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Chiwenga tightens grip on Zimbabwe government

by Staff reporter
22 Jun 2018 at 10:14hrs | Views
VICE President Constatino Chiwenga has been given new responsibilities to administer Zimbabwe's public procurement processes, anti-corruption drive and key components of the Home Affairs ministry, igniting debate about his increasing clout in government.

The announcement has also fuelled speculation that President Emmerson Mnangagwa was "coup-proofi ng" the country by placing the "entire security sector" in the hands of a man who engineered November 2017's military intervention and the Defence minister was recently entrusted with managing Zimbabwe's parastatal reforms. "Acts assigned to the vice president… are the Anti-Corruption Act (Chapter 9:22), Prevention of Corruption Act (Chapter 9:16), Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets Act (Chapter 22:23)," read the June 15 Government Gazette. "Assignment of functions… Statutory Instrument 19 of 2014, Assignment of Functions (Offi ce of the President and Cabinet) Notice 2016, published in Statutory Instrument 107 of 2016, and Assignment of Functions (Minister of Home Affairs) Notice, 2014, published in Statutory Instrument 26 0f 2014, are hereby repealed," it said.

With the new duties coming after Chiwenga is thought to have had a big say on key policy issues such as the cancellation of Geiger International's $1 billion contract to dualise the Beitbridge-Harare highway and with his allies in charge of the Command Agriculture programme, analysts say the reorganisation might also mean a "consolidation of power" by the ex-army commander and the military component of government was holding sway on key decisions, if not the country's political economy.

Piers Pigou, an International Crisis Group (ICG) senior consultant for southern Africa, said the latest development - although refl ective of the deep trust and cordial relations between the army and Mnangagwa - had a bearing on the power balance within government. "The concentration of further powers under VP Chiwenga will inevitably fan unresolved speculation about power dynamics within Zanu-PF and whether this refl ects a further concentration of power amongst the military-cum-civilian element in the executive. These new responsibilities may well have a greater chance of traction under the command-reform management style of Chiwenga, who appears to take no prisoners. A more robust approach may be just what Mnangagwa needs and intends," he said, adding the key thing was for this change "to be accompanied by transparency and due process".

"Although Mnangagwa does not command universal loyalty within Zanu-PF (the legacy of the succession battle between his Lacoste faction and the vanquished G-40), he likely remains the president with whom the army is most comfortable," Pigou said, before hinting that the latest reorganisation was also indicative of whether "the peaceful conduct of elections was dependent on the army's comfort with the July polls' outcome".

"Again, Zimbabwe is not unique in this respect (the same need for civilian politicians to work with military deep-states exists across many frontier and emerging market peers). This development comes at a time when there are multiple outstanding concerns about the state and direction of policing in the post-coup environment," the ICG researcher said, adding it must be remembered that Robert Mugabe fell after losing support from securocrats and "the army had taken great care to ensure constitutional compliance in the leadership transition".

"The government claimed in April that it was pursuing far reaching reforms in law enforcement agencies; does this move constitute these reforms? Is this a temporary measure or part of a broader centralisation of power within the presidency?" Pigou quipped. "This move does, however, provide us with a further framework of issues to assess Chiwenga's contribution and performance. This places a great responsibility on Parliament to hold his office to account if he remains in office after the elections," he said.

"One hopes the government will provide a very clear explanation for these moves as a way of providing clearer policy direction and… averting unnecessary speculation about the consolidation of power in the hands (of a few)." On the other hand, constitutional law expert Lovemore Madhuku said: "This is a powerful allocation because it removes these functions from the office of the president… into Chiwenga's portfolio. It means then that the president has given all this power to Chiwenga (and) he is the one calling the shots." Rashweat Mukundu, another political commentator, said the development also amplified the impression that civilian institutions were fast transforming or morphing into military ones. "…we are increasingly seeing a takeover of civilian institutions by the security sector (and while) Zimbabwe is over the coup, the military element has changed into politics, which is their right like any other citizen," he said.

"The key issue is that the constitution be respected and no… individuals are above the law, and (that) they remain focused on public service (delivery). I also think that changes to the Home Affairs ministry are part of power shifts in Zanu-PF..," Mukundu said, adding though, that there were potential concerns with the consolidation of the anti-graft crusade in the office of political leaders …what happens when the corruption does happen in Chiwenga's or Mnangagwa's office.

The anti-corruption drive must be outside executive control so that there are no sacred cows and it gains citizen trust," he said. According to parliamentary watchdog Veritas, the Public Procurement Act was not only fashioned to replace the old Procurement Act, but would also affect how certain local authorities managed their contracts and tenders. Political commentator Maxwell Saungweme said the reassignments were another confirmation that the military was "the power behind the throne".

"With those responsibilities, Chiwenga becomes the most powerful person in Zimbabwe as VP responsible for Defence and key elements of the Home Affairs department. If you marry this… with his statements that Operation Restore Legacy will end when Mnangagwa is voted into power in July, then there are fears of a return to the past," he said. Crucially, the assignment of the anti-corruption drive to the former commander was a way of ensuring that the military "could deal with party rebels and potentially mutinies appropriately", the security expert said. Apart from the defence and war veterans portfolios, Chiwenga will also be responsible for administering the anti-mines, chemical, former combatants compensation, national service, Geneva Conventions, defence, university acts and coordinating peacekeeping missions.


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