’s Army chief Constantino Chiwenga addresses a press conference in Harare, on November 13, 2017.

Zimbabwe’s Army chief Constantino Chiwenga addresses a press conference in Harare, on November 13, 2017.   | Photo Credit: AP

 

Days after Mr. Mnangagwa fled the country after his dismissal, Army chief General Constantino Chiwenga on November 13, 2017 warned Mr. Mugabe to “stop” purges of ZANU-PF. “We must remind those behind the current treacherous shenanigans that when it comes to matters of protecting our revolution, the military will not hesitate to step in,” Gen. Chiwenga told top military brass at Harare’s King George VI military headquarters in an unprecedented intervention.

Did the military stage a coup?

Though the action had all the hallmarks of a bloodless coup, the Zimbabwean military chose to avoid the word coup. Instead, it used state television to vow to target “criminals” close to Mr. Mugabe while assuring that “the President… and his family are safe and sound and their security is guaranteed”. Army veterans called the action “a bloodless correction”.

How does the civilian establishment react?

The main opposition MDC party called for civilian rule to be protected. “No one wants to see a coup... If the Army takes over that will be undesirable. It will bring democracy to a halt,” party leader and shadow Defence Minister Gift Chimanikire, told AFP, a day ahead of the military action.

What next?

“We are only targeting criminals around him (Mr. Mugabe) who are committing crimes... As soon as we have accomplished our mission we expect that the situation will return to normalcy,” the military has said. The situation is calm barring the

prolonged gunfire that were heard near Mr. Mugabeֹ’s private residence. The government is maintaining a silence and the Presidential Guard, which remains loyal to Mr. Mugabe, is yet to react.

The U.S. embassy has warned its citizens in the country to “shelter in place” due to “ongoing political uncertainty”.

Mr. Mnangagwa’s promised return, the reactions of the ZANU-PF’s youth wing, which remains loyal to Ms. Grace, and further actions of the military would decide the direction the current turmoil would take.


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