Raised to power after removing Robert Mugabe four years ago, Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa is gradually consolidating his grip on power in a style similar to his predecessor.
Mnangagwa, 78, has ruled Zimbabwe since November 2017, days after Mugabe’s forced resignation in a military coup. Eight months later, he won an election hotly contested by the opposition.
The next ones are only planned in two years, but he has already started to tinker with the constitution, both to consolidate his power and to disarm his opponents.
A few weeks ago, he approved a constitutional amendment that gives him the power to choose judges and extend the terms of senior magistrates, including beyond retirement age.
The opposition is worried about these changes which give the president excessive powers.
This constitutional change “is evident in its intention to consolidate the president’s position ahead of the 2023 elections,” the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum said in a statement.
It is “the deadliest blow to constitutionalism,” lamented Dzikamai Bere, director of the Zimbabwe Human Rights Association.
Days after the amendment was passed, Mnangangwa extended the tenure of Chief Justice Luke Malaba, widely regarded as his ally, by five years, when he was due to retire at 70.
An association of lawyers successfully contested the renewal of its mandate, reassuring on the strength of institutions and civil society to limit the complete seizure of power.
The presidential camp did not hide its rage, with Justice Minister Ziyambi Ziyambi even going so far as to threaten to “hit the enemy in the eye”, claiming that the courts were being manipulated by foreign forces.
- “A real mess” –
Succeeding Mugabe, Mnangagwa portrayed a “new democracy on the march”, promising to depart from the authoritarian style of the former independence hero, who ruled the country for 37 years.
But for his detractors, the former vice president did no better than his ex-boss, seeking to consolidate a one-party state by weakening the main opposition party, the MDC.
To further silence the opposition, the government has concocted a draft “patriotic law” to prohibit any Zimbabwean from “deliberately communicating messages intended to damage the image and reputation of the country”.
If adopted, this text will allow the government to interfere in private communications between citizens and representatives of foreign governments.
“Together, the constitutional amendment and the + patriotic + bill constitute a big step backwards in terms of democracy,” Judge Eldred Masunungure, a political scientist at the University of Zimbabwe.
According to him, these two texts “animated by authoritarian impulses, are really conceived to concentrate the power in the hands of the president”.
“It’s a big mess,” he says. “Patriotism cannot be legislated. It is simply a question of muzzling the critics.”
At the MDC, legal affairs official Kucaca Phulu said the texts “are designed to anchor an imperial executive” without sufficient controls.
But for political analyst Alexander Rusero, Mnangagwa is playing a thinner game than before.
“In the past, the Zanu-PF (in power) used violence and kidnappings to intimidate its opponents, there they choose more subtle means,” he told AFP.
“We are on a roller coaster ride, the rule of law versus the rule of law. The beating of people is no longer viable,” he said, but “the way has been cleared” and the elections of 2023, “it is as if it was done”.
Source : SlateAfrique