Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Has there been a military coup in Zimbabwe?

Before the Zimbabwean elections on March 29, a number of senior military and police figures indicated that, whatever happened, the political opposition would never be allowed to take power. These statements clearly amounted to a threat that an opposition victory would be met by a military coup--Mugabe and his ZANU-PF mafia would simply abandon the facade of elections and representative government and move to undisguised dictatorship.

Such things have happened before, after all. In 1990 the Burmese military dictatorship was forced by popular and international pressures to hold elections, in which they were massively defeated by opponents of the dictatorship led by Aung San Suu Kyi. They responded by ignoring the election results, putting Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest, and intensifying their repression. As far at they're concerned, this has worked out fine for them.

On the surface, this kind of "Burmese" solution hasn't happened in Zimbabwe, at least not yet. Instead, the long-delayed official election results acknowledged that the opposition got more votes than the ruling party (though these results were clearly fiddled with to reduce the opposition's lead) and Zimbabwe is officially is officially scheduled to have a run-off election for President on June 27 (though the ZANU-PF power structure has unleashed an escalating campaign of violence, intimidation, and repression to make sure that the voters don't deliver the 'wrong' result a second time).

Under the surface, however, the story may be more complicated. A number of informed analysts are apparently convinced that there has indeed been a kind of "military coup by stealth" in Zimbabwe. That is, the regime's repressive apparatus is no longer acting simply as the instrument of Mugabe's rule, but is largely running the show on its own account, with Mugabe himself relegated to a more secondary role. To quote some highlights from the article below, which presents the strongest version of this interpretation:
The campaign of terror sweeping Zimbabwe is being directly organised by a junta that took over the running of the country after Robert Mugabe’s shock election defeat in March.

Details of the organised violence are contained in a report released today by Human Rights Watch, corroborated by senior Western diplomats who describe the situation in Zimbabwe as a “military coup by stealth”.

The human-rights group and the diplomats name Zimbabwe’s effective rulers as the Joint Operations Command, a shadowy security politburo made up of military and police generals, senior intelligence officers, prison service officials and leaders of the ruling Zanu (PF) party. [....]

A senior Western diplomat traced the military takeover to the days after the March 29 election, when a stunned Mr Mugabe was preparing to stand down before the generals moved in. "The generals didn’t let him go," the diplomat said. "Afraid that Mr Mugabe’s departure would expose them to prosecution, they struck a deal guaranteeing his reelection." [....]

The military takeover has meant an explosion in the level of violence in Zimbabwe, as well as the de facto militarisation of food distribution prompted by last week’s ban on aid agencies. [....]
This analysis may or may not be overstated, but it sounds sufficiently plausible to be fairly terrifying. The implication would be that the Zimbabwean military and the rest of the ZANU-PF elite have ruled out any possible compromise with the political opposition that might weaken their own grip on power, and they are determined to do anything necessary to avoid losing power even if they take the country down with them. If so, then Zimbabwe may be headed toward a catastrophe even greater than what it has endured already.

Watching and waiting,
Jeff Weintraub
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London Times
June 9, 2008
'Military coup' in Zimbabwe as Mugabe is forced to cede power to generals
Shadowy politburo instigates campaign of terror

Catherine Philp, Diplomatic Correspondent

The campaign of terror sweeping Zimbabwe is being directly organised by a junta that took over the running of the country after Robert Mugabe’s shock election defeat in March.

Details of the organised violence are contained in a report released today by Human Rights Watch, corroborated by senior Western diplomats who describe the situation in Zimbabwe as a “military coup by stealth”.

The human-rights group and the diplomats name Zimbabwe’s effective rulers as the Joint Operations Command, a shadowy security politburo made up of military and police generals, senior intelligence officers, prison service officials and leaders of the ruling Zanu (PF) party.

The report maps a chain of command leading down from the JOC to senior officers responsible for individual regions, and the local politicians and so-called “war veterans” and Zanu (PF) youth militias who carry out much of the violence as a proxy military force.

The report said that the scale of the attacks exceeds anything seen previously during Zimbabwe’s long history of electoral violence, and that for the first time militias are being armed with weapons such as AK47s, hand-guns and rifles. They have also used military transportation and even attacked from military bases.

A senior Western diplomat traced the military takeover to the days after the March 29 election, when a stunned Mr Mugabe was preparing to stand down before the generals moved in. "The generals didn’t let him go," the diplomat said. "Afraid that Mr Mugabe’s departure would expose them to prosecution, they struck a deal guaranteeing his reelection."

“This is a military coup by stealth,” the diplomat said. “There are no tanks on people’s lawns, but the Joint Operations Command runs this country.”

The military takeover has meant an explosion in the level of violence in Zimbabwe, as well as the de facto militarisation of food distribution prompted by last week’s ban on aid agencies.

Witnesses interviewed by HRW identified numerous senior security officers who report directly to the JOC as being involved personally in the violence, suggesting they are carrying out orders from above. Police involved in the attack on American and British diplomats last week were quoted as saying that their orders came “directly from the top”. Documents leaked by disgruntled army officers name 200 of them, each assigned an area to oversee in Operation Makavhoterapapi? or Operation Where Did You Put Your Vote?, a campaign to punish those who voted for the Movement for Democratic Change, particularly in traditional Zanu (PF) strongholds, and to prevent them from voting in the June 27 presidential run-off when Mr Mugabe goes head to head with Morgan Tsvangirai, the opposition leader.

The use of the “war veterans” and youth militias as proxy forces was intended to cover up the State’s role in the violence. But in many cases documented by HRW, military involvement was explicit. Scores of attacks in Harare and surrounding townships have been carried out by uniformed soldiers. One victim described armed soldiers going from house to house in the township of Chitungwiza searching for MDC supporters and beating them: “I did not know my assailants, but they were in army uniform and drove an army truck. They were boasting of being given a three-day assignment to ‘bring hell’ to the people.”

Army officers have been personally involved in a number of “reeducation” meetings at which local residents are forced to renounce opposition and swear allegiance to the ruling party after being beaten and tortured. Beatings at such meetings account for at least eight deaths. The Army has denied any involvement in the violence.

The extent of Mr Mugabe’s acquiescence to the terror tactics remains unclear, but the moment he agreed to stay on, the diplomat notes: “Mr Mugabe became beholden to the generals to stay in power.”
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Searching for the truth

— Human Rights Watch was founded in 1978 as Helsinki Watch, to monitor the compliance of Soviet bloc countries with the Helsinki accords

— After growing to cover other regions in the 1980s, the various committees were united in 1988 as Human Rights Watch

— The charity, whose home is New York, is the largest US-based human-rights organisation

— Human Rights Watch shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997 for a joint campaign with other organisations to ban landmines

— Fact-finding teams visit countries where there have been allegations of human rights abuses. They visit the locations of abuse, interview victims, witnesses and others. The teams publish their findings in books and reports

— Researchers collected and corroborated stories of refugees from Kosovo and Chechnya, helping to shape the response of the international community to rights abuses there

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