The Members Of Zimbabwe’s New Cabinet: Old Wine In New Wineskins?

On November 22nd, a scenario that seemed impossible to Zimbabweans came true. In a televised address, the Speaker of the Parliament, Jacob Mudenda, read President Robert Mugabe’s resignation letter, effectively ending his 37-year reign in power. The news, as expected, was met with much excitement, leading to streets parties celebrating the endless possibilities as a result of this momentous occasion.

Mugabe’s resignation came as a result of a “non-military, military coup” in which the military took over the capital city of Harare to defend their primary interest, the reinstatement of Emmerson Mnangagwa into political power. He served as Mugabe’s Vice President for almost three years until he was fired to create the space for Mugabe’s wife, Grace, to be the future President of Zimbabwe.  Two days after the second most important day in Zimbabwean history, the defeat of the white minority government in 1980, Mnangagwa was sworn in as President until the official election in 2018.  Zimbabweans, both internally and abroad, expect Mnangagwa to perform miracles within the next couple of months. The sentiment shared by many who took to the streets on November 22nd is that he must repair the economic damages prolonged by the Mugabe regime. By the time Mugabe left office, only 10% of the youths could find jobs in the country.

Mnangagwa’s new cabinet

After a week in power, Mnangagwa’s first actions as the President of Zimbabwe is raising many questions about the country’s future. After dissolving the cabinet, he appointed senior military figures to high profile positions. Sibusiso Busi Moyo, a brigadier general who addressed the public in a televised speech insisting that the events that led to the eventual demise of Mugabe did not amount to a ‘military coup,” now heads the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Perence Shiri, the current head of the Zimbabwean Air Force, is the Minister of Agriculture and Land Affairs.  Other key members of the War Veterans’ Association, who welcomed the end of the Mugabe’s regime and Mnangagwa’s Presidency, were given cabinet positions including Chris Mutsvangwa, the association’s party chief , who leads the Information Ministry. With the rise of military officials to high government positions, there are no members of the opposition parties appointed to cabinet positions.

It should not come as a surprise that Mnangagwa chose to appoint these military officials and members of the War veterans’ Association.  All of them are not only liberation movement heroes but also have been part and parcel of his ascension to power.  Additionally, when Mugabe enjoyed the favours of the military and War Veterans’ Association, these same officials took extreme measures to prop up his regime.  Mr Mnangagwa and Mr Moyo were instrumental figures in the re-election of Mugabe during the runoff presidential election in 2008. These military officials lead a brutal campaign to intimidate, torture and kill individuals who stood in Mugabe’s way. This purge resulted in the deaths of hundreds of supporters of the opposition MDC whose leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, had won the first round of the elections. In fact, Moyo is among the individuals close to the erstwhile President who were slapped with sanctions in 2009 by the Australian government for their actions leading to the presidential elections.

In addition to strengthening Mugabe’s hold to power, Mr Mnangagwa, nicknamed the ‘crocodile’ due to his brutal suppression of opposition including the Gukurahundi Massacre in the 1980s, Sibusiso Moyo, and Perence Shiri were implicated in a UN 2002 report regarding diamond smuggling from the Democratic Republic of Congo. The report stated the three individuals, and other key government officials were part of the “inner circle of Zimbabwe Defense Forces (ZDF) diamond traders who have turned Harare into a significant illicit diamond trading centre.”

Zimbabwe’s future

Mnangagwa’s presidency exemplifies a major crossroad in Zimbabwe’s history. As earlier stated, the transitional government is expected to perform miracles after economic stagnation as a result of Mugabe’s mismanagement of the economy. In general, a transitional government must ensure that the country does not fall into an unruly and chaotic struggle because of uncertainty about the nature of the regime.

The increased power of military officials is problematic at this early stage of Mnangagwa’s government. His decision to appoint these officials demonstrates that he is going to continue with some of the practices that Mugabe used to maintain power through the militarization of the state. Like Mugabe, he seems to understand that the best way to maintain power is through two key organs of authority; the ruling party (ZANU-PF) and the security forces.  Additionally, the strengthening of the military power ensures that the military does not lose its assets in the mining sector both in Zimbabwe and the DRC.

The appointment of the military generals and the continuation of the militarisation of the state dims the light on the future of the Zimbabwe, once known as the Jewel and the breadbasket of Africa.   Although it is too soon to determine what direction Mnangagwa’s government is going to take, the first look down the rabbit hole is not a pleasant one.

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