As reports of abuses by the military since the takeover began to emerge, the excitement and euphoria that many Zimbabweans greeted the end of Mugabe’s rule quickly fizzled out to be replaced by uneasiness and uncertainty. Allegations are rife that between November 14 and 24, the army arrested and detained a number of Mugabe’s associates without providing information about the arrests, or places and conditions of detention. Since the military takeover, soldiers have not returned to the barracks, but instead are now involved in policing the streets. This is the same military that has been credibly implicated in rights violations against the general population during the Mugabe years. Mugabe openly encouraged partisanship of the military as a tool for maintaining his grip on power. The new president, Mnangagwa, assumed office with military backing, and appointed two army generals to cabinet, Air Marshal Perence Shiri, and Maj. Gen. Sibusiso Moyo. This raised concerns about Mnangagwa’s independence from the armed forces, suggests further entrenchment of the military in civilian affairs.
Legalization of Military Involvement in National Politics
On November 24, High Court Judge George Chiweshe ruled that the military intervention that led to Mugabe’s ouster was lawful under Zimbabwe’s constitution. Whatever the merits of the ruling, the judgment could embolden the military to carry out further incursions in Zimbabwe’s political or electoral affairs in the future. The highly partisan stance of Zimbabwe’s military leadership, particularly without meaningful security sector reforms, significantly reduce the chances that free, fair and credible elections can be held.
The military has a long history of partisanship with the ruling party, ZANU-PF, interfering in the nation’s political and electoral affairs in ways that adversely affected the ability of citizens to vote freely. The partisanship of the security forces’ leadership has translated into abuses by these forces against civil society activists, journalists, and members and supporters of the opposition political party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).
There is an urgent need, ahead of the elections, for Zimbabwe’s Constitutional Court to review Judge Chiweshe’s ruling, and ensure that members of the security forces observe strict political neutrality. Failure to ensure a professional, independent and non-partisan role for the security forces may make it difficult to deliver the elections needed to put Zimbabwe on a democratic and rights-respecting track.
Zimbabwe’s Re-engagement with the International Community
Following the military takeover, the leadership of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) called on all stakeholders in Zimbabwe to peacefully resolve the nation’s political challenges. SADC leaders also welcomed Mugabe’s decision to resign, pledging to support the 2018 elections.
While the African Union initially condemned the military takeover, the regional body later welcomed Mugabe’s resignation. The AU said it recognized that the Zimbabwean people have expressed their will that there should be a peaceful transfer of power and Mugabe’s decision to resign paved the way for a transition process, owned and led by the people of Zimbabwe.
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