President Robert Mugabe officially announced his resignation as President of Zimbabwe on Nov. 21, 2017, capping an extraordinary week that saw the country’s military end his rule after almost 40 years in power. The question now is what happens next for Zimbabwe? If the military names Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa as Zimbabwe’s next president, what can we expect from the military moving forward?

The crisis began on Nov 6 when Mugabe fired Mnangagwa in an attempt to pave the way for his wife, Grace, to become his deputy and eventual Presidential successor. Later, he attempted to have the top military commander arrested. Rather than allow that, the Zimbabwe Defence Forces placed Mugabe under house arrest on Nov 15 and a few days later the ruling party expelled him and his wife. Shortly after lawmakers began impeachment proceedings on Nov. 21, he stepped down, citing “the welfare of the people of Zimbabwe and the need for a peaceful transfer of power.”

Mugabe’s ouster had all the characteristics of a coup d’état: the military has seized control of parts of Harare, numerous government agencies, the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation and recalled all troops from leave. The head of the African Union, Mousa Faki, said that the country’s takeover by the military “seems like a coup,” and demanded that constitutional order be restored. Yet, military supporters are refraining from calling it a coup, preferring to name it a “bloodless correction.”

What will happen next remains unclear. Mnangagwa has, as anticipated, been named leader of the ZANU-PF ruling party. The situation is evolving by the hour, and protests continue across the country. The way in which both the military and Mnagagwa handle this crisis will be vital, particularly to prevent any violence.

Observers, including South Africa’s President Zuma, say they hope the military will respect the constitution and people’s rights while controlling the situation. This is key: despite current support from the population, the fact remains that the military is playing a crucial role in the removal of a president. The military needs to ensure the protection of civilians and respect for the population’s rights throughout the ongoing transitional process.

The military must not use its position to prop up an illegitimate government; rather, it should ensure a peaceful, democratic transition of power to an inclusive transitional government legitimately elected by Zimbabwe’s citizens. The government and military must work together to prevent Zimbabwe’s civilians from being caught between rival political factions and put at risk of harm.

 

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