HARARE – In a move that has been widely interpreted as aimed at consolidating his grip on power, President Emmerson Mnangagwa has appointed his deputy retired general Constantino Chiwenga to also head the Defence ministry — barely a week after the latter left his position as commander of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces.
This is the first time since the country gained its independence from Britain in April 1980 that a civilian will not be playing an oversight role over the Defence ministry.
Chiwenga’s co-vice president, Kembo Mohadi — who had the Defence ministry taken from his purview — will now also be in charge of the National Peace and Reconciliation portfolio.
In a statement released yesterday by acting chief secretary to the President and Cabinet, Justin Mupamhanga, Chiwenga — who is credited with playing a critical role in Mnangagwa’s rise to the presidency — will also be in charge of war veterans.
“In terms of Section 99 of the Constitution of the Republic of Zimbabwe, the president may assign functions to vice presidents to assist him/her in the discharge of his/her functions and perform any other functions, including the administration of any ministry or department or Act of Parliament.
“Accordingly, his excellency the president, … Mnangagwa, has duly assigned …vice president general (Rtd) … Constantino Guveya Nyikadzino Chiwenga to administer the ministry of Defence and War Veterans Affairs.
“… vice president Kembo Campbell Dugishi Mohadi will administer the National Peace and Reconciliation portfolio. The assignments are with immediate effect,” Mupamhanga said.
It was not immediately made clear who would administer the State Security ministry which had been added to Mohadi’s responsibilities before his elevation to the vice presidency.
The State Security ministry, which has the much-feared national spy agency the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) under it, has always existed as a standalone entity even though it falls under the President’s Office.
Political analysts told the Daily News yesterday that Mnangagwa’s preference for Chiwenga to head the Defence portfolio was “a sign that he wants to consolidate his power”.
“My heart goes out to retired colonel Tshinga Dube whom I thought would be appointed to that portfolio.
“But it’s a clear consolidation move for the Mnangagwa-Chiwenga axis which ensures that they retain control and influence over the armed forces, as well as their standby counterparts among the war vets.
“In the main, it can be seen as a smart play which attempts to make their regime coup-proof through ensuring that Chiwenga still holds sway over the armed forces,” political analyst McDonald Lewanika said.
University of Zimbabwe political science lecturer Eldred Masunungure said although constitutionally the vice presidents were equal, the new allocation of responsibilities made Chiwenga more powerful than Mohadi.
“Clearly he (Chiwenga) is now more powerful than Mohadi, particularly given the role he played during the November military intervention, as well as his subsequent redeployment as vice president and now his appointment as the minister in charge of Defence.
“In a way he is a de facto Prime Minister in Mnangagwa’s administration even though the two VPs should be equal. Chiwenga can be seen as the de facto first vice president, while Mohadi is second vice president.
“There is a mutuality of interest and benefit here that shows that Mnanangwa will have his time and Chiwenga will later take over,” Masungure told the Daily News.
Southern Africa Director with the Africa Division at Human Rights Watch, Dewa Mavhinga, also agreed that the move to appoint Chiwenga as political head of the defence forces signified “a consolidation of political power and a clear acknowledgement that power currently directly derives from the military”.
“This is why Chiwenga has been put in charge of the defence forces and war veterans. This is also to ensure that Chiwenga keeps a close eye on the military since he is no longer directly in charge following his resignation as commander of the Defence Forces,” the well-known human rights activist said.
Mnangagwa recently rang far-reaching changes to the security sector, retiring some key military personnel who played a prominent role in his rise to power, including Chiwenga, whom he appointed vice president earlier this week.
He also appointed retired chief air marshal Perrance Shiri and former Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA) chief of staff, rtd lieutenant general Sibusiso Busi Moyo into his Cabinet, as well as naming rtd lieutenant general Engelbert Rugeje as Zanu PF political commissar.
Mnangagwa has also named Zimbabwe Ambassador to South Africa Isaac Moyo as the new CIO boss — while cutting loose unpopular long-serving police chief Augustine Chihuri.
Chiwenga was credited with organising and leading the military intervention which paved the way for Mnangagwa to become the new president, following the fall of former leader Robert Mugabe.
This followed a military intervention code-named Operation Restore Legacy which saw the nonagenarian and his wife Grace being placed under house arrest.
Mugabe, who ruled Zimbabwe with an iron fist for close to four decades, “resigned” from the country’s highest office on November 21 this year — hours after Parliament had initiated stunning proceedings to impeach him.