The Zimbabwean army is likely to negotiate a transitional power transfer to the ousted vice-president following yesterday’s palace coup. Theophilus Acheampong, country risk analyst at IHS Markit, analyses the situation.

The military’s intervention follows the recent dismissal of the vice president and a purge of party loyalists as first lady Grace Mugabe vies for power.

The army is likely to negotiate a transitional power transfer to ousted vice president Emmerson Mwangagwa, indicating a shift in policy direction, with areas particularly likely to be affected including economic proposals aimed at Zimbabwe’s re-engagement with the international community.

Violent confrontations between rival factions in the ruling ZANU-PF and the military are likely in the coming weeks


Outlook and implications

Any speech by President Mugabe in the coming days explaining how he will engage with the military towards the formation of a transitional government will be crucial in indicating the political direction of the country and signaling either the escalation of violence or relative stability.

Statements from the opposition MDC-T and Zimbabwean Democratic Party welcoming moves towards a transitional authority would reduce the risk of an intervention by standby force of the regional Southern Africa Development Community (SADC). The military and the war veterans association, which publicly back Emmerson Mnangagwa, are likely to push for Mnangagwa’s confirmation as ZANU-PF chairman, paving the way for him to eventually take over his former role as the country’s vice president and succeed President Mugabe.


Military intervention follows dismissal of vice-president

Vice-president Emmerson Mnangagwa was expelled from the ruling ZANU–PF party on 8 November 2017 after a meeting of its politburo acting on recommendations from the party’s provincial leaders.

Mnangagwa’s dismissal as vice-president happened following events at a political rally on 5 November 2017 in which the first lady, Grace Mugabe, publicly accused him of dividing the ruling ZANU–PF by attempting to overthrow the president with the support of the army. Local media on 10 November 217 had reported of threats by Mwangagwa to lead a popular revolt against the Mugabe faction and the ZANU–PF in response to his dismissal.

On 13 November Zimbabwean army chief Constantine Chiwenga, accompanied by 90 senior army officers, issued a strong statement warning ZANU-PF to immediately end its purge on senior party members who were part of the liberation movement. Chiwenga also warned that infighting within ZANU-PF was denigrating the military and causing alarm in its rank and file; and that the military will intervene when it comes to protecting the revolution, indirectly referencing Grace Mugabe and the ‘G40’ faction.


Army likely to negotiate transitional power transfer

The military, using the leverage gained from the insurrection, is likely to broker a power sharing deal and transitional agreement between President Mugabe and former vice-president Mnangagwa.

Mnangagwa is likely to lead a transitional government, which will likely be composed of his allies including former finance minister Patrick Chinamasa. There is a possibility of also appointing those previously expelled from ZANU-PF by Mugabe, such as former vice-president Joyce Mujuru who leads the Zimbabwe People First party, in order to consolidate Mnangagwa’s support within ZANU-PF.

A reinstatement of Chinamasa would indicate a more pro-business shift in policy direction, with economic proposals aimed at Zimbabwe’s re-engagement with the international community likely to be impacted.

Chinamasa’s proposed reforms and austerity measures for economic recovery and rapprochement with international financial institutions, including the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, were stalled in the October 2017 cabinet reshuffle which saw G40-ally Ignatius Chombo, the less experienced former home affairs minister, becoming the finance minister.

Media reports on 15 November 2017 indicate that the military has detained Chombo and other top ministers affiliated to Grace Mugabe’s faction.