By Dr Masimba Mavaza|In September 2017 Zimbabwe experienced a coup within a coup. Coup detat is a French word which means a strike on the state. A coup detat is usually an unconstitutional means of changing the status core. There were two coup sides in Zimbabwe and each side had its moments of success. The first group was led by Prof Jonathan Moyo with the aid of his colleagues Saviour Kasukuwere and Ignatius Chombo. In this group there were two people who were used as a strong back-up and to legitimise the coup. These two were the then First Lady and the president’s nephew. Two sides claimed to be all working in the interests of the president.
The mistake made by the group which romped in the president and his wife to their side was the expelling of everybody with war credentials. This move made the army side with the other group which was led by the now president. Then, the Armed Forces issued a constitutional declaration that gave the military the authority rather than either of the two candidates, leading to cries of a political coup d’etat, also known as a coup. This declaration was then neutralised by the statements that the army was targeting the criminals surrounding the president, however the president together with the criminals surrounding him were booted out.
It became a confusing but a very interesting state of affairs: the parliament instituted proceedings to impeach the president, while on the other hand common people thronged the streets calling for the president’s departure. Most people did not like the way the First Lady was carrying herself around; she had become a loose cannon and the president could not contain her. The takeover of the state by the civilians and none state officials instigated the army to act. Whether the army has left or not it remains to be seen.
It’s not the first time in recent memory that a military has taken over a government. For example, in December 2006, Fiji’s military did just that? In September of the same year, in a surprise move that troubled international leaders but seemed to have the support of the Thai people, a military coup d’etat removed the prime minister of Thailand from power. Thaksin Shinawatra was in New York, preparing to address the United Nations General Assembly as the leader of Thailand, when he found out he was out of a job. In a televised address, Shinawatra demanded that General Sondhi Boonyaratkalin — leader of the Thai military, orchestrator of the coup and self-appointed acting prime minister — surrender himself. The TV address ran short. The Thai military, suddenly in charge of all media outlets, cut him off mid-speech. The coup was a success.
What happened in Thailand was a bloodless coup. No one fired a shot. The way it unfolded is fairly typical of this type of coup: The acting leader, long accused of corruption and poor leadership, was out of the country, and the top military officials took swift action under cover of darkness. They took control of the Prime Minister’s residence and all government agencies. When Thailand’s population woke up on Wednesday morning, soldiers were everywhere, CNN was off the air, and there was a new prime minister in office.
What makes a forced changing of the guard a coup d’etat (French for “strike to the State”) as opposed to a revolution is that in a coup, there is usually no mass uprising. A small, elite group of leaders already within the government structure carries out a coup. In most cases, it is as much a shock to the people as it is to the deposed leader. When loyalties at the highest levels of the government and military are divided, a coup can be very bloody. But violence is not a defining characteristic of a coup. A coup is an illegal seizure of power — it unseats a leader in an unconstitutional manner. When, say, a president is impeached by parliament and removed from office, that’s not a coup, because impeachment procedures are set forth by the Constitution as a legitimate way of deposing a president. So to legitimise the coup in Zimbabwe an impeachment was underway and a coup became only an operation.
A coup is usually quick, quiet and relies heavily on the element of surprise. After securing government buildings and imprisoning or detaining (if he is in the country at the time of the coup) or exiling the deposed leader, the military declares itself in control, takes over the media in order to manage the flow of information and imposes martial law. A coup can then follow one of many paths. In some cases, the leader of the coup assumes temporary power until a new national leader can be chosen. (Sometimes, that temporary power ends up being not so temporary.)
In other coups, the leader of the movement simply installs himself as the new leader of the country — there are no new elections nor appointments planned. This often (but not always) results in a military dictatorship. But while coups are usually military in nature, they don’t have to be — Gaius Julius Caesar, for example, who ironically took control of Rome in a military coup, rendering the Roman Senate all but powerless, lost his power when several members of that Senate assassinated him in their own coup in 44 BC.
Sometimes, a coup has the popular support of the people, as was the case in the coup that brought the new dispensation in Zimbabwe in 2017. These are often the smoothest and least violent coups, when the acting leader is widely believed to be either corrupt, ineffective or both the populace will support anything which removes the incumbent. Still, even “bloodless” coups are not always bloodless. There are always some overzealous members of the force who will torture kill or abuse people. The coup that brought Pervez Musharraf to power in Pakistan in 1999 was truly bloodless. Musharraf was the highest ranking military official under Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. When conflict erupted and Sharif ordered the military to remove Musharraf (who was out of the country) from his post, the military refused to obey the order. On hearing the news, Musharaff immediately boarded a plane and headed back to Pakistan, but Sharif would not let him land. The military, loyal to Musharaff, removed Sharif from power so that Musharaff’s plane could land in Pakistan. Musharaff immediately took control of Pakistan, while Sharif settled into exile in Saudi Arabia. While in Zimbabwe the army general was in China his arrest was organised authorised by the president presided upon by the first lady and the Prof Moyo left in the hands of a willing Police, when soldier’s intelligence heard this whole process of realigning the country started.
Now the big question is do the strong man give up power voluntarily, what happens when a strongman replaces another strongman. Is the country faithful to the strongman or is the strongman faithful to the country.
Jammeh, who took power in a military coup in 1994, had initially suggested he would step down after the election, prompting gullible suckers in the international media to portray it as a rare bright spot in a rough year for democratic norms. But Gambians, reportedly on edge since the vote, knew better. Jammeh is one of the world’s most brutal and eccentric dictators, known for imprisoning and torturing opponents, peddling homemade AIDS cures, threatening the lives of people, and promising to rule for a “billion years.” This is not the sort of person who gives up power once he has it. Sure enough, Jammeh quickly changed his mind and demanded new elections.
This is a very dangerous situation, but sadly not an unfamiliar one in Africa. Post-election violence in the Ivory Coast after President Laurent Gbagbo refused to step down in 2010 resulted in 3,000 deaths and nearly half a million people displaced. Nigeria only saw its first peaceful, democratic transfer of power in 2015. Even Senegal, considered a beacon of democracy and stability in the region, nearly saw all of its progress derailed in 2012 when violent protests broke out after long time President Abdoulaye Wade had the constitution changed to allow himself to run for a third term. What will make Zimbabwe different from these countries?
An old video of Father Zimbabwe Dr Joshua Nkomo was saying the army is not a salvation army. Nkomo asked do you think the soldiers fought for freedom to give to someone else to enjoy. it is a scaring video. Will Zimbabwe be free and fair in elections?
Leaders, generally speaking, don’t give up power unless they absolutely have to. When democratic norms are weak, they’ll find a way to exploit that for their own gain. Usually, that’s not how the power dynamics work. Bashar al-Assad clings to power today, and will likely continue to, even as his country has disintegrated around his surprisingly durable regime. Vladimir Putin set up Russian term limit laws to allow him to stay in power until at 2024, longer than any Soviet leader except Joseph Stalin. Peaceful transfers of power are rare enough in Africa that a Sudanese billionaire has set up a generous annual prize to reward leaders who step down voluntarily: More often than not, he can’t find anyone to give it to.
Back in October, shortly after Donald Trump refused to affirm on a debate stage that he would accept the results of the November election, Mark Leon Goldberg wrote a post reflecting on a trip through Ethiopia in 2008, amid the jubilation caused throughout Africa by Barack Obama’s election. He recalled a local activist telling him, “Yes, Obama is great. But what we need are more John McCains — people who lose a close election and concede without starting a war.”
I’d only add that sitting leaders who are willing to give up power once they’ve acquired it are even more valuable, and shouldn’t be taken for granted
The president had promised that the elections will be free and fair but will the actions after the results be free and fair. the world looks at us with anxiety. We should appreciate that the way things are ZANU PF stands a great chance to win.
MDC is at cross roads. Madzore sang a prophetic song which said yamira pamuganhu kuti ndi. It has Chamisa who is popurlar in one area and hated in the other. Khupe who is flying her tribal card dividing MDC on tribal lines is splitting the votes. There is Mwonzora who has always been divisive and is backing Mudzuri. On the far right there is gogo who will hang herself if Chamisa wins. All this put together shows the greatest confusion in the opposition. Other parties who form the alliance are Job Sikhala MDC 99 where there is Job and his few wives who will obviously not vote for him, and then we have Ngarivhume who speaks loudly with five supporters and Mai Mujuru who will have none of it unless she is heading the coalition.
The confusion in the opposition only splits the opposition vote and strengthens ZANU PF this year’s elections are a gift to ZANU PF because since the formation of MDC this is the first time it is at its weakest. ZANU PF will cruise through to victory not because of the army but because we now have the weakest opposition graduated into resignations, and squabbles.
In all this it is Zimbabwe’s democracy which suffers.