General Constantino Chiwenga, 61, may be subordinate to the veteran politician who replaced Mugabe as president: Emmerson Mnangagwa, nicknamed the Crocodile but he is now thought to be the most powerful man in the country.
His wife is a beauty queen, his troops unseated Zimbabwean leader Robert Mugabe, and his motorcade is fit for a president.
Since Mugabe was deposed and Mnangagwa, 75, sworn in on Nov 24 with a promise to hold elections in 2018, moves by senior military men have suggested the president is the junior partner in an army-dominated administration.
Following a month of speculation about his role in Mnangagwa’s government, Chiwenga was named vice president on Dec 23 He was also appointed defence minister on Dec 29, so retaining control of the military.
That perception of Mnangagwa’s disempowerment is buttressed by reports seen by Reuters from inside Zimbabwe’s Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO).
“The generals have tasted power and they are not willing to let it go,” reads one intelligence report, dated Nov 29.
“They want to enjoy the fruits of removing Mugabe from power.”
Another report, from Nov 22, described the backroom negotiations to form a post-Mugabe government. “Chiwenga is the one going to have final say as power is in his hands.
He is now the most feared man in government and party as well as the whole country,” it said.
The documents reviewed by Reuters are the latest installments in a series of hundreds of intelligence reports the news agency has seen from inside the CIO dating back to 2009.
Army spokesman Overson Mugwisi did not respond to requests for comment on behalf of Chiwenga.
However, a senior general appointed to Mnangagwa’s post-Mugabe cabinet, Air Force chief Perrance Shiri, said there was nothing wrong in having military men in government.
“Who says military people should never be politicians?” he told reporters at a lunch to celebrate the cabinet’s inauguration on Dec 4. “I am a Zimbabwean. I’ve got every right to participate in the country’s politics.”
Mnangagwa did not reply to an interview request for this article and his spokesman, George Charamba, did not respond to a request for comment. Mnangagwa’s lawyer, Edwin Manikai, said the president wanted to “work with anybody who adds value to the economy,” in line with the new leader’s stated desire to halt Zimbabwe’s precipitous economic decline under Mugabe.
“Mnangagwa has got the reins but he cannot operate outside the generals that put him in office,” said Martin Rupiya, a Zimbabwean professor at the University of South Africa in Pretoria and an expert on the Zimbabwe military.
On Dec 6, Foreign Minister Moyo publicly overruled Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa, a civilian lawyer, as he outlined the financial terms of a Chinese loan for Harare airport.
“You should tell the reporters not to include the terms,” Moyo told Chinamasa, wagging his finger at him and the reporters gathered at the finance ministry for the announcement.
Chinamasa said the incident was the result of a misunderstanding and did not reflect military muscle-flexing.
Moyo did not respond to a request for comment. – Reuters