- Picture Imperfect: Mugabe has removed Mnangagwa from sensitive posts
The picture does not tell it all. In public, Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe and his deputy Emmerson Mnangagwa can afford to appear cordial. But in private the two are at war with each other as a result of disagreements over who will succeed the ailing 92 year-old dictator.
Over the past six months, an isolated Robert Mugabe has been in a serious dispute with Mnangagwa, the man who has been the despot’s only connection to the nation and the outside world for several years.
Effectively, Mnangagwa has been removed from important roles such as handling foreign relations and the intelligence service, the eyes and ears of the regime that has kept Mugabe in power for 36 years. Those roles have been given to Mnangagwa’s rival, co-vice president Phelekezela Mphoko, who has chosen to work with the so-called G 40 faction of Zanu PF loyal to Grace Mugabe, Mnangagwa’s rival for the succession.
The ban by Mugabe on private Chinese Red Army diamond companies that had been appointed to mine in the rich Marange fields by Mnangagwa when he was defence minister is meant to be a coup de grace against his number two. Mnangagwa painstakingly put together the agreements with China in 2008, at a time when Mugabe needed Beijing to stave off United Nations sanctions.
War veterans, who are mostly loyal to Mnangagwa now say they fear there could be civil war in Zimbabwe if the dispute continues.
Afraid that he may be assassinated by internal and external enemies, or that he may be arrested if he wanders too much outside the country, Mugabe has abandoned the official state residence and rarely shows up at his office or at Parliament, preferring to conduct official business from his private Mobutu-style palatial villa in the upmarket Borrowdale Brooke neighbourhood, surrounded by millionaires and not the filthy masses he claims to draw support from.
Mugabe has used Mnangagwa to keep Zimbabwe under his control and to link up with the few foreign allies that he still has, chiefly Russia and China. The president addresses parliament only once or twice a year and does not allow MPs to question him. Week in week out, it is Mnangagwa who has to address the legislators.
Manangagwa did everything for Mugabe, from ensuring that he gets good champagne and de-caffeinated coffee as well as shoes for his wife, to getting supplies of military tanks and helicopters to pulverize the local opposition.
Ever since Mugabe was slapped with sanctions by the United States in 2001 and the European Union followed suit, along with Canada, Australia and New Zealand, he has used every public opportunity to scoff at them.
However, in private, he has used Mnangagwa’s huge network of sanctions-busters such as Billy Rautenbach, John Bredenkamp and the British criminal Nicholas van Hoogstraten to keep the regime’s high riders supplied with Western goods.
After rigging yet another election to stay in power in 2013, Mugabe secretly assigned Mnangagwa to court the Western countries with whom he has clashed over his record of misrule, political murder, violence and electoral theft.
The main purpose of the ‘re-engagement’ effort was to confuse the West. It was to buy time for a regime that is now all but bankrupt and try to open new lines of credit from multi-lateral institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund which the United States controls.
The policy has been a dismal failure. The attempt by Mugabe and his top officials to wriggle off an international travel ban and financial sanctions has hit a brick wall.
Mugabe is now an isolated man after he clashed with Mnangagwa. Without Mnangagwa to manage them and act as Mugabe’s diplomatic baggage man and courier, relations with China and Russia, the only significant world powers that have stood with Harare after the West pulled out, have deteriorated. Significantly, Mugabe told the Chinese president Xi Jingpin during a visit to Harare in December 2015 that he no longer trusted Mnangagwa. He went on to ban several Chinese Red Army firms that were mining diamonds in Marange after being invited by Mnangagwa when he was defence minister.
Mugabe, through his motor-mouth wife Grace Mugabe has accused Mnangagwa and the military generals that he controls of trying to assassinate him. That has not gone down well with the vice president, who also enjoys the support of the majority Karanga tribe from which he hails.
Since losing presidential elections to opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai in 2008, Mugabe has been ruling at the mercy of the army. After the disastrous loss of 2008, Mnangagwa took over as defence minister. He went about re-establishing strong military alliances with Russia, which supplied helicopters and China, which provided tanks and small weapons, all in exchange for diamonds, platinum and gold.
Mugabe now accuses Chinese army companies such as Anjin of looting diamonds valued at a whopping $15 billion. He has booted them all out of Zimbabwe, creating massive diplomatic fallout. It may be a ploy to fix Mnangagwa, but fixing the fixer has proved much more tricky than the wiley Mugabe anticipated.
This is not surprising. Mugabe was Mnangagwa’s school teacher in the 1960s. The pupil, it seems, has become wiser than his teacher.
Mugabe has become the jealous master after the European Union lifted sanctions on his deputy, who is now allowed to travel to Europe and even keep his family there while the dictator is not.
However, bringing down Mnangagwa has proved much more difficult for Mugabe than his predecessor Joice Mujuru, the former leader of a Zanu PF faction vying to succeed Mugabe. Mnangagwa himself says he has no ambition to succeed Mugabe. However, army generals and war veterans say they will go to war if Mugabe succeeds in installing his wife as his successor.
While Mugabe fights with his deputy, government programmes are in disarray. Parliament this week started debating an explosive motion brought by the opposition threatening to impeach Mugabe for failing to end faction fighting in his cabinet. The infighting has spelled disaster for the economy, with cabinet ministers and their cronies competing to spirit hard currency out of the country in anticipation of the end of what has been a long and very brutal dictatorship.
As another international outlaw, Osama bin Laden learned the hard way, the beginning of the end usually starts in a dispute with your minders, the people who scrounge the markets for the gangster-thug’s vegetables. Then your enemies can home in on your position.
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