Monday 16 July 2018

Explainer: What is happening in Zimbabwe - is it a coup?

Armed soldiers stand on the road leading to President Robert Mugabe's office in Harare, Zimbabwe Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2017. Overnight, at least three explosions were heard in the capital, Harare, and military vehicles were seen in the streets. On Monday, the army commander had threatened to
Armed soldiers stand on the road leading to President Robert Mugabe's office in Harare, Zimbabwe Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2017. Overnight, at least three explosions were heard in the capital, Harare, and military vehicles were seen in the streets. On Monday, the army commander had threatened to "step in" to calm political tensions over the 93-year-old Mugabe's possible successor. (AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi)
Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe (L) addressing party members and supporters gathered at his party headquarters to show support to Grace Mugabe (R) becoming the party's next Vice President after the dismissal of Emerson Mnangagwa. / AFP PHOTO / Jekesai NJIKIZANAJEKESAI NJIKIZANA/AFP/Getty Images
Zimbabwe Defence Forces Major-General SB Moyo (R) makes an announcement on state broadcaster ZBC, in this still image taken from a November 15, 2017 video. ZBC/Handout via REUTERS
Soldiers stand beside military vehicles just outside Harare, Zimbabwe, November 14,2017. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo
Cars drive on a street in the Zimbabwean capital Harare on November 15, 2017. Military vehicles took to the streets of the Zimbabwean capital and prolonged gunfire was heard near the presidential residence early on November 15 as questions mounted over Robert Mugabe's grip on power, even as the army denied a coup in a state broadcast. / AFP PHOTO / Jekesai NJIKIZANAJEKESAI NJIKIZANA/AFP/Getty Images
An armed soldier patrols a street in Harare, Zimbabwe, Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2017. Zimbabwe's army said Wednesday it has President Robert Mugabe and his wife in custody and is securing government offices and patrolling the capital's streets following a night of unrest that included a military takeover of the state broadcaster. (AP Photo)
Zimbabwe Army General Constantino Chiwenga Commander of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces (C,R) and Valerio Sibanda Commander of the Zimbabwe National Army (C,L) address a media conference held at the Zimbabwean Army Headquarters on November 13, 2017 in Harare./ AFP PHOTO / Jekesai NJIKIZANAJEKESAI NJIKIZANA/AFP/Getty Images
Independent.ie Newsdesk

Independent.ie Newsdesk

There is growing uncertainty in Zimbabwe as soldiers take over the state broadcaster and block access to government offices.

What happened?

On Wednesday morning Zimbabwe's military said it had seized power in a targeted assault on "criminals" around President Robert Mugabe who were causing social and economic suffering.

The military have taken control of the country's airwaves and blocked access to government buildings.

After securing control of the state broadcaster, a military spokesman, Major General SB Moyo in a televised announcement said that President Mugabe and his family were "safe and sound and their security is guaranteed."

Soldiers stand beside military vehicles just outside Harare, Zimbabwe, November 14,2017. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo
Soldiers stand beside military vehicles just outside Harare, Zimbabwe, November 14,2017. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo

Moyo said the military acted because the state broadcaster (Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation) had been ordered not to broadcast a statement from the military on Monday and "the situation had moved to another level".

Is it a coup?

It looks like one - armoured vehicles and troops blocked roads in central Harare around government buildings and the presidential residence and armed forces have taken control of the state broadcaster.

Zimbabweans queue outside a bank to withdraw cash as armed soldiers patrol the streets in Harar on Wednesday
Zimbabweans queue outside a bank to withdraw cash as armed soldiers patrol the streets in Harar on Wednesday
Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe addressing party members with his wife Grace earlier this month. Photo: Getty Images
A street scene along Robert Mugabe road in Harare, Tuesday, Nov., 14, 2017.
An armed soldier patrols a street in Harare, Zimbabwe, Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2017. Zimbabwe's army said Wednesday it has President Robert Mugabe and his wife in custody and is securing government offices and patrolling the capital's streets following a night of unrest that included a military takeover of the state broadcaster. (AP Photo)
A man walks past a wall with a graffiti reading "We want garwe (crocodile in Shona language)" referring to sacked vice president Emmerson Mnangagwa, on Wednesday in Harare, Zimbabwe
Armed soldiers stand on the road leading to President Robert Mugabe's office in Harare, Zimbabwe Wednesday
A military tank is seen with armed soldiers on the road leading to President Robert Mugabe's office in Harare, Zimbabwe . Photo: AP
Armed soldiers patrol a street in Harare, Zimbabwe
Armed soldiers patrol a street in Harare, Zimbabwe
President Robert Mugabe kissing his wife and first lady Grace Mugabe during the country's 37th Independence Day celebrations at the National Sports Stadium in Harare. Photo: AFP PHOTO / Jekesai NJIKIZANAJEKESAI NJIKIZANA/AFP/Getty Images
President Robert Mugabe pictured with General Constantino Chiwenga in Harare, in 2008. Photo: Reuters/Philimon Bulaway
Armed Zimbabwean soldiers sit on top of a military tank in Harare, Zimbabwe
A youth washes a minibus adorned with picture of President Robert Mugabe at a bus terminus in Harare. Photo: Reuters
First Lady Grace Mugabe is making a play for power in Zimbabwe. Photo: Philimon Bulawayo

There are reports that finance minister Ignatius Chombo has been detained by the military.

However, Moyo has insisted it's not a military takeover and said “as soon as they are done the situation will come to normalcy”.

“We urge you to remain calm and limit unnecessary movement. However, we encourage those who are employed and those with essential business in the city to continue their normal activities as usual,” he said.

The military's supporters praised it as a "bloodless correction".

A tweet sent from the account of Zimbabwe's ruling party, ZANU-PF, has denied that a coup is taking place, despite evidence to the contrary.

It's not clear who is in control of the Twitter account. It's also unclear if it is an official party Twitter account.

Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe (L) addressing party members and supporters gathered at his party headquarters to show support to Grace Mugabe (R) becoming the party's next Vice President after the dismissal of Emerson Mnangagwa. / AFP PHOTO / Jekesai NJIKIZANAJEKESAI NJIKIZANA/AFP/Getty Images
Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe (L) addressing party members and supporters gathered at his party headquarters to show support to Grace Mugabe (R) becoming the party's next Vice President after the dismissal of Emerson Mnangagwa. / AFP PHOTO / Jekesai NJIKIZANAJEKESAI NJIKIZANA/AFP/Getty Images

Why is this happening now?

The latest crisis kicked off last week when President Robert Mugabe fired powerful Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa, a veteran of the 1970s guerilla war who was widely seen as his successor.

Mnangagwa's firing was seen as a move to clear the way for Mugabe's increasingly influential wife Grace to become his succesor.

Grace Mugabe's rise has brought her into conflict with the independence-era war veterans, who enjoyed privileged status in Zimbabwe until the last two years when they spearheaded criticism of Mugabe's handling of the economy.

In the last year, a chronic absence of dollars has led to long queues outside banks and an economic and financial collapse that many fear will rival the meltdown of 2007-2008, when inflation topped out at 500 billion percent.

Zimbabwe Army General Constantino Chiwenga Commander of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces (C,R) and Valerio Sibanda Commander of the Zimbabwe National Army (C,L) address a media conference held at the Zimbabwean Army Headquarters on November 13, 2017 in Harare./ AFP PHOTO / Jekesai NJIKIZANAJEKESAI NJIKIZANA/AFP/Getty Images
Zimbabwe Army General Constantino Chiwenga Commander of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces (C,R) and Valerio Sibanda Commander of the Zimbabwe National Army (C,L) address a media conference held at the Zimbabwean Army Headquarters on November 13, 2017 in Harare./ AFP PHOTO / Jekesai NJIKIZANAJEKESAI NJIKIZANA/AFP/Getty Images

Imported goods are running out and economists say that, by some measures, inflation is now at 50 percent a month.

War veterans, who fought alongside Mugabe during the 1970s liberation struggle and spearheaded the repossession of white-owned commercial farms in the 2000s, claim Mugabe has betrayed the revolution.

On Monday, Gen. Constantino Chiwenga, a close ally of Mnangagwa’s who was considered a possible future vice president himself, called a press conference, denouncing moves to purge “members associated with our liberation history.” If the purge did not stop, he warned, “the military will not hesitate to step in.”

The head of ZANU-PF's youth wing, which openly backs Grace, accused the army chief of subverting the constitution.

"Defending the revolution and our leader and president is an ideal we live for and if need be it is a principle we are prepared to die for," Youth League leader Kudzai Chipanga said at the party's headquarters in Harare.

Who's in charge right now?

Largely the army, in de facto terms.

An armed soldier patrols a street in Harare, Zimbabwe, Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2017. Zimbabwe's army said Wednesday it has President Robert Mugabe and his wife in custody and is securing government offices and patrolling the capital's streets following a night of unrest that included a military takeover of the state broadcaster. (AP Photo)
An armed soldier patrols a street in Harare, Zimbabwe, Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2017. Zimbabwe's army said Wednesday it has President Robert Mugabe and his wife in custody and is securing government offices and patrolling the capital's streets following a night of unrest that included a military takeover of the state broadcaster. (AP Photo)

Army commander Constantino Chiwenga appears to be in control while Mugabe is confined to his home.

However, there are no reports that Mugabe is being deposed so theoretically he's in power. He remains the head of state in the country.

Is Zimbabwe safe?

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) has advised Irish citizens in Zimbabwe to "exercise a high degree of caution".

"Given ongoing uncertainty in Zimbabwe we advise all Irish citizens to remain in their homes or current accommodation and to exercise caution and avoid areas when demonstrations may be taking place, a DFA spokesperson said in a statement.

The United States and Britain advised their citizens in Harare to stay indoors because of "political uncertainty."

"U.S. citizens in Zimbabwe are encouraged to shelter in place until further notice," the U.S. statement said. The British Foreign & Commonwealth Office statement told "nationals currently in Harare to remain safely at home or in their accommodation until the situation becomes clearer."

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