Revisiting Zanu PF rally explosion: Is Zim falling into the coup trap?

A coup d’état, can be understood as the sudden and illegal removal of the incumbent using force or the threat of force.

By Munyaradzi Ziburawa

The “stroke of the State” as per the French translation is often a swift, surprise strike, emanating mainly from those inside the government who have the means to use the State apparatus, especially the military or the police, to depose the incumbent.

Such a power transfer technology has been applied in Africa adinfinitum.

Following the precedent set by Brenhz veterans in Togo in 1963, the coup d’état, became a famous script in Africa accounting for 41% of the transitions in Africa between 1963 and 1990 (Leadership change data set 1960-2012).

During the Cold War, coup d’état came to be viewed as an acceptable and winning strategy in bargaining over power in Africa .

The post-Cold War era, however, saw the primacy of multi-partism in Africa and growing international condemnation and zero tolerance to coups by the then Organisation of African Unity and subsequently coups only account for 11% of transitions with multi-partism accounting for 72% of the transitions between 1990 and 2012 while other changes are accounted for by other mechanisms which are not subject of this discussion.

With Africa witnessing a decline in coup attempts and coup-inspired transitions, Zimbabwe in November 2017 reverted to the unpopular script by way of a conspicuous military-led transition, a situation that sets a dangerous precedent for the country and other southern African governments given the close ties between the military and revolutionary parties in these countries.

The army saved former President Robert Mugabe from major embarrassments, having been defeated in 2008 by the Morgan Tsvangirai-led MDC.

The army’s proximity to the powers has increased its weight over the years in political bargaining. After the formation of the MDC, the army’s top brass unashamedly announced that they would not salute anyone without military credentials and its weight was felt all over.

In a dramatic military intervention which saw tanks being rolled into the streets and Mugabe being put under house arrest, the military facilitated power transfer to Emmerson Mnangagwa. Mugabe has for the record claimed that for all essence, it was a military takeover.

Notwithstanding the fact that the military sophisticated the intervention as targeted on criminals around the President and also the High Court ruling that legalised the military intervention in retrospect, it is imperative to note that the script falls in line with all the major tenets of a coup. Sections 209 to 213 of the Constitution are crystal clear on the deployment of military personnel and assets during an emergency.

That Sadc and the African Union chose to look aside remains a subject of academic debate.

The militarisation of political bargaining in Zanu PF succession politics and subsequent removal of the incumbent in favour of a Team Lacoste faction leader wrongly legitimised the militarisation of political bargaining in Zimbabwe.
The decisive deployment of the coercive State apparatus in internal party political bargaining processes was a dangerous precedent in our body politic.

This historical footnote is essential in conceptualising the unnatural developments that befell the motherland at White City Stadium on June 23.

We applaud and join the worldwide condemnation of this act of terror and we convey our condolences to the families of the departed and the nation. We wish the injured speedy recovery

While the motive and details of the bombing are still subject to investigation and noting various propositions from the authorities and a wide array of pundits, what is clear is that the bombing had the potential to once again cause a sudden change of leadership by use of arms and force.

That the entire presidium was within metres of the explosion is a clear indicator on the possibilities of a sudden and swift change of leadership. Why so? And why now. What has befallen the fatherland?

Collier and Hoeffler (2008), scholars on civil war and conflict, have observed a common core of economic factors that underpins proneness to coups and rebellions.

These are, low income and lack of economic growth as well as reliance on primary raw materials.

Zimbabwe over the years has witnessed sustained economic decline and a negative economic growth rate.

It is telling to note that Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga cited the declining economic conditions and inattention to economic issues as one of the key justifications for Operation Restore Legacy, it also probably accounts for the popular backing to Mugabe’s ouster by Zimbabweans, a move which sophisticated the Zimbabwean coup.

It is also imperative to note that the post-coup government has failed to arrest the economic nosedive.

Further to the above core factors, following a coup, a country falls into “traps” − once a coup has occurred further events are likely to occur.

It is perhaps not surprising that the immediate post-independence period is littered with attempted assassinations on Mugabe, followed by a relative long period of relative stability and multi-party electoral transitions.

Regimes are likely to face a coup if they are just emerging from another coup. It is perhaps not surprising that we witnessed an attempt at the entire presidium barely a year after the November coup.

Purges in the security services often give rise to groups of disaffected elites with requisite skills, means and the potential of operating as dissident entrepreneurs. Expecting peace and stability after a military takeover is ahistorical.

Historical precedents also point to the potential of a fallout between coconspirators after a coup takeover.

It is perhaps not amiss that there was public speculation to the effect that it was an inside job.

It’s perfectly historical.

Cases in point of co-conspirators who fell out of favour with each other after taking power by force include Hissène Habré and Hassan Djamous and Idriss Déby in Chad in the late 1980s; João Bernardo Vieira and his chief of staff of the army, Ansumane Mané, in Guinea-Bissau in 1998; and Robert Guéï and Ibrahim Coulibaly in Ivory Coast in 2000, just to cite a few examples.

There is a general “commitment” problem as elites with control over means of force bargain over power and wealth.

It is instructive to note that the official considered explanations to the White City Stadium terror from presidential spokesperson George Charamba points to unresolved leadership issues from the 2017 November coup.

In the same vein, the presidential hunch points to the trappings. Both narratives confirm the coup trap.

While war scholarship points to a number of coup proofing mechanisms governments can employ, it is instructive to note that increased military spending is not one of them.

The solution does not lie in the military, as such, but rather emphasis is on the primacy of legitimacy, hence, the saying that every coup has to be cured.

It is in this context that the Zimbabwe Electoral Commisson is called upon to do Zimbabwe a favour by facilitating the return to legitimacy through a free and fair election. A return to constitutionalism is the only pathway out of the coup trap.

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