Mugabe: I'm not surrendering to a coup

It, er, might not be Robert Mugabe’s call to make any more. When the military rolls into your capital, seizes broadcast outlets, and takes you into “protective custody,” it’s a little late to fall back on the institutions you’ve spent the last couple of years corrupting on behalf of your wife. The longtime dictator of Zimbabwe met with foreign envoys today to discuss his future, and he insists that he remains in charge of the country — all evidence to the contrary — and will not willingly step down:

President Robert Mugabe is insisting he remains Zimbabwe’s only legitimate ruler and is refusing to quit after a military coup, but pressure is mounting on the 93-year-old former guerrilla to accept offers of a graceful exit, sources said on Thursday.

A political source who spoke to senior allies holed up with Mugabe and his wife, Grace, in his lavish “Blue Roof” Harare compound said Mugabe had no plans to resign voluntarily ahead of elections scheduled for next year.

“It’s a sort of stand-off, a stalemate,” the source said. “They are insisting the president must finish his term.”

The military has other plans. Mugabe had tried to force out his vice president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, in favor of Grace Mugabe and establish a familial dynasty. The army made its move against supposed “criminals” surrounding Mugabe, but it’s been clear since the first moment that the main criminal they wanted seized was Grace. Mnangagwa also fought for independence from British colonial rule, and his removal turned out to be a near-fatal mistake for Mugabe. It’s likely to be fatal to his political career, and might yet be literally fatal if Mugabe resists, although that would create massive chaos in Zimbabwe.

The coup may not have been entirely conceived by top general Constantino Chiwenga, however. NBC’s Yuliya Talmazan reports that the army chief had just paid a visit to Zimbabwe’s major patron prior to moving the tanks into Harare:

One of the generals behind the move, army chief Constantino Chiwenga, visited Beijing last week — just days before tanks rolled into the streets of Harare.

China, which has enjoyed a close diplomatic and economic relationship with Zimbabwe for years, says Chiwenga’s visit was routine and part of a “normal military exchange.”

Asked if Chiwenga had briefed China on coup plans, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang would not discuss specifics.

One expert told Talmazan that it would have been uncharacteristic of Beijing to go along with a plan, let alone quarterback it:

“Above all else [China] wants stability, and a coup is a recipe for instability. So this does not sound like a Chinese move,” Tendi said. “Something like this is always going to be held in secret talks. No one is going to come out and confirm it, so we may never know for sure.”

The safe bet is that China will back whoever comes out of this crisis with undisputed power. Whether it’s Grace Mugabe or Emmerson Mnangagwa matters little to Beijing as long as it stabilizes the country for their business plans. If they have any preference, it might be for Mnangagwa as a means to lift Western sanctions for a spell against Zimbabwe.

Their best hope would be for a peaceful resolution of the standoff, and at least for now everything seems to be polite. Note, however, who wasn’t included in this shot:

Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe was shown meeting Thursday with the army commander who put him under house arrest, as negotiations with a South African delegation and a Catholic priest at the state house pushed for a resolution to the political turmoil and the likely end to Mugabe’s decades-long rule.

The state-run Zimbabwe Herald newspaper published what it called new photos of the meeting Thursday afternoon. It said details were to come. The photos did not show first lady Grace Mugabe, whose rapid political rise had alarmed many in the country who feared she could succeed her husband.

South Africa President Jacob Zuma, speaking in parliament, said the political situation “very shortly will be becoming clear.”

Mugabe is likely going to be looking abroad for a retirement villa. There’s no way the military or Mnangagwa allows either Mugabe to remain in Zimbabwe, not if they value their health.