Unpacking the Power Vacuum: Who will rule Zimbabwe after Mnangagwa?

Mnangagwa and Chiwenga
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In my recent articles, I have delved into critical issues surrounding the political landscape under President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s presidency.

The first installment explored the nuanced narrative of a potential third term, highlighting its implications for a broader, potentially more ominous power dynamic. In the subsequent piece, I outlined five scenarios depicting possible conclusions to Mnangagwa’s tenure.

The rich discourse and engagement sparked by these articles have been both gratifying and enlightening. As an author, fostering robust debate and dialogue is paramount in my analytical endeavours.

The diverse feedback received from various audiences further fuels my dedication to this work, and I eagerly anticipate continued discourse. Please feel free to share your thoughts and feedback via the email provided below.

For this analysis, I delve into the pragmatic aspect of succession following President Mnangagwa’s tenure, both within Zanu PF and the State apparatus. I operate under the assumption that leadership transition within Zanu PF inherently translates to a transfer of state power.

Throughout my analysis, I present various scenarios, occasionally mentioning specific individuals. However, it’s essential to note that while names may vary, the underlying scenarios retain relevance.

This method underscores the importance of anchoring discussions on substantive factors rather than focusing solely on personalities. While individual agency remains a factor, it operates within a broader contextual framework that significantly influences outcomes.

Importantly, I also do not provide the likelihood of each scenario, rather that is the business of the debate which this article should trigger. Now let us unpack this conundrum!

Scenario 1: Smooth Transition of Power – Succession Protocol

In this scenario, President Mnangagwa respects the constitutional term limits and voluntarily steps down from both the leadership of Zanu PF and the presidency. Consequently, Mnangagwa refrains from participating in the Zanu PF leadership elections in 2027 and withdraws from the 2028 general elections.

The ruling party then conducts internal elections to select its new leader, who automatically becomes the presidential candidate for the upcoming general election. Currently, the second most influential figure within Zanu PF and the government is former army General Constantino Chiwenga.

Chiwenga played a pivotal role in the 2017 military intervention that facilitated Mnangagwa’s rise to power. However, Chiwenga’s position as Vice President, both within the party and the state, is contingent upon Mnangagwa’s approval.

Despite his current prominence, there’s a possibility that Mnangagwa could dismiss Chiwenga from his role, paving the way for another individual to ascend as the successor.

This scenario suggests a peaceful transfer of power, adhering to constitutional provisions, which would mark a significant departure from Zimbabwe’s history of tumultuous transitions.

The orderly succession would set a precedent for uncontested leadership changes within Zanu PF and the presidency. Although Chiwenga appears to be the frontrunner for the presidency in this scenario, internal party dynamics and Mnangagwa’s influence could ultimately determine the outcome.

Scenario 2: Nepotistic consolidation – Authoritarian rule

In this scenario, President Mnangagwa consolidates power by purging senior party members and potential successors within Zanu PF and the government, along with their supporters.

Following the purge, Mnangagwa orchestrates a Zanu PF Congress, likely in 2027 or earlier, where he secures the presidency of the party through manipulation and coercion.

Subsequently, Mnangagwa strategically selects a deputy, possibly someone with familial ties or a close ally, to serve as the party’s candidate for the presidency in the upcoming general election.

By handpicking a successor, Mnangagwa ensures that he maintains control over both Zanu PF and the state, effectively establishing a patrimonial regime where power is centralized within his inner circle.

Under this scenario, Mnangagwa’s authority would be unparalleled, allowing him to wield immense influence over state affairs and political appointments. However, such authoritarian consolidation is likely to exacerbate instability and lead to increased repression against dissenting voices and political opponents.

The beneficiaries of this scenario would primarily include Mnangagwa’s loyal associates, such as July Moyo, Winston Chitando, and potentially even members of his family, who stand to inherit positions of power within the state apparatus.

This nepotistic consolidation of power poses significant threats to democratic norms and the rule of law in Zimbabwe.

Scenario 3: Military Intervention – Unrest and Coup

In this scenario, escalating political turmoil within both Zanu PF and the government triggers a hostile takeover orchestrated by a rival faction opposed to Mnangagwa’s leadership. This faction forms an alliance with elements within the armed forces, reminiscent of the events of November 2017.

Amidst the chaos, General Valerio Sibanda emerges as the leading figure within the military and is positioned to take over as president. The military coup, if successful, would likely draw regional attention and scrutiny, like the international response following the events of 2017.

However, history has shown that regional bodies like the Southern African Development Community (SADC) may reluctantly accept such coups if they are strategically presented and justified and are done with minimal bloodshed and a veneer of popular support.

Recent examples from West African countries demonstrate that military coups can be executed with minimal regional intervention, especially when backed by decisive force.

Therefore, in this scenario, the hostile takeover could occur relatively swiftly, with the Zanu PF congress utilized to legitimize the new leadership and appoint a successor to Mnangagwa.

It is noteworthy that Valerio Sibanda’s recent appointment as an ‘ex-officio’ member to the Politburo underscores his growing influence within the ruling party and positions him as a leading contender to succeed Mnangagwa in the event of a military intervention.

This scenario highlights the fragility of Zimbabwe’s political landscape and the potential for abrupt shifts in power dynamics.

Scenario 4: Political torpedo – return of the G40 faction

Following Mnangagwa’s ascendancy to power in November 2017, the defeated G40 faction leaders were marginalized and some forced into exile.

Figures such as Saviour Kasukuwere, former Zanu PF Commissar, Patrick Zhuwao, former President. Mugabe’s nephew, Walter Mzembi, former cabinet minister, and Jonathan Moyo, a key strategist of the G40 faction, sought refuge abroad.

Although the G40 faction appeared to disband after Mnangagwa’s takeover, remnants of the group persist within Zanu PF’s ranks, while others are being readmitted into the party.

In this scenario, disgruntled members of the G40 faction may form alliances with other factions opposed to Mnangagwa, aiming to undermine his leadership.

This collaboration could see the return of prominent G40 figures to the political arena, with Saviour Kasukuwere emerging as a potential leader of this revived faction.

Additionally, Christopher Mutsvangwa, the current ruling party spokesperson who was recently dismissed from his ministerial position, may align himself with the G40 alliance to advance his own political ambitions within both Zanu PF and the government.

The resurgence of the G40 faction presents a significant challenge to Mnangagwa’s authority and stability within the ruling party. It underscores the complex and factional nature of Zimbabwean politics, where allegiances can shift rapidly in pursuit of power and influence.

In conclusion, the succession dynamics following Mnangagwa’s presidency remain uncertain, with multiple scenarios vying for prominence. These scenarios are not isolated but rather interwoven, potentially unfolding concurrently or in tandem with one another.

Moreover, each scenario presents distinct advantages and disadvantages for different individuals or factions. Understanding the intricacies of each scenario is crucial for grasping the nuanced power dynamics at play and anticipating their potential outcomes.

Through thorough analysis, I attempt to provide a navigational compass amidst the complexity of Zimbabwean politics, offering clarity to pro-democracy groups seeking to navigate this fluid landscape.

Equipping stakeholders with insights into these scenarios, I hope to empower them to engage in strategic planning and action that is informed, proactive, and conducive to democratic progress.

Pride Mkono is a political analyst, social justice activist, and strategist. He writes here in his personal capacity and can be reached on: pridemkono@gmail.com