- Nigeria, UK, US others call for calm, respect for Zimbabwe’s constitution
Okechukwu Uwaezuoke, Tobi Soniyi in Lagos and Omololu Ogunmade in Abuja
With the Zimbabwean military insisting that its intervention in the southern African country’s politics Wednesday was not a military coup d’état, indications were that the troubled nation might be exploring an interim administration as an option out of the apparent political logjam.
The military had rolled out the tanks in the early hours of Wednesday, placing President Robert Mugabe and his wife, Grace, under house arrest in an apparent forceful takeover of government that was greeted by muted reactions from the globe’s leaders and international organisations.
President Muhammadu Buhari led the pack in urging caution, calling for calm, peace and respect for the constitution of Zimbabwe.
The governments of the United Kingdom, United States, China and South Africa were similarly inclined with the United Nations (UN), European Union (EU) and African Union (AU) urging an amicable resolution of the impasse.
Perhaps aware of the substantive objection of the world order to unconstitutional takeover of government and the abiding commitment to democratic rule, Zimbabwean military leaders have been strident in their claim that their action was not a coup.
“We assure the world that this is not a military takeover of government,” an army spokesman said in a televised statement on state television network, adding: “We are only targeting criminals around him (President Mugabe) who are committing crimes that are causing social and economic suffering in the country in order to bring them to justice. As soon as we have accomplish our mission we expect that the situation will return to normalcy.”
Addressing Mugabe as the president and commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces, the military spokesman gave assurances that the president and his wife were safe and sound and that their security were guaranteed.
Although the military spokesman did not give details of how the soldiers would carry out their mission, informed analysts warned Wednesday that the military itself might have been sharply divided, leaving the country with no other option than an interim arrangement that would be based on a power sharing arrangement between the emerging contending forces.
Zimbabwe slipped into the current impasse, following the sacking of Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa by Mugabe in what many opposition politicians see as concealed move by the president to position his wife to take over power in 2018.
The sack immediately attracted a threat by the head of the Armed Forces of Zimbabwe, General Constantino Chiwenga, warning that the military would not hesitate to step in if the issue had to do with protecting the revolution.
Mnangagwa, a veteran of the liberation wars that won independence for Zimbabwe, is reportedly widely respected in the older cadre of the military while Mugabe’s wife, Grace, too is said to be popular among the youths of the ruling ZANU-PF with strong influence among younger elements in the military.
The military, therefore, would appear not unanimous, a situation that is said to be heading the nation towards an interim arrangement if the country is not to descend into chaos.
Nigeria’s President Buhari in a statement by his media adviser, Mr. Femi Adesina, urged all political and military stakeholders in Zimbabwe to avoid any action that might plunge the country into unnecessary conflict and impact negatively on the entire region.
According to Buhari, “Every attempt must be made to resolve all contentious issues by constitutional means in Zimbabwe to save the country from avoidable political instability.”
South African President Zuma also called for caution, asking Zimbabwe’s defence forces to show restraint.
He expressed hope that the military would not move and do more damage.
He said: “I am hoping that the situation is going to be controlled so peace and stability comes back to Zimbabwe.”
Zuma’s office said the South African’s president would send special envoys to Zimbabwe and Angola in the light of the unfolding situation in the Republic of Zimbabwe.
Zuma is the chairman of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) which includes Zimbabwe and 14 others.
“The President is sending the Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, Ms. Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, and the Minister of State Security, Adv Bongani Bongo, to Zimbabwe to meet with President Robert Mugabe and the Zimbabwean Defence Force,” Zuma’s office said.
From Britain also came words of caution. Its Foreign Secretary, Mr. Boris Johnson, said it was crucial for Zimbabweans to refrain from violence.
According to him, “At the moment it’s very fluid and it’s hard to say exactly how this will turn out. I think the most important point to make is that everybody wants to see a stable and successful Zimbabwe. I think we’re really appealing for everybody to refrain from violence. That’s the crucial thing.”
The United States advised its citizens living in the country to “shelter in place” until further notice and urged its embassy’s staff to remain in their homes until the situation improves.
China said to be Zimbabwe’s biggest trading partner, said it was closely watching the situation and expressed the hope that the relevant parties could properly handle their internal affairs.
The UK government also asked its citizens living in Harare to remain safely at home or in their accommodation until the situation becomes clearer.
It said: “Due to the uncertain political situation in Harare, including reports of unusual military activity, we recommend British nationals currently in Harare to remain safely at home or in their accommodation until the situation becomes clearer. “
The European Union toed a similar line, calling for a peaceful resolution to the crisis in Zimbabwe.
“The recent political developments in Zimbabwe, and their spillover, including in relation to the country’s security forces, are a matter of concern,” an EU spokesperson said, adding: “We call on all the relevant players to move from confrontation to dialogue with the aim to a peaceful resolution.”
While the United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres appealed for calm, non-violence and restraint, Sky News quoted an unnamed African Union (AU) spokesman as saying that the takeover in Zimbabwe had all the elements of a coup.
More specifically, however, African Union leader Alpha Conde, who is also Guinea’s president, said the AU condemned the actions of military chiefs in the southern African country, adding that they were “clearly soldiers trying to take power by force”.
“The African Union expresses its serious concern regarding the situation unfolding in Zimbabwe,” he said, before demanding “constitutional order… be restored immediately” as he called “on all stakeholders to show responsibility and restraint”.
The insurrection in Zimbabwe, which the military’s supporters called a “bloodless correction”, had effectively ended Mugabe’s 37-year long rule.
The roads leading to the main government offices, parliament and the courts in central Harare were blocked by armoured vehicles and the country’s radio station seized even as taxis ferried commuters to work nearby.
The calm atmosphere in the capital belied the tense political climate even as there was a cloud of uncertainty around the whereabouts of the 93-year-old Mugabe and his wife, although one of the coupists, Major General Sibusiso Moyo, according to AP, said they were being held by the military.
But BBC had reported South African President Jacob Zuma as saying the nonagenarian had been placed under house arrest in Harare. A statement from the South African leader’s office, according to BBC, also said that Mugabe had told Zuma in a phone call that he was fine.
There were also speculations that the military intervention might be a bid to replace Mugabe with his sacked deputy, Mnangagwa, as troops, who said they were targeting “criminals” were seen patrolling the streets of Harare.
On Monday, Chiwenga had stated his preparedness to “step in” to end a purge of Mnangagwa’s supporters. “We must remind those behind the current treacherous shenanigans that, when it comes to matters of protecting our revolution, the military will not hesitate to step in,” he was quoted by Reuters as saying.
Coming on the heels of his threat on Tuesday, four armoured tanks were seen heading towards Harare.
Touted as Mugabe’s likely successor before he was fired on November 6, the ousted Mnangagwa was a long-serving veteran of the southern African country’s liberation wars of the 1970s. His ouster was seen as a ploy to pave the way for Mugabe’s wife, Grace’s eventual succession of her husband.