Earlier this morning I wrote the article below. Since then this has been published: “Mugabe resisting army pressure to quit”.

As Reuters reports: “President Robert Mugabe is insisting he remains Zimbabwe’s only legitimate ruler, an intelligence source said on Thursday, and is resisting mediation by a Catholic priest to allow the 93-year-old former guerrilla a graceful exit after a military coup. ”

This is in line with what I argued.


Under house arrest, with the army at his gate and rumours that his wife has fled the country, Robert Mugabe still controls the destiny of Zimbabwe.

Remember the words of the statement the army spokesman read over state television:

“Fellow Zimbabweans. Following the address we made on 13 November 2017, which we believe our main broadcaster Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation and the Herald were directed not to publicise, the situation in our country has moved to another level.

Firstly we wish to assure our nation, His Excellency, the president of the republic of Zimbabwe and commander in chief of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces, comrade R G Mugabe and his family, are safe and sound and their security is guaranteed.

We are only targeting criminals around him who are committing crimes that are causing social and economic suffering in the country in order to bring them to justice….”

As the statement General Moyo read out makes plain, Mugabe remains both president and commander in chief.

And until Mugabe goes on radio and television to say that he is stepping down, that remains the case. He may be stripped of much of his power, but he remains in control.

If he is forced out then this is undeniably a coup.

And coups (for whatever reason) are considered illegitimate by the African Union, which is required to act to against them.

President Jacob Zuma of South Africa may have sent ministers to plead with him.

Britain’s Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson may say the “path to legitimate government now lies open”.

But until Robert Mugabe publicly hands over to a transitional government there is no easy way forward.

And anyone who witnessed the Lancaster House talks that led to independence in 1980 will know just how stubborn Mugabe can be.

Mugabe won an election (no matter how flawed – don’t forget that it was endorsed by African leaders) and this cannot easily be undone.

So although southern African leaders are due to meet in Botswana today, their hands are tied until there is some negotiated handover of power.

Otherwise they will be backing exactly the kind of illegitimate transfer of authority that they have said – repeatedly – that they abhor.

The silk coup

If – on the other hand – Mugabe can be persuaded to step down, then the path to a transitional government lies open.

The most likely candidates to lead Zimbabwe are his two sacked Vice Presidents, Emmerson Mnangagwa and Joyce Mujuru. 

Perhaps there will be a government of national unity, including Morgan Tsvangirai, the veteran leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change.

There is plenty of speculation that the Chinese gave their blessing to just such a transfer of power when General Constantine Chiwenga visited the country, just prior to the coup.

Certainly this has been smoother than any coup I witnessed in nearly 30 years of reporting from Africa.

But the immovable object in the way of all these plans is the man who has been at the centre of power in Zimbabwe for the past four decades.

And until Robert Mugabe can be persuaded to leave the stage, it will be very hard indeed for the other actors to continue with the play.