Mnangagwa keeps Chiwenga in check

HARARE – The new Cabinet announced by President Emmerson Mnangagwa on Friday last week significantly dilutes Vice President Constantino Chiwenga’s influence in the security sector, the Daily News can report.

By Fungi Kwaramba

In the previous Cabinet which presided over the country’s affairs between November 2017 and last month, Chiwenga was responsible for the ministry of Defence — apart from being Mnangagwa’s deputy.

As Defence minister, he also had oversight over former liberation war fighters.

In his first Cabinet as an elected leader, Mnangagwa made fundamental changes to his line-up, including the appointment of Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri to the Defence ministry.

Analysts canvassed by the Daily News said Muchinguri-Kashiri’s epic appointment as the first woman to lead the Defence ministry in the country history, corrects an illegality that had been created by the previous arrangement while at the same time calming the international community which was apprehensive about Chiwenga’s role in Mnangagwa’s administration.

Alex Magaisa, a constitutional law expert, said while Mnangagwa has dealt with an illegality by removing Chiwenga, the move could also be viewed as a dilution of the vice president’s powers.

“Being in charge of the ministry of Defence gave the former soldier close proximity to the defence forces, which he commanded to execute a coup against Mugabe,” said Magaisa, referring to the Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF)’ intervention in November last year, which ended Mugabe’s iron-fisted rule.

Chiwenga was the ZDF commander at the time.

“Chiwenga’s role in Defence appears to have muddied waters over the chain of command. There were many questions following the deployment of the army on August 1, which led to the killing of civilians. Physically, Chiwenga will now have to vacate Defence House where he allegedly retained an office since his retirement from the military,” opined Magaisa.

The international media has particularly carried a number of stories in recent weeks that seem to point fingers at Chiwenga as a problem in Mnangagwa’s quest for international approval, which worsened after the August 1 killings.

The United Kingdom has publicly expressed its disquiet with Chiwenga, breaking with diplomatic etiquette last month by calling for his ouster from Mnangagwa’s government.

This was after the army used brute force to disperse protesters in central Harare, who were demonstrating against delays in the announcement of results from the July 30 harmonised polls.

At least six people died as a result.

Magaisa opined that as Mnangagwa charms international capitals, Muchinguri-Kashiri’s appointment to the Defence ministry could be meant to mask Chiwenga’s continued influence behind-the-scenes.

“So it may not be a whittling down of power after all. These sceptics see Muchinguri as a mere figurehead in the greater scheme of things, with no real influence over the military. The role could have been given to another former senior soldier, retired air marshall Perrance Shiri, who retained his portfolio in agriculture,” said Magaisa.

Political analyst Maxwell Saungweme said it must have taken Mnangagwa a lot of courage to ring the Cabinet changes that have been welcomed by his friends and foes alike.

“I think this move will also help not only cutting Chiwenga to size, but also only giving him what he is capable of doing, being a deputy president with no policy to administer. We are all aware of Chiwenga’s limitations as far as the art of statecraft and diplomacy are concerned, and loading him with a full Defence ministry was a mistake Mnangagwa had done, which he came back to fix,” said Saungweme.

“This will ensure that Mnangagwa has full power of commander-in-chief and General Valerio Sibanda plays his role as the head of military forces. This will also help address the scaring lack of cohesion in command structure of security forces that we saw on August 1. I am sure the findings of the Commission of Inquiry set on the shooting of August 1, will also help Chiwenga accept the reality that he should just remain a vice president and not have control of the army”.

Renowned international academic Stephen Chan said Chiwenga might still have control of the army but through proxies.

“The so-called big news about Chiwenga losing the defence portfolio does not mean he has lost access to the military. He retains very strong influence there. So let’s say that the Cabinet, like the election itself, just avoids a ‘run off’,” said Chan.