What Exactly Is Happening in Zimbabwe? A Primer

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What Exactly Is Happening in Zimbabwe? A Primer

By all neutral accounts, Zimbabwe’s military has taken control of the small African nation. But according to the military leaders, it’s not a coup or a takeover.

CNN reports that the military has placed former Zimbabwe leader Robert Mugabe, 93, under house arrest and deployed tanks in the capital of Harare. In a televised statement, a military spokesman said the president was safe in his house and that the military was targeting people close to him. In the same statement, he declared this was not a coup.

Whatever it is, the incident is likely an attempt to settle a succession dispute, CNN says. While Mugabe’s official title is “president,” he has been more of an autocrat in practice, as his re-elections have been marked by political violence and electoral fraud. His reign has seen turmoil, economic strife and famine—Zimbabwe’s economy was so thoroughly ravaged that it had to eliminate its own currency due to inflation. Mugabe has ruled Zimbabwe with an iron fist for over three decades, but with him so old, someone else would have to step forward and take control soon. Thus, there has been a long-standing conflict among the Zimbabwe higher-ups: Mugabe wants his 52-year-old wife Grace to succeed him, while the military supported former vice president Emmerson Mnangagwa.

The Zimbabwe Defense Forces have taken control of several key strategic points in the country, but they say the country will “return to normalcy” once they achieve their “mission.” Many have spoken out in support of their actions. CNN quotes Chris Mutsvanga, head of a veteran’s association in Zimbabwe, as saying, “The populace has long suffered under a self-saving dictatorship that had become an oligarch with dynastic delusions.” He said that the Zimbabwe military has come to the “decisive rescue” of the country.

U.K. foreign secretary Boris Johnson was also quoted, and he did not waste time feeling sorry for Mugabe, saying:

The House will remember the brutal litany of his 37 years in office. The elections he rigged and stole, the murder and torture of his opponents, the illegal seizure of land, leading to the worst hyper-inflation in recorded history measured in the billions of percentage points, and forcing the abolition of the Zimbabwean dollar.