Robert Mugabe

HARARE-(MaraviPost)-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.

Under military house arrest, he was first fired as leader of the ruling Zanu-PF party, before caving in to mounting pressure from parliament and announcing his resignation.

After 37 years at the helm, Mugabe was replaced by a former close ally, Emmerson Mnangagwa, a protege of the veteran leader and an ex-intelligence and defence chief.

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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, Constantino 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.

Al Jazeera spoke to Peirs Pigou, senior consultant for southern Africa for International Crisis Group (ICG), to discuss the possible role Zimbabwe’s security elite could play in the country’s post-Mugabe future.

ICG recently published a report on Zimbabwe’s “military-assisted transition” and its prospects for governance reform and economic recovery.

Al Jazeera: Why do Zimbabwe’s leaders – previously Mugabe and now Mnangagwa – appear to depend on the army’s support to cement their rule?

Peirs Pigou: This is largely a product of an entrenched historical relationship. Zanu-PF’s political trajectory into an independent Zimbabwe was predicated on its armed struggle.

Although not a homogenous entity, the military and war veterans have been key mobilisers and enforcers of political hegemony and central in internal and factional dynamics within the party.

Al Jazeera: Could the military’s role in Zimbabwe’s post-Mugabe transition be a help or hindrance to Mnangagwa’s inaugural promises of “a new democratic era”?

Pigou: 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 leadership.

Mnangagwa 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 legitimise military interference.

Al Jazeera: Does Mnangagwa risk being beholden to those who helped him to rise to power, like Chiwenga, at the expense of creating a more democratic environment in Zimbabwe?

Pigou: This is an important question. Where does power really lie, especially with the shift of military leaders into the politics hierarchy under the rubric of defending Zimbabwe’s revolution? Why did Chiwenga’s appointment as vice president [of ZANU-PF] take so long to finalise?

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.

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