Zimbabwe Army Eyes Transition as It Pursues `Criminal' Officials

(Bloomberg) -- Zimbabwe’s new military rulers are working on plans for a transitional government as they hold President Robert Mugabe under house arrest and round up officials of his former administration they describe as “criminals.”

The day after the military announced it was taking power, groups of soldiers and armored personnel carriers remained on the streets of the capital, Harare. Most business and stores were open and shoppers walked calmly in the city center. Parliament remained closed.

Zimbabwe Army Eyes Transition as It Pursues `Criminal' Officials

The key task of the military, headed by armed forces commander Constantine Chiwenga, is to name a transitional government quickly to restore some semblance of constitutional order and decide what to do with Mugabe, whose 37-rule left an economy that has halved in size since 2000, a severe cash shortage that’s choking businesses, crumbling infrastructure and a collapse in government services.

A leading contender to head a transitional government is Emmerson Mnangagwa, whose dismissal as vice president by Mugabe ultimately prompted the military to take over. It may include former Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa, who was fired last month, and possibly Joice Mujuru, who established her own opposition party after Mugabe dismissed her as vice president in 2014, according to Theophilus Acheampong, a risk analyst at IHS Markit.

Pro-Business

“A reinstatement of Chinamasa would indicate a more pro-business shift in policy direction,” Acheampong said.

The military has arrested a number of officials close to Mugabe’s wife, Grace, who heads a faction of the ruling party known as Generation 40, Zimbabwe’s Newsday newspaper reported Thursday, citing unidentified people familiar with the events.

They include Higher Education Minister Jonathan Moyo, and Saviour Kasukuwere, the political commissar of the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front, the Harare-based newspaper reported. Finance Minister Ignatius Chombo, party youth secretary Kudzanai Chipanga, and Central Intelligence Organisation deputy director Albert Nguluvhe have also been detained and are being held at an army barracks, it said.

Colonel Oversin Mugwisi, a military spokesman, refused to comment on the names of those arrested.

Security Operation

“Unfortunately these cannot be given as they may compromise our security operation,” he said.

It’s still unclear at this stage how the succession race will play itself out -- the military insists that it hasn’t orchestrated a coup or targeting Mugabe, and it’s possible that he may be be allowed to stay on as head of state for now if he reconfigures his administration. The fate of elections that were due to be held next year, with Mugabe standing as the ruling party’s presidential candidate, is also unknown.

The military will probably not prosecute Mugabe and instead allow him a dignified exit from the state, according to Alex Magaisa, a Zimbabwean law lecturer who’s based in the U.K. and helped design Zimbabwe’s 2013 constitution.

“It looks like the military or the people who are now in charge, obviously they have some respect for Mugabe -- he is someone who has led them for so many years,” Magaisa said in a interview with Bloomberg Television in London. “I think there is still some residual sympathy for him. They wouldn’t want to be seen to be mistreating him.”

Daily Life

Many ordinary people simply hope that the authorities can improve daily life in Zimbabwe, where an estimated 95 percent of the workforce is jobless and as many as 3 million Zimbabweans have gone into exile. The country doesn’t even have its own currency and relies mainly on the dollar.

“I hope and pray this takeover will bring lasting solutions for us,” said James Saunyama, as he collected his weekly allot of $50 in coins from a bank in Harare. “We’ve endured enough so this takeover must give us better and improved lifestyles going forward.”

Mark Bohlund, Africa economist with Bloomberg Intelligence in London, expects Zimbabwe’s economic challenges to persist, even if there is a power shift and the country adopts more orthodox economic policies.

“Expectations for quick progress toward receiving financial support and potential debt relief should be tempered,” Bohlund said. “The huge challenges ahead and continued political uncertainty is likely to deter inward investment for many years to come.”

©2017 Bloomberg L.P.