Zimbabwe’s military says its actions do not amount to a takeover. It still refers to Robert Mugabe as the commander-in-chief of the country’s defence forces. But practically speaking, Mr Mugabe is not in charge if his forces can step in to usurp his authority.
This is not a coup d’état in name, but it appears to be in action. The military takeover of the national broadcaster, the presence of troops on the streets and major access points, and even forced entry into the presidential palace are traits of a military takeover – at least as we have seen them in Africa.
One thing that is lacking is that the constitution has not been suspended. The cementing of democracy across Africa has led to a general regional and continent-wide aversion to violent takeovers of government. Even in the past, coup-stagers often promised a quick handover to civilian government through elections or a negotiated transition.
So far in Zimbabwe, the military is not showing any intention of assuming a governing role. However, it has someone it would prefer to do that. Emmerson Mnangagwa, the recently sacked vice president, is held in high regard in Zimbabwean military circles.
He was involved in the struggle for independence, and in 1980 created the Zimbabwe National Army by fusing the Zimbabwe People’s Revolutionary Army (Zipra) and Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army (Zanla) with the remnants of the former Rhodesian security forces. He was seen as the natural successor for the top office.
President Mugabe sacked Mr Mnangagwa last week at the prompting of the First Lady Grace Mugabe, who has political aspirations and has publicly opposed the former vice president, but does not have support within a military where the liberation legacy is held in high esteem.