An incriminating dossier on the political ambitions of the Chief of the Defence Forces, Constantine Chiwenga, due to be presented to Mugabe shortly will present the President with a difficult dilemma on the eve of Armed Forces Day. What action to take on the detailed evidence contained in the dossier on the plans of General Chiwenga for an effective takeover of power? The dilemma will be exacerbated by the fact that Chiwenga's preparations to take over the reins of power have been in no small part facilitated by the plans of the Joint Operations Command to ensure that the MDC is kept from power at the next elections. For the first time, however, Mugabe will see evidence of Chiwenga positioning himself for a personal bid for the Presidency on the back of the JOC's contingency planning for the next election
For much of the past couple of years since the March 2008 elections, Chiwenga has been able to consolidate his personal power base in pursuit of objectives he shared with his party and agreed specifically with his JOC colleagues. But as uncertainty over future elections, the health of Mugabe and the succession in ZANU(PF) has grown, the Defence Force Chief found it necessary to work increasingly on his own personal agenda. Not long ago Mugabe was alarmed to discover how significant elements, both in the ranks and at a senior level, had been alienated by moves Chiwenga had made to secure his own dominance of the military. In response a retired CIO officer was tasked to conduct a detailed investigation into Chiwenga's personal and professional affairs to assess the scale of the problem. It took this investigation to uncover Chiwenga's independent political aspirations.
It is not clear at precisely what point Chiwenga's personal political ambitions started to diverge from those of the JOC, but from square one it has been clear that neither he nor closest associates in the security forces, Prisons Chief Zimondi and Police Chief Chihuri, were prepared to give any ground to MDC. It was these three above all others who persuaded Mugabe to stay on after his defeat in March 2008 and then delivered him an uncontested presidential election in June. It was Chiwenga who oversaw the military takeover of the Chiadzwa diamond mines in November 2008 and first went looking for Chinese and other partners to help exploit them. He, Zimondi and Chihuri all refused to recognise the legitimacy of Morgan Tsvangirai's premiership once the inclusive government was formed and Chiwenga ensured that the new MDC Finance Minister could not access the fabulous wealth potential of Marange for the national benefit. But all these moves to consolidate his own control fitted with the will of Mugabe and the JOC, if not with all the factions within ZPF.
It appears to have been in the build-up to the party congress at the end of last year that the first signs started to emerge of Chiwenga going his own way, independently of Mugabe or ZPF. The incident that first attracted attention was the Pomona barracks incident in which the determination of Chiwenga to deal ruthlessly with discontent in the ranks was brutally demonstrated in the torturing of soldiers (survivors have since been exonerated of any wrongdoing). At the same time Chiwenga was getting increasingly worried about the factionalism within the party itself. These worries only increased with the divisiveness that became apparent at the party congress itself, the results of which did not appear to work in favour of Minister of Defence Mnangagwa, with whom Chiwenga had albeit reluctantly aligned his political fortunes. The congress brought home to him how little hope there was of ZPF holding together as a political force in the post-Mugabe era and of Mugabe ever appointing a successor. He himself had hoped to secure a political role within the party from which to launch his leadership bid but when it didn't materialise he began to doubt even Mugabe's commitment to him.
Since then he has developed a two-track stategy - to exploit the agenda of the JOC (and the political aspirations of Mnanagagwa) to continue to secure military control on ever more levers of power; and to consolidate his personal control over the security machinery and the resource necessary to secure power through patronage.
There is apparently no suggestion in the dossier that Chiwenga is moving to oust Mugabe himself in whose shadow he is content to operate for the time being. However, it does show how he is actively
- preparing the ground for the day that Mugabe is no longer strong enough to rule effectively. This involves refining a JOC strategy for taking power which requires the retention in the new constitution of a clause obliging the executive to 'protect the gains of the struggle'. This clause would enable Chiwenga, when necessary, to manufacture a crisis in which those gains appeared to be threatened, allowing the security services to adopt a central role in restoring order.
- using his many connections abroad, especially in China and the Far East, to build the business infrastructure to stock his personal war chest in advance of the next elections, which he would like to be held before the middle of 2011. He has already secured a sizeable revenue stream from the illegal sale of Marange diamonds, which he has been using to distribute patronage to supporters and attack his key political rival, Rex Mujuru. Siphoning-off revenue which should have been destined for others to overseas accounts including via front companies in the UK and US. According to the report, his personal fortune already exceeds $80 million.
- amassing and securing for himself an off-budget supply of arms, including 800 Chinese-made AK-47s, ~300 pistols, 30,000 rounds of ammunition. Chiwenga has also been developing different routes to smuggle weapons into the country.
- shoring up his own position including by over-promoting loyal officers and moving his inner circle of loyal senior commanders into key positions; using his power as CDF and access to Mugabe to undermine the positions of more moderate figures within the military command structure (he is said to have drawn up a hit list of disloyal officers whom he suspects would side with MDC and/or reformist elements in ZPF if it ever came to choosing between a violent election campaign and a negotiated solution).
- doing everything necessary to convince Mnangagwa of his support fot the latter's aspirations while making his own plans to perpetuate Zezuru control into the post-Mugabe era (he is determined no Karanga should succeed Mugabe despite his apparent change of alliance from Mujuru to Mnanagagwa).