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Why Mnangagwa may not be able to turn around Zimbabwe!

The way in which ZANU-PF has colonised the state over almost four decades means that there is a vast web of patronage networks that have been entrenched to facilitate the looting of the state’s resources.

Democratic change and clean government pose a mortal threat to these networks and such privileges are unlikely to be surrendered without intense resistance.

Mnangagwa’s ominous record makes it difficult to build a persuasive case that he represents a new beginning.

He served as Mugabe’s “chief enforcer” until November 2017. He was pivotal to the collapse of the rule of law and the implosion of the Zimbabwean economy. And he has been a central player in the gross human rights abuses that have characterised ZANU-PF rule. This includes the killings in Matabeleland killings in the 1980s. This is a past for which he has refused to acknowledge any responsibility.

His more conciliatory language has not matched his actions. After becoming president he appointed an administration of cronies, military hardliners and ‘war veterans’.

The appointments appeared to consolidate the power of the now dominant faction of ZANU-PF: the old guard securocrats who routed Grace Mugabe’s equally malign G40 faction through the barrel of a gun rather than democratic processes.

Having waited such a seemingly interminable length of time to land the top job, it is difficult to envisage Mnangagwa now placing his hard earned spoils at the mercy of a programme of democratisation.

The Zimbabwean Defence Force’s role in the removal of the president means that it has secured a place for itself as a privileged political actor and overseer of the entire political system.

The defence force has never been a neutral custodian of constitutional rule. Instead it has always been a highly politicised extension of the ruling party, a party militia in effect.

Previously its role was confined to repressing the ruling party’s opponents and maintaining the party’s dominance. The principle of civilian rule was respected even if this model of civil-military relations failed to meet any reasonable democratic standards. But with the coup, the military crossed a line. They determined the outcome of power struggles within the ruling party itself.

In the same way that the military has been politicised, the political system has been heavily militarised. This can be seen in the several key military veterans who have been appointed to the cabinet as well as Mnangagwa being the military’s candidate for the presidency. Essentially this is the civilian face of quasi-military rule in Zimbabwe.

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