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Mnangagwa plots divisive constitutional coup

by Staff reporter
04 Mar 2024 at 18:43hrs | Views
ZIMBABWEAN President Emmerson Mnangagwa's strategy for a third term - practically a constitutional coup - is now gathering momentum and going full steam ahead after a brief retreat as the military regrouped soon after last year's general elections, Zanu-PF insiders say.

The process of seeking a third term usually begins by testing the ground, as Mnangagwa and his allies are currently doing, to see if the idea would be acceptable and then push it through, especially when the elected president is in his or her second term.

The third term issue is complex, yet has a high success rate in Africa. As at the end of 2020, as many as 24 sub-Saharan countries have made final attempts to change their constitutions through parliament.

Four countries' amendments did not go through. These are Zambia under Frederick Chiluba in 2001, Malawi under Bakili Mulizi in 2002, Nigeria under Olusegun Obasanjo in 2006 and in Burkina Faso under Blaise Compore in 2014.

By contrast, 20 sitting presidents succeeded in their third term bid.

So when the signs are positive, which Mnangagwa thinks they are now, the party is mobilised to push the agenda and then a legislative instrument is prepared and fast-tracked through Parliament for relevant constitutional amendments to be effected.

Zanu-PF has been handed a two-thirds majority in the National Assembly (Lower House) on a silver platter by the now suspended self-imposed opposition CCC secretary-general Sengezo Tshabangu. Even if it does not have a two-thirds in the Senate (Upper House), it has the capacity to mobilise it using a carrotand-stick approach to sail through the bicameral legislature.

Insiders say the third term move is back on track and is gaining traction under the new slogan "2030 vaMnangagwa vanenge vachipo!" (Mnangagwa will still be there in 2030).

This week, the ruling Zanu-PF Masvingo province intensified the campaign, urging Mnangagwa to extend his rule beyond his constitutional two terms as President of Zimbabwe. Party youths have been heightening the campaign of late.

Amid choreographed sloganeering, cheers, whistling and ululations, Masvingo provincial chairperson Robson Mavhenyengwa chanted the slogan "2030 vaMnangagwa vanenge vachipo!" to huge and deafening applause from the crowd.

The refrain is similar to what Mnangagwa and his allies came up with in 2018 looking ahead to his second term, namely: "Mnangagwa 2023! ED2023, Pfee!!!".

The 2023 strategy, which shocked the military command element that installed Mnangagwa in power through a 2017 coup, was tested and rolled out starting at a Zanu-PF annual conference at Mzingwane High School, Esigodini, Matabeleland South province, in December 2018.

The current choreographed campaigns show Mnangagwa himself and his political allies are behind the third term plot openly underway.

More rallies will be held to campaign for a third term.

During last year's elections, Mnangagwa's Zanu-PF allies pushed "ED2028", a political slogan similar to the one they came up with in 2018 saying "ED2023", urging him to go for a second term, only five months into his first elected term.

The third term strategy has three phases: Testing the waters; campaigns across provinces to gain popular backing and then the difficult part which is constitutional changes, insiders say. The roadmap on that is full of pitfalls and hurdles.

"The third term agenda is back on track. The President had retreated briefly as the military advanced after the elections. The appointment of Lieutenant-General Anselem Sanyatwe as the Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA) commander signalled the return of the army and Mnangagwa's withdrawal as Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga and the military gained momentum," a Zanu-PF official said.

"In December, it appeared Mnangagwa's third term bid is dead in the water as Chiwenga tried to flex his political muscle, especially during his wedding which was like a coronation or swearing-in ceremony. The President even indicated at the wedding that as his generation leaves the political stage, Chiwenga is the most tried and tested cadre to take over.

"However, after the festive season and his annual holidays during which the President reflected deeply on the issue, he came back rejuvenated to continue beyond 2028.

"Although part of his mind or heart tells him he must leave and allow Chiwenga to take over in 2028, the other part of his mind is saying it is not safe for him and his family to do so. Those around him, including the First Lady, are enjoying the fruits of power and don't want him to go. There are many reasons why Mnangagwa would not want to leave in 2028, ranging from security, money and protection — the Angolan experience is right in his mind."

The Zanu-PF official related to The NewsHawks what he meant by the Angolan experience. In 2014, the late Angolan long-time president José Eduardo dos Santos, who died in 2022, four years after the end of his 38-year rule, replaced Candido Van-Dunem as Defence minister with Joao Lourenco, former ruling MPLA secretary-general.

Van-Dunem had held the post since 2010. Lourenco, a retired general, ran the MPLA for five years until 2003 and then became First Vice-President of the National Assembly from 2003 to 2014. He later became Defence minister in 2014 and later President 2017.

 A mixture of military and party links and experience in 2011 led him to be widely tipped as a possible successor to Dos Santos, who had kept everyone guessing about his succession plans for decades.

But Dos Santos instead chose Manuel Vicente, a technocrat; former head of state oil firm Sonangol, as his running mate in a 2012 election, which the MPLA won easily.

 So when Dos Santos retired and passed on the baton to Lourenco in 2017, it was assumed the former strongman and his family would be safe.

However, Laurenco did not waste time before going after Dos Santos' family. Isabel dos Santos, the former president's daughter and Africa's richest woman worth US$3.7 billion at her peak in 2014, lost practically everything.

Between 2007 and 2010, at least US$32 billion of oil revenue went missing from Treasury, according to the International Monetary Fund, which later tracked most of the money to "quasi-fiscal operations." It was against this backdrop that his daughter, Isabel, became Africa's richest woman.

Angolan prosecutors charged Isabel with 12 crimes, accusing the fallen billionaire of causing state losses of around US$219 million while she was head of state-owned oil company Sonangol.

 In a 46-page indictment, the prosecutors detailed allegations that Isabel and her cronies used offshore companies, fraudulent invoices, forged documents and "exorbitant" salary raises to illegally pocket millions in 2016 and 2017.

The criminal charges against her included money laundering, embezzlement and tax fraud.

"This is what Mnangagwa fears the most," a Zanu-PF official told The NewsHawks.

"He is less worried about Gukurahundi because even if he goes no one is clean on that among top officials, but it pricks his conscience, which is why he is trying to address it."

The sweetness of power and worries about the Angolan experience, as well as Gukurahundi and other human rights abuses are forcing Mnangagwa to go for a complicated third term, but the army and the constitution stand in his way, insiders say.

African leaders' failure to hand over power when their mandatory term of office is over is commonplace on the continent.

Analysts say there are many reasons for this including addiction to power, abuse of state resources, human rights violations, fear of prosecution, lack of a strong opposition, absence of succession plan, and deliberate refusal to step down due to   authoritarian and kleptocratic tendencies.

But Mnangagwa would need Napoleonic power to overcome those hurdles, risking meeting his Waterloo.

Presidential spokesperson George Charamba, a political ally of Chiwenga, has denied the President wants a third term, which fits the agenda of his handler.

However, sources say from the beginning Mnangagwa admired and wanted to adopt Rwandan President Paul Kagame's model, including staying on for a third term.

 The British, who supported the 2017 coup which brought him to power, wanted Mnangagwa to be a Kagame to fix Zimbabwe which is badly broken politically and economically.

Kagame won a third term in 2017 amid protests by critics, accusing him of running an authoritarian project. His supporters point to the country's phenomenal economic growth and development to blunt that criticism.

The third term bid is even more appealing to Mnangagwa as he looks East, those close to him say.

Chinese leader Xi Jinping, whom he admires, was handed an unprecedented third term as president last year, capping an ascent in which he has become China's most powerful leader in generations since Mao Zedong.

However, the army is willing to take him head-on if he insists, the sources say.

To ensure a third term, Mnangagwa had put his ducks in a row through the controversial recent general elections he won by fair means or foul using the shadowy securocratic Forever Associates Zimbabwe (Faz) — not the military — and subsequent  appointments of family, friends and cronies into critical positions to control the levers of state power.

Before the recent elections, the sources say, there was a strong move by Mnangagwa to get rid of the army to win the polls through Faz without risking internal sabotage by the military.

The military was not just removed from the electoral process, but also from running key government ministries and departments, particularly the ministry of Defence itself.

For instance, to get a grip on Defence House, Mnangagwa removed permanent secretary Grey Marongwe and deployed his trusted ally Aaron Nhepera, a former Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) deputy director-general.

Nhepera acted as CIO director-general after retired Major-General Happyton Bonyongwe was appointed Justice minister by the late former president Robert Mugabe in 2017 in the twilight zone of his rule — last days of his reign.

After that, Nhepera was appointed Home Affairs permanent secretary before being moved to Defence where he swiftly moved to purge military deployees there as part of coup-proofing and paving way for a possible, but complicated third term.

However, the road to a third term would be complicated for Mnangagwa. He would need to make constitutional changes to extend his presidency beyond two terms.

 He would require not just a two-thirds in Parliament, but also a popular majority through a referendum as well.

Section 91 of Zimbabwe's new constitution, which came into effect in 2013, limits a president's tenure in office to two five-year terms.

Section 91(2) reads: "A person is disqualified for election as President or Vice-President if he or she has already held office as President under this constitution for two terms, whether continuous or not, and for the purpose of this subsection three or more years' service is deemed to be a full term."

Having been first controversially elected in 2018 before his disputed re-election last year in August, Mnangagwa would be ineligible to stand in the 2028 elections unless he comes up with a constitutional overhaul.

 The situation is complicated because even if Zanu-PF, which now has an engineered two thirds parliamentary majority in the National Assembly — courtesy to Tshabangu's disruption of the opposition CCC, but not in the Senate, manages to change the constitution, it still has to overcome the disincentive that such a change should not benefit the incumbent — a Herculean task.

Source - newshawks