Delicate negotiations in Zimbabwe may continue for a few more days

For the second time in less than ten years, the security services are again the supreme governing authority in Zimbabwe and have received political cover for their intervention by South Africa and China. This is according to Dr Robert Besseling of Ex Africa Business Risk Intelligence.

“Delicate negotiations on a political transition may continue for a few more days, after which a transitional government is likely to take steps to stem the country’s economic deterioration.”

Since the military intervention on 14-15 November, the Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF) have effectively taken control of the capital Harare, Besseling says.

“So far, the ZDF has avoided a counter-deployment by loyalist divisions in the security forces, such as the Presidential Guard barracked in Tynwald or the paramilitary police Support Unit based in Chikurubi. If either of these two divisions were to deploy in an attempt to roll back the ZDF’s intervention, the risk of running battles between security forces in Harare would significantly increase.

“The probability of this scenario will rise if the political negotiations between the ZDF and the president’s loyalist advisors drag out for several more days. However, most of the loyalist groups in the police, ZANU-PF, or the party’s Youth League have by now submitted to the ZDF’s intervention, while there is little support for the president among the population of the city of Harare. All these factors mitigate the risk of any sustained outbreaks of violence in the capital.”

Besseling adds that the Joint Operations Command (JOC), which staged a similar military intervention during the disputed general elections in 2008 is now the supreme governing authority in Zimbabwe.

“Almost all security chiefs have supported the military intervention, with the notable exception of Augustine Chihuri, who remains the current Commissioner General of the Zimbabwe Republic Police. The return of dismissed vice president Emmerson Mnangagwa to Zimbabwe since the ZDF’s intervention indicates that he is still the favoured candidate by the ZDF to head any new administration.

“Other potential candidates would include ZDF chief Augutino Chiwenga or compromise figures, such as Defence Minister Sydney Sekeramayi or dismissed Cyber-Security Minister Patrick Chinamasa. The latest military intervention is reminiscent of the JOC’s interference in the disputed 2008 general elections, when it encouraged President Mugabe not to step down and instead launched a violence crackdown on the political opposition.”

Besseling notes that the political opposition has backed the ZDF’s intervention, giving credence to reports that any successor administration will contain opposition leaders, such as Morgan Tsvangirai, Tendai Biti, and Joice Mujuru.

“The creation of such a unity government would allay some investors concerns and soothe relations with foreign partners, such as the UK, EU, and US, which to varying degrees still have targeted sanctions imposed on the country. A prominent economic or financial role for Biti in particular would be supportive of negotiations with multilateral financial institutions to allow Zimbabwe to return to the international financial system.”

According to Besseling, the delay in reaching an agreement with President Robert Mugabe to allow him to vacate his office is due to the complex patronage structure in Zimbabwe that has been shocked by the ZDF’s intervention.

“Many generals, ZANU-PF party leaders, and both local and foreign business people have benefitted economically under Mugabe’s presidency, whether from diamond mining, agriculture, or fuel distribution. The ZDF will have to allay concerns that it will unilaterally cancel contracts in key sectors that would disrupt the status quo.

“However, Chinese and South African political support for the ZDF’s military intervention is likely to assuage some of these concerns. China and South Africa’s support has been matched by muted reactions to the effective military coup by regional organisations, as well as by the US, UK, and EU. Such diplomatic support will embolden the ZDF over the next few days in case it will be forced to forcibly remove and indict President Mugabe.”

Besseling says that in the post-Mugabe era, contracts signed with close Mugabe associates and in particular those that did not support the ZDF intervention will face risk of cancellation.

“Cabinet ministers Ignatius Chombo, Savious Kasukuwere, and Jonathan Moyo, as well as ZRP General Chihuri, will face indictment and a review of their assets. However, contract frustration risks in the most important sectors, such as platinum and diamond mining, agriculture, and fuel distribution, will be mitigated by the political cover granted by economic partners China and South Africa.”

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