Since independence in 1980, Zimbabwe’s military played a key role in cementing Robert Mugabe’s rule. That was until last month, when the army turned on the 93-year-old president.
Observers say Mnangagwa, much like his predecessor, appears to be consolidating his power by awarding the key military generals who supported his rise to power with important party and state cabinet positions.
Most recently, Constantine Chiwenga, the army chief who led the operation that resulted in Mugabe’s resignation, was appointed as a ZANU-PF deputy. He is tipped to become one of the two national vice presidents.
Other key military personnel around Mnangagwa include Retired Major-General Sibusiso Moyo, the current Minister of Foreign Affairs who announced Mugabe’s detention on state television; and Chief Air Marshall Perrence Shiri who participated in negotiations for Mugabe to step down and now serves as Minister of Agriculture, Lands and Rural Resettlement.
Although not a homogeneous entity, the military and war veterans have been key mobilizers and enforcers of political hegemony and central in internal and factional dynamics within the party.
On the one hand, the military can bring command management and discipline into a corrupt and venal political and economic environment, although numerous unanswered questions and unresolved allegations remain about the involvement of senior military and other security sector figures in corruption, self enrichment and other violations.
The jury is out on whether the new political configuration can deepen or further deviate from the democratic project.
Comparative experience does not inspire confidence and the blatant partisanship of Zimbabwe’s military has yet to be addressed by the new leader and the new administration should take an unambiguous public position on ensuring the security sector is excised from the political playing field.
It is, however, difficult to see how this will happen given that the new power configuration is predicated on an attempt to legitimize military interference.
It raises all sorts of questions about the content of backroom deals and internal power dynamics within the new administration that remain shrouded in mystery.
How do these developments strengthen prospects for constitutionalism and the rule of law which appear to remain elastic and selectively engaged concepts, a hallmark of the Mugabe dispensation?
The military can bring command management and discipline into a corrupt and venal political and economic environment
Their efforts to delegitimise the new order, arguing it is the product of a coup, rightly or wrongly, is struggling to gain traction.
The 2018 elections will determine the extent of its domestic credibility. The old order may well be able to expose complicity in past violations, but as with others purged from ZANU-PF in the past, they will not be able to do so convincingly without taking their share of responsibility.
In terms of immediate electoral politics, they are likely to complicate an already messy oppositional political environment.
Expectations vary, as do approaches to calibrating further support.
Mnangagwa’s administration must be seen to deliver – determining how and for who in a flexible and transparent way would provide a helpful framework for assessment and augment the credibility of such constructive engagement.