Zimbabwe and the "bloodless correction"

When is a coup not a coup? That’s the rather tricky question that the military of Zimbabwe is trying to avoid this morning. In just the past day the army seized control, took President Robert Mugabe and his wife into detention and deployed troops throughout the capital. But they really don’t want anyone calling it “a coup.” It’s actually a “bloodless correction” according to the army. I suppose a bloody coup is worse than a bloodless coup, so a bloodless correction must be even better yet. (Associated Press)

Zimbabwe’s army said Wednesday it has President Robert Mugabe and his wife in custody and is securing government offices and patrolling the capital’s streets following a night of unrest that included a military takeover of the state broadcaster.

The night’s action triggered speculation of a coup, but the military’s supporters praised it as a “bloodless correction.”

For the first time, this southern African nation is seeing the military oppose Mugabe, the world’s oldest head of state and one of the longest-serving authoritarian rulers. Mugabe has been in power since Zimbabwe’s independence from white minority rule in 1980.

Shortly after the military took over the government, Major General Sibusiso Moyo issued a statement saying, “We wish to make it abundantly clear that this is not a military takeover.” This military is simply targeting criminals “around Robert Mugabe.” Thus far they seem to be good to their word, at least in terms of assuring everyone that Mugabe is “safe.” South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma issued a statement saying that he had spoken to Mugabe on the phone and learned that he was “confined to his home but that he was fine.”

In another sign that this is absolutely in no way to be considered a military coup, the army took control of the nation’s media outlets who all mysteriously failed to report that the army was moving through the capital and the President was under detention. I suppose that was one of those “local news stories” that you just can’t fit into chyron.

While military coups have historically been disastrous for nations in most cases, there have been some instances where they’ve achieved at least some level of success and improvement. One could argue that the last military takeover in Egypt resulted in more stability and less violence in the streets, even if human rights abuses are still rampant. So will Zimbabwe similarly benefit from this?

I’m not getting my hopes up yet. The military doesn’t seem to be throwing out a brutal dictator in the interest of freeing the citizens of the nation. Just last week Mugabe fired his Vice President, Emmerson Mnangagwa, who then fled the country. He vowed to return and, “lead the nation.” He also happens to be very popular with the nation’s war veterans and the military. This is sounding like a bit much to be written off to coincidence at this point.

Let’s keep in mind that Mugabe is no saint. In fact, he’s been one of the more brutal, authoritarian rulers on the continent since he took power in the 80s. Mugabe has been accused of racial purging, massive corruption, fiscal mismanagement, human rights violations and crimes against humanity. How he’s managed to stay in power this long has always been something of a mystery to me. But now, at least for the moment, he’s under house arrest and his reign may be ending. Will Mnangagwa be any better? Cross your fingers and hope for the best, I suppose. And that’s assuming the the military is good to their word and turns the government back over to civilian control.