Sunday, May 23, 2010

Chiwenga - paving the way to the leadership

Chiwenga had long ago secured his own personal fortune through the illicit plunder of the DRC and the expropriation of property in Zimbabwe. He also made millions through exchange rate manipulation as inflation soared after the mismanagement of the economy by Gideon Gono. And, since March 2008, Chiwenga had been able to consolidate his own personal power while appearing to be doing so exclusively in pursuit of the president's and the party's interests.

As with Mugabe himself, his main weapon was fear. As soon as the results of the March elections started coming in, Chiwenga and his two cronies, Chihuri and Zimondi, started persuading Mugabe that he could not risk accepting the result - the consequences for them all were too unpredictable and potentially devastating. The Security Chiefs would deliver a Mugabe victory in the second round whatever happened. Having won this argument with Mugabe, Chiwenga built a community of interest within ZANU PF around this, most importantly, with Emmerson Mnangagwa, who was later to be nominated Defence Minister by Mugabe.

The next step was to ensure that he delivered the necessary outcome with Operation Makavhoterapapi (For whom did you vote?). This was done in June by resorting to such levels of violence and intimidation that no other country could bring themselves to recognise the outcome. Mugabe's election might have been lost had it not been for the intervention of Thabo Mbeki who brokered the Global Political Agreement that ultimately led to the Inclusive Government that gave Mugabe back his legitimacy.

Meanwhile Chiwenga had been busy cultivating his relations with the Chinese. His first attempt to buy arms from the Chinese was prevented by an international outcry when they tried to offload arms for him in South Africa and Angola. Undeterred, Chiwenga engaged the Chinese in joint ventures in Marange. The vast diamond wealth here held the potential not just to pay for any arms shipments but to house an airstrip to enable the illicit import of arms and equally illicit export of diamonds. First however he had to secure control of the country's most significant source of revenue. In October 2008, Operation Hakudzokwi (You Won't Come Back) was launched by the army, police and intelligence officers was launched to take over the Marange field. The crackdown which began on October 27 with military helicopters indiscriminately firing automatic weapons to drive out the diggers, lasted three weeks and more than 200 perished.

Once secured, Chiwenga needed to ensure that the fields were only mined by bodies controlled by the JOC. Air Vice Marshal Robert Mhlanga was the man chosen to spearhead the new mining arrangement. Two companies with no previous experience of diamond mining, Mbada and Canadile, both based in South Africa, became the front for JOC's exploitation of the fields.

Throughout this period, Chiwenga was securing a firmer and firmer grip on the army ,ruthlessly stifling discontent in the ranks of the military. In December 2008, after soldiers sided with poor protesters to protest against the collapsing economy,16 soldiers were shot in cold blood by members of the presidential guard. Three others died during torture.

In October 2009, at least 12 more soldiers died after being tortured following the disappearance of arms and other military equipment from the Pomona barracks. A further 120 apparently survived horrific torturing.

This clampdown has been accompanied by preferential treatment for Chiwenga's cronies. The most significant recent appointment is that of Brigadier General Douglas Nyikayaramba to Mutare to run the 3 Infantry brigade and control the Chiadzwa diamond fields. Nyikayaramba played a crucial role in fixing the 2008 presidential run-off.

Chiwenga also needed to secure for himself a private supply of weapons and the means to get them into the country. Chiwenga has been an increasingly regular visitor to China in the last couple of years, especially since military control of the diamond fields gave him the opportunity to achieve this. According to reliable reports, Chinese in military fatigues helped in the construction of the military airstrip at Marange which has a one-mile-long runway capable of taking the biggest military transport planes. Some of these were reported to be armed. Shipping containers filled with weapons have been seen on the airstrip.

Slowly but surely Chiwenga has been putting all the pieces in place to ensure that no-one can contest his bid for the top job.

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