HARARE, Zimbabwe — Zimbabwe’s defense forces appeared to open the door Monday to the possibility that 93-year-old President Robert Mugabe could stay in power, after both sides offered “several guarantees” nearly a week after the military detained him, according to a top army commander.
Although Mugabe’s fate remained murky, the prospect that he might have survived a military takeover, historic opposition protests and removal from his own political party suggested once again his uncanny ability to hang on to power.
In a statement Monday night, Gen. Constantino Chiwenga, chief of Zimbabwe’s armed forces, said the military had held “further consultations with the president to agree on a road map” for the country. The plan includes the “expected” return of former vice president Emmerson Mnangagwa, whom Mugabe had fired earlier this month. The statement referred to Mugabe as the commander in chief and said the military was “encouraged by new developments.”
Mnangagwa’s dismissal triggered the military intervention last Tuesday, prompting thousands to take to the streets to celebrate what appeared to be the end of Mugabe’s rule. But on Sunday night, in what many expected to be a publicly televised resignation, the world’s oldest head of state instead delivered a meandering speech, making it clear that he had no intention of leaving the presidency.
Analysts said military commanders may have worked out a deal that would lead to Mugabe’s resignation after an interim period and his replacement by Mnangagwa, possibly during next month’s congress of the ruling ZANU-PF party. For now, the military’s vague statement about a “road map” left plenty of room for conjecture.
Mnangagwa’s return would appease a small but powerful segment of the ruling party. He has been a core member of ZANU-PF for decades, with strong connections to the security forces. But many Zimbabweans see him as corrupt and oppressive for having helped insulate Mugabe’s regime for years before their abrupt falling-out.
Chiwenga said Mnangagwa was “expected in the country shortly.” He fled to South Africa after being fired, apparently avoid the possibility of arrest.
Mugabe could still be forced out through constitutional channels. On Tuesday, lawmakers were expected to begin proceedings to impeach him, although it remained unclear how the military’s statement would affect those plans. Some members of parliament who support Mnangagwa could now back away from impeachment.
Both Mugabe’s military and civilian opponents appear eager to imbue any successor with an air of legitimacy that would be accepted by the international community. In its bylaws, a regional bloc of southern African nations includes strong language against coups.
“For years we’ve been victims of the lawlessness of the ruling party,” said Lovemore Madhuku, a professor of constitutional law at the University of Zimbabwe. “If we abandon the law to get Mugabe out, we are not safeguarding ourselves from more lawlessness in the future.”
Mugabe has taken the law into his own hands for much of his rule, encouraging his government to seize land belonging to white farmers by force and ordering the detention of his political opponents. Earlier this month, a 25-year-old American woman, Martha O’Donovan, was arrested for subversion after she allegedly insulted Mugabe on Twitter. Two weeks ago, four people were detained for booing his wife at a rally.
But when Mugabe’s own government finally turned against him, it declined to use the same brute force or extrajudicial power he has employed for years. Aside from wanting to avoid allegations of coup-plotting, Zimbabwe’s military may have been showing deference to the only president Zimbabwe has ever had and a hero of the country’s liberation struggle. In recent years, many critics of Mugabe’s leadership have blamed his wife, Grace Mugabe, who is often portrayed as a puppet master manipulating a senile man. Grace Mugabe was seen as angling to be her husband’s successor in the wake of Mnangagwa’s dismissal.
Amid the uncertainty, a debate is raging among legal experts and lawmakers about how long an impeachment process would take. Paul Mangwana, deputy secretary of ZANU-PF said it would take only two days. Madhuku said it would likely take months if the law were followed.
Mangwana said parliament would set up a committee responsible for impeachment on Tuesday and that it would issue its decision on Wednesday.
“The main charge is allowing his wife to usurp government powers,” he said.
But after the military’s announcement, it was unclear whether impeachment proceedings would move forward. If Mnangagwa is permitted to return to the country as a part of a military-led compromise, some anti-Mugabe members of ZANU-PF might accept a compromise that would keep Mugabe in power.
On Sunday, the party voted to remove Mugabe as its leader and expelled his wife for life, so accepting his role as head of state now would be a stunning about-face.
Source: The Washington Post