Zimbabwe crisis: What’s next for President Robert Mugabe and country’s political crisis

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ABOVE: Zimbabwe army says it has taken power, Mugabe ‘safe and sound’ – Nov 15, 2017

Zimbabwe is under control by the country’s military after saying it had placed President Robert Mugabe under house arrest in what army generals insist is not a coup.

Early Wednesday, the military announced on the country’s national broadcaster it had taken the president and his family to an undisclosed location while it targets the “criminals” that have surrounded themselves around Mugabe.

“Mugabe and his family, are safe and sound and their security is guaranteed,” Major General Sibusiso Moyo said in the televised statement. “We are only targeting criminals around him who are committing crimes that are causing social and economic suffering in the country in order to bring them to justice.”

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Mugabe, 93, has been the country’s only ruler since Zimbabwe gained its independence nearly four decades ago. In the lengthily statement, Moyo insisted the military intervention wasn’t a coup and hinted it was the beginning of the process to restore democracy to the country.

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An armed soldier patrols a street in Harare, Zimbabwe, Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2017. Stringer/AP Photo

“As soon as we have accomplished our mission we expect that the situation will return to normalcy,” Moyo said. “To both our people and the world beyond our borders, we wish to make it abundantly clear that this is not a military takeover of government.”

Last week, Mugabe turfed Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who was thought to succeed the president, over fears he was plotting to assume power since 2014, even consulting witch craft in the process.

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Robert Mugabe says he has no intention as stepping down as President of Zimbabwe – Feb 21, 2017

According to the Associated Press, Mnangagwa fled Zimbabwe after “incessant threats” to him and his family. Mnangagwa’s exit had cleared a path for Mugabe’s wife, Grace, to succeed her husband, a succession strongly opposed by senior ranks in the military.

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On Tuesday, Zimbabwe’s ruling party accused army General Constantino Chiwenga of “treasonable conduct” after he slammed Mugabe for sacking the vice-president.

So, was Mugabe ousted by military coup?

“It’s not, in a sense, that military is ousting the government party, that’s not what’s happening,” Mark Manger, associate professor at the Munk School of Global Affairs, said.

Manger explained the Zimbabwe’s governing party, Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (ZANU–PF) was divided into two major fractions, one being the “old guard” surrounding ousted Mnangagwa and supported by General Chiwenga. The other faction being a younger crowd looking to align with Mugabe’s wife.

READ MORE: Zimbabwe military deny takeover, says President Robert Mugabe safe

“They are portraying that he’s not under house arrest, but he’s being held in a secure place for his own protection,” Manger explained. “The army is stepping in to protect these criminals who have surrounded him.”

Grace Mugabe, who is 41 years younger than her husband, has become increasingly active in public life in what many say was a process to help her eventually take the top job, which is worrisome to many.

President Robert Mugabe’s wife Grace and Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa attend a gathering of the ZANU-PF party’s top decision-making body, the Politburo, in the capital Harare, February 10, 2016. Reuters/Philimon Bulawayo

“It’s either her or one of her sons,” Manger said of the possibility of Grace gunning for leadership.

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What’s next for Zimbabwe?

But following the army’s dramatic seizure of power and reports that Mnanagagwa had left South Africa where he has been since his dismissal, Mnangagwa could be preparing to return to Zimbabwe and assume a leadership role.

Manger suggests there will be a “purge of people around Grace Mugabe” but what will happen may depend on what the president says following the military actions.

“If he resumes command, then this could be disastrous for military leadership and Mnangagwa,” Manger predicted. “But if they somehow make him go along with it, then it’s going to very clear that Grace Mugabe is going to be essentially removed the perceived power she had.”

–with files from Agence France Presse

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