A non-coup coup has apparently happened in the southern African country of Zimbabwe overnight. I noticed last night on Twitter that the military started to take control in the capital city of Harare, but denied it was a coup because they planned to target criminals around President Robert Mugabe.

This is HUGE. Mugabe has served as president/dictator since 1980 when the country achieved independence from Britain. The military claims it’s not a coup, but have placed Mugabe under house arrest

The Coup

Controversy has been brewing lately since Mugabe’s 53-year-old wife Grace has been trying to become the one to succeed her husband. It led to Mugabe dropping popular Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who fled to South Africa after his dismissal.

Two days ago, the military said it had prepared itself “to step in to end the turmoil in the ruling Zanu-PF party.” General Constatine Chiwenga recently went to China, Zimbabwe’s closest ally, to meet with military leaders. China did not confirm if they talked with Chiwenga about a military takeover.

On Monday, Chiwenga announced that leave for the defense forces had been canceled:

The situation in our country has moved to another level … To members of the Zimbabwe defence forces, all leave is cancelled and you are all to return to your barracks with immediate effect …

Let it be clear we intend to address the human security threats in our country. Therefore, any provocation will be met with an appropriate response.

The Guardian reported that Mnangagwa has returned to Zimbabwe. Grace is reportedly abroad, but that has not been confirmed.

From The New York Times:

After apparently seizing the state broadcaster, ZBC, two uniformed officers said in a short predawn announcement that “the situation in our country has moved to another level.” While denying that the military had seized power, they said that Mr. Mugabe and his family “are safe and sound, and their security is guaranteed.”

“We are only targeting criminals around him who are committing crimes that are causing social and economic suffering in the country in order to bring them to justice,” said the main speaker, who was identified as Maj. Gen. S. B. Moyo, the army’s chief of staff.

General Moyo — who was not widely known to the public but who was considered close to the commander of the Zimbabwe Defense Forces, Gen. Constantine Chiwenga — warned that “any provocation will be met with an appropriate response.”

The military has “blocked roads in central Harare around government buildings and the presidential residence.” Reports have stated that the military has detained Ignatius Chombo, the finance minister.

What’s Next?

Jason Burke at The Guardian said an opposition leader stated that “there was ‘a lot going on’, with the army reaching out to them to discuss the formation of a transitional government after Mugabe steps down.” Apparently these discussion have been occurring for months:

The official said Mugabe would resign this week and be replaced by Mnangagwa, with opposition leaders taking posts as vice-president and prime minister. There was no independent confirmation of his claim.

Zimbabwe’s fragmented opposition has not publicly condemned the military move. Nelson Chamisa, the deputy head of the opposition MDC party, called for “peace, constitutionalism, democratisation, the rule of law and the sanctity of human life”.

Tendai Biti, an opposition leader, called for a “roadmap back to legitimacy”.

“What is key is that a traditional authority is set up which is inclusive with the opposition and the ruling party … We need a dialogue too with [regional organisations], the African Union and the United Nations. We can’t solve this problem on our own,” Biti said.

Another Guardian correspondent said those in Zimbabwe are excited for a change:

“I don’t think [it] will get violent because they are doing this for the people, if they start shedding blood, [they] can’t do that any more. That is why they told people to stay away from [the] centre of town unless they have business, so troublemakers cannot stir things up,” he said.

The American embassy has encouraged all employees to stay indoors.

A conference for the ZANU-PF is scheduled next month. Those loyal to Mugabe have pushed for Grace Mugabe to be officially named vice president at the conference. The coup could very well have happened now in order to prevent that and bring back Mnangagwa. As Burke points out, the military feels threatened by Grace:

But there are others who have been sidelined. Senior soldiers fear they will suffer if Grace and her associates take over. They also believe she will be corrupt, vindictive and incompetent, and know that the first lady’s violent outbursts and extravagance – as well as that of her entourage and sons – have already made her very unpopular.

The soldiers are also concerned about a further massive deterioration of the economy. Inflation and the collapse of the Zimbabwean currency has already impoverished many rank and file soldiers, and hit the incomes of officers too. The wages of the millions of government employees – troops, police, civil servants and others – often go unpaid for months on end. This means the seizure of power today will be greeted by many with relief, if not enthusiasm.

Dictator Mugabe

Mugabe, 93, is the world’s oldest leader, but he has been nothing but a disaster for Zimbabwe. Back in 2009, The New York Times editorial board wrote an op-ed that said the dictator should stand trial for crimes against humanity:

Physicians for Human Rights sent a delegation to Zimbabwe last month. The team found that the Mugabe regime destroyed the country’s healthcare system and pursued policies that ruined what had been a vibrant agriculture, depriving all but a tiny elite of proper nutrition, water, and a sustainable livelihood. One result has been a cholera epidemic and the spread of other diseases.

The rights group is calling for the UN to pass a resolution instructing the International Criminal Court in the Hague to investigate Mugabe and his cronies. The group argues that Mugabe’s depredations meet the requirements for an ICC prosecution for crimes against humanity.

The life expectancy in Zimbabwe fell from 62 in 1990 to 36 in 2006.

Despite all of this, the World Health Organization (WHO) named Mugabe a good-will ambassador for health in October. Yeah, that didn’t last long:

Under Mr. Mugabe’s authoritarian rule, critics say, the country’s health care system, like many of its public services, has suffered badly, with hospitals frequently lacking essential supplies and nurses and doctors regularly left without pay.

Mr. Mugabe and Zimbabwe have also been slapped with international sanctions over human rights abuses.

UK activist Kelvin Kudenya wrote this past July that Mugabe should be jailed for his crimes:

He is responsible for nearly 50,000 deaths in Zimbabwe – both during the Gukurahundi and 2000s era.

This is obviously not including those who were maimed for life, abducted, tortured, sexually abused, had their homes razed…the list goes on.