Will the military really give in if they lose coming elections?

There are roughly two months to go until Zimbabwe holds general and presidential elections, and for the first time, without the participation of former President Robert Mugabe, the longtime leader who resigned in dramatic circumstances on November 21.

Very little has changed under the new administration on the economic, social and political fronts.

The principal beneficiary of the post-November order seems to be the increasingly influential military complex, led by former Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF) commander-in-chief, and now powerful Vice President and retired general, Constantino Chiwenga.

Millions of Zimbabweans celebrated the departure of Mugabe from the political scene after an often despotic and barely lawful 37-year rule that ended with economic and social malaise – and reportedly three million people living in exile, mainly in South Africa and the UK.

But Zimbabwe's new President, Emmerson Mnangagwa, formerly an ally of the strongman, has struggled to move beyond the much publicised rhetoric proclaiming "Zimbabwe is open for business" and implement substantial political reforms that may serve to attract much-needed financial investment from abroad, instil consumer confidence throughout the economy and move the US to remove targeted economic and political sanctions that were renewed on March 2.

The current political environment in Zimbabwe is not as toxic as it was last year, under a 93-year-old leader who employed an aggressive approach to divergent views and labelled opponents to his rule "foreign agents" and economic saboteurs bent on causing mayhem.

But the military complex, which comprises the army, ex-army officers and veterans from the 1970s war of independence, has begun to consolidate its power over civilian affairs by occupying positions across all branches of government and refusing to reform the executive infrastructure Mugabe abused for political ends ever since Zimbabwe was plunged into an economic quandary on November 14, 1997, a day known as "Black Friday".

Now, Chiwenga not only controls the Defence Ministry, but his erstwhile subordinates hold influential and strategic positions in the government and the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF).

Retired Air Chief Marshal Perrance Shiri heads the Lands, Agriculture and Rural Settlement Ministry, retired Lieutenant-General Sibusiso Moyo is Foreign Affairs and International Trade minister; retired Brigadier-General George Mutandwa Chiweshe is the High Court judge president; and retired Lieutenant-General Engelbert Rugeje was appointed the ruling party's political commissariat in December 2017.

So where Mugabe ruled together with close and loyal party cadres and technocrats such as Sidney Sekeramayi, professor Jonathan Moyo, Saviour Kasukuwere and Ignatius Chombo, the Mnangagwa administration is embedded with soldiers and war veterans loyal to Chiwenga and, it increasingly appears, wholly dependent on the ideological ways of the past.

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