Thousands in the streets on Sunday – Romanian protests continued!

Photo: “People hold placards reading ‘All for justice’ during a protest in Bucharest” (Daniel Mihailescu/AFP/Getty Images, via the Guardian)

Published on 29/11/2017

Sunday night, a typical time for protests in Romania, about 30,000 protesters went out on the streets of Bucharest while up to 20,000 demonstrated elsewhere in the country, according to the Guardian. The people were protesting a government draft law which is criticized for possibly putting the judicial system under political control, reported Euronews. Earlier this year, these latest protests had been preceded by Romania’s biggest protests since the 1989 revolution. To learn more, you can consult this article about Lessons for democracy from Romania’s protest movement by Srdja Popovic and Cristian Sallai, also featured on CANVAS’ page in June.

During the protests on Sunday which included brief scuffling with police in Bucharest, wrote the Guardian, Romanians demanded “rights and prosperity”, shouted “Thieves” and “We want justice not corruption”, blowing whistles while they marched. An especially creative and humorous protest sign read “I’ve seen smarter cabinets at IKEA”, as seen on Euronews. According to the Guardian, new protests on Friday, a national public holiday in Romania, have been called for on social media.

And not only protesters are criticizing the proposed bill. Their criticism has been joined by the European Commission, foreign diplomats and thousands of magistrates, wrote Euronews. The news outlet further reported about Laura Kövesi, head of Romania’s anti-corruption directorate (DNA), saying that “’If voted through it will have a serious negative impact on the independence of justice and it will result in political control of prosecutors’ activity’”. She added that “’It will lead to the political subordination of the prosecutors and could seriously obstruct the anti-corruption fight”, stating that “’In my view the independence of justice is not a privilege for the magistrate – it is a fundamental principle in a democratic society.’” According to the Guardian, the national and international critics have claimed that the government seeks to protect senior figures from justice.

In the bill, the government seeks to reform organizations “at the forefront of Romania’s attempts to tackle corruption” which according to the government’s opponents would reduce the power of the DNA as the justice ministry would be able to name the head prosecutors, wrote the Guardian. A judicial inspection body overseeing the work of judges would also be controlled by the ministry, while a new structure staffed by prosecutors to investigate criminal acts by magistrates is being developed. Contested judicial changes also include the president’s right to veto candidates, stated Euronews. These proposed reforms have especially incited public protest as they coincide with changes to the tax system, making employees responsible for social security payments, instead of the employer, reflected the Guardian.

The news outlet meanwhile reports that some experts have said, the proposal does have some positive aspects like including greater transparency and parliamentary scrutiny of the secret services’ work. And according to Euronews, some critics of Kövesi called her anti-corruption drive ‘a politicized witch hunt’ and denounced DNA’s alleged closeness to Romania’s secret service. The Romanian government itself has said their proposal did not include anything allowing the state to take control of the justice system, and it called for a discussion about specific points to be addressed and a reflection of arguments of both sides.

The current government is a coalition between the center-left Social Democrat Party (PSD), the center-right Liberal-Democrat Alliance and the Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Romania. The PSD has been criticized for “harbouring former figures from the communist regime”, and its leader Liviu Dragnea has been and is involved and past and current accusations for fraud and corruption, banned from becoming prime minister after a conviction for vote-rigging, reported the Guardian.

Read more about Sunday’s protests in Romania and its background here and here, and learn more about the protests at the beginning of the year, here.

Lessons from radical, political art in Russia: Pussy Riot, Pyotr Pavlensky and Co.

Photo: “Petr Pavlensky sewed his mouth shut in protest of the incarceration of a Russian punk band” (Gleb Husky, via Politico)

Published on 28/11/2017

CNN just published an article by Marat Guelman, son of Russian playwriter Alexander Guelman, and art curator living in Montenegro, who recently opened an exhibition in London titled “Art Riot: Post-Soviet Actionism is dedicated to Russian protest art over the past 25 years.” In the CNN article on “Why Russia produces (and quashes) so much radical art”, Guelman addresses the above topic and states that “Artists have always held a special place in Russian society.”

He describes how developments during Glasnost in the mid-1980s and the return of writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn after exile in 1994, as well as rock music taking over the roles previously occupied by theater and literature, were signs of change, opening and a call for a new, open world. Recently, “contemporary art and provocative performances have proven the most effective medium for influencing public opinion. Artists have their fingers firmly on the pulse of the rapid changes taking place in Russian society”, according to Guelman. The probably most well-known performance has been that of Pussy Riot in Moscow’s largest cathedral in 2012, when they made a statement for Putin to leave his position or rather, to not be reelected. Pussy Riot’s trial and two members going to prison then captured global attention for Russia’s seemingly biased judiciary and Russia’s increasingly authoritarian path. Noah Sneider who published an article in the 1843 Magazine from The Economist Group last year, quoted Guelman saying that “From that moment, [the regime] began to seriously address the arts, to bring all their repressive methods to bear.”

Another prominent example in Russia, is Pyotr Pavlensky. His drastic actions, sometimes labeled as ‘crazy’ or ‘grotesque’, including among others, the sewing of his lips, a naked performance inside barbed wire or the cutting off of his own earlobe (like Van Gogh) confronting and criticizing the Russian state in various ways, have gained widespread attention. Sneider wrote that “Pavlensky practises actionism, an art form with a rich history in Russia. He calls his particular brand of actionism “political art” (not to be confused with art about politics).” Guelman further described that, while Pussy Riot was loud about their convictions, Pavlensky “demonstrated the strength of the weak. There was nothing the government could take away from him, because he didn’t have anything to lose.”

Pavlensky has had to spend time in a psychiatric ward as well as in prison, and has by now fled to France, were he received political asylum in May. What led to his decision to leave Russia with his family, were accusations of sexual harassment which he denied. Only last month, he staged another ‘performance’ in Paris, setting fire to a French Bank at the Place de la Bastille, referring symbolically to the historic role of the Bastille in the French Revolution.

Whether one agrees with Pavlensky’s views or the radical methods chosen, analyzing his actions baring in mind fundamental lessons about strategic planning of nonviolent campaigns, can certainly reveal some aspects about his performances. First, what did work well for Pavlensky was triggering reactions by the authorities which could be somehow described as ‘dilemma actions’. The latter “put an opponent in a situation where it must either a) grant a nonviolent movement’s demand, or b) act in a way that sacrifices some of its own support and damages its public image. […] Dilemma actions place an opponent in a situation where any action that it takes will result in a negative outcome for it. “ (CANVAS Core Curriculum, p. 144)

This is seemingly shown in what Sneider described: “Pavlensky specialises in creating situations that draw the authorities into his actions, turning them into the puppets in his theatre of the absurd.” Sneider went on to state that “the authorities respond in ways that highlight his message: after ‘Threat’, they covered the scorched doors with sheets of corrugated metal – a veritable iron curtain. During ‘Fixation’, the officers circling Pavlensky seemed disgusted by the sight of him and unsure what to do with the nail poking through his scrotum; eventually they draped him with a white sheet, turning him into a fleeting reflection of Gandhi.” Bennett adds the example of police officers refusing to carry out their orders to detain Pavlensky after his sewn-lips protest after the Pussy Riot arrest, instead waiting for doctors to arrive. Even his arrest and trial did Pavlensky see as an opportunity: “My task is to force the instruments of state power to create political propaganda. To suck them into my art. Criminal cases open a door for me to get inside the mechanics of the system — the investigators, the court system, psychiatrists — and allow me to work there”, wrote Marc Bennett about Pavlensky in an article on Politico.

The latter could also reflect one of the basic considerations for planning nonviolent campaigns, which is recognizing the current underlying power structures and trying to change it, mostly by winning over certain parts of society (for more explanations about the nature of power and power structures within society, see Chapter 1 of CANVAS’ Core Curriculum). But while Pavlevsky does seem somehow aware of such structures and has possibly managed to convince some ‘opponents’ to change their minds, like a former investigator in his case, the artists’ provocative and radical methods certainly repel others or make him seem ‘crazy’. And when planning a nonviolent campaign’s tactics, anticipating possible sympathizers’ reactions and the light the tactics will shed on your movement, is essential. Furthermore, even though Sneider states that Pavlenksy “sees no sense in art for art’s sake, believing instead in art as change, as progress, as awakening”, some aspects are frequently is not so clear: What are his intentions in each action, does he seek to mobilize others to help push for his vision of a free Russia and especially, which concrete steps would he want the country to take in order to do so? Despite these questions, his performances have certainly caused widespread attention, as have other actionists’ in Russia.

Learn more about Russian political art, actionism and Pavlensky here, here and here.

Weekly Report: 24 November, 2017

Photo: People cheering in the streets of Zimbabwe where longstanding President Robert Mugabe resigned (BBC)


After the military coup halfway last week, things developed fast in Zimbabwe this week. Mass protests on the weekend, calling for the resignation of Robert Gabriel Mugabe, united the whole of the country. However, looking at the protest signs of the Zimbabwean people, a unity of purpose for when Mugabe would be gone was hard to find. Zimbabwe reacted in shock when, on Sunday, Mugabe amazed and infuriated the country by apparently resisting calls to step aside. However, an official source with direct knowledge of the ongoing negotiations told CNN that Zimbabwe’s long-time president has agreed to the terms of his resignation and a letter has been drafted. According to the source, the aim of Sunday’s televised speech, was to ensure the veteran leader openly declared the military’s actions to be constitutional. Despite the disappointing speech, the end of the Mugabe era seemed a matter of time.

Then on Tuesday, the long-awaited news came. Robert Mugabe officially resigned as the President of Zimbabwe, after ruling party ZANU-PF already sacked him as their leader.  Mass-celebrations broke out all over the country, and the eye of the world was focused on Zimbabwe. Looking towards the future, however, one could be more skeptical. Emmerson Mnangagwa seems to be in the most prominent position to be Zimbabwe’s next leader. As Steven Feldstein puts it, “Mnangagwa is massively invested in ensuring his continued and unfettered access to power, which has proven highly lucrative for him. The vice president is “reputed” to be one of Zimbabwe’s richest people. All of this suggests he might become yet another dictator.”

So what should we expect for the future of Zimbabwe? And more importantly, how can the forces in Zimbabwean society pushing for democratic reform make use of the current window of opportunity? On Thursday, your very own CANVAS released an in-depth analysis on the ongoing situation in Zimbabwe. About the importance to distinguish between the party and the state in relation to the origination of the coup, and the role political opposition and social movements should play in the coming weeks and months.

CANVAS Zimbabwe Analysis


After the Supreme Court had decided to dissolve Cambodia’s main opposition party last week in what some have said to be politically motivated, allowing Prime Minister “Hun Sen to extend his more than three decades in power in next year’s general election”, elected officials from the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) started handing over their duties. Among those told to abandon their positions were councilors elected in communal elections this year, when CNRP won control of 40% of Cambodia’s local councils, demonstrating potential electoral threat for Hun Sen in upcoming elections. His party, the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) is set to take over positions in nearly all communes which had been subject to the CNRP. Mu Sochua, a senior CNRP member who fled Cambodia earlier said that they ‘rejected the decision of the court’ and that its leader charged with treason would remain president and former leader Sam Rainsy, had rejoined, reported Reuters.

The news outlet further reported that the National Election Committee announced on Thursday, that CNRP’s parliamentary seats were reallocated to five of the smaller parties which had failed to win any seats in the last election. The majority of the 55 seats went to the royalist Funcinpec party of Prince Norodom Ranariddh, now receiving 41 seats (118 of in the whole National Assembly) after only winning 4% of the vote in 2013. Funcinpec’s leader used to be Hun Sen’s biggest rival, though now being aligned with the prime minister. The remainder was awarded to four other parties, of whom two refused to take their respective 6 and 5 seats, meaning they would have to go to another party. Reuters wrote that CNRP officials had not made immediate comments. 118 of its members have been banned from politics for five years, while many of its leaders have left the country. A leaked document revealed that “Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has warned his party it could still lose next year’s election even after the banning of the opposition and demanded that it improve its image.” His Party “played down the importance of the message, in which Hun Sen tells senior officials they must stop corruption, extortion and other illegal practices and start making people happy.”

After Radio Free Asia (RFA) closed its Cambodia office in September in a widespread crackdown on news outlets, two journalists who used to work for the US-funded outlet were charged last Saturday with ‘providing information to a foreign state which may damage the nation’. The journalists were detained for questioning last week after a police discovery of them renting a hotel room in Phnom Penh, allegedly using it as an office to continue providing RFA with information about Cambodia. They have denied the allegations and said they had been using the room as a new business after having lost their RFA jobs. If found guilty, the two will face up to 15 years in prison.

Reuters (CNRP start handing over duties)
Reuters (parliament seats reallocated, Hun Sen’s warning to his party)
South China Morning Post (former RFA Journalists)


In the context of their meeting in Russia city Sochi, the leader of Russia, Turkey and Iran announced their willingness on Wednesday to sponsor a conference in Sochi aimed at achieving a peaceful settlement of the Syria war. In the joint statement, the three countries “called on representatives of the Syrian opposition “that are committed to the sovereignty, independence, unity, territorial integrity and non-fractional character of the Syrian state” to take part in the Sochi conference”, wrote the NY Times. Otherwise, no further details about such a conference in Sochi are known, including its potential participants from the opposition side or when it will be held. Wednesday’s meeting coincided with one held by Syrian opposition factions in Saudi Arabia who had tried to form a unified position going into UN-organized Geneva talks on November 28, though it seemed they struggled, especially with agreeing on Assad’s future in Syria.

Earlier this week, Russian President Vladimir Putin had met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, indicating that the latter might have agreed to the idea. Putin further called President Trump and other regional leaders. The announcement by Putin, Rouhani and Erdogan on Wednesday underscored Russia’s growingly influential role in determining the outcome of the Syrian war, seemingly overshadowing those efforts by the UN. The latter stated however, that their main focus remains on meetings to be held in Geneva next week, hoping “that all the other processes that are underway will contribute to a successful round of talks.”

Iraqi forces launched an operation on Thursday to clear the desert bordering Syria and Iraq in a final push against the ‘Islamic State’ (IS) which has been said to have been militarily defeated, aiming at preventing remaining groups to settle in the desert region and use it as a base for further operations. Meanwhile, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani had declared the end of the IS on Tuesday. The militant group had carried out their first attack in Iran in June while Iranian forces had been fighting in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the Iraqi central government for years. Their engagement has been framed as an effort by the mainly Shiite Iran against the Sunni Muslim fighters of IS.

NY Times
Reuters (Iraq)
Reuters (Iran)


Amidst mounting international pressure, Myanmar and Bangladesh signed an accord over the terms for the return of the Rohingya Muslims from Bangladesh on Thursday, following a meeting in Myanmar’s capital. Myint Kyaing, a permanent secretary at Myanmar’s ministry of labor, immigration and population, told Reuters “that the memorandum of understanding was based on the 1992-1993 repatriation agreement between the two countries which had been inked following a previous spasm of violence in Myanmar.” While key elements of the deal are said to be the criteria of return of the Rohingya and the participation of the international community, other significant points such as safeguards against further violence and addressing their legal status as well as “whether they would be allowed to return to their own homes and farms”, were left without further elaboration. After a statement by Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, with whom civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi has to share power, senior UN officials have voiced their fear of security personnel in key positions not cooperating with the return of the Rohingya.

Within the last week, China had called for a ceasefire in Rakhine State and suggested a three stage approach, while the EU and UNHCR voiced being ready to assist Myanmar in moving forward with the crisis. US Secretary of State had called the violence and following displacement of thousands in Rakhine State “ethnic cleansing”, after the UN had done so earlier. Meanwhile, Amnesty International has published a new report addressing violations and discrimination of the Rohingya, labelling their situation as “apartheid”.

Reuters (Myanmar and Bangladesh)
Reuters (China and international reactions)
Amnesty International


The former mayor of Caracas, Antonio Ledezma who is a known opponent of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, has succeeded in escaping from house arrest and was welcomed Saturday in Spain. He had been arrested in February 2015, after accusations of his involvement in a plot to overthrow the government, before he was later released from jail and put under house arrest due to health reasons. Ledezma who was happy to have attained freedom and to be in Spain with his family, vowed to continue fighting the Venezuelan President whom he called “a tyrant”. In The Hague, Luisa Ortega, Venezuela’s ousted chief prosecutor who had fled Venezuela, called on the International Criminal Court to charge President Nicolas Maduro with crimes against humanity. She referred to more than 8,000 deaths which, she said, took place at the hands of officials receiving instructions from the government in the last two years.

At the same time in Venezuela, six executives of Citgo, a US subsidiary of Venezuela’s national oil company PDVSA, have been arrested for alleged corruption, announced by Attorney General Tarek William Saab. The Washington Post had reported that four of the arrested were US citizens. It has been speculated whether this latest move – only one in recent months leading to the arrest of around 50 people associated with Venezuela’s vital oil industry – is “mostly a high-profile effort by Mr. Maduro to reinforce his power on the cusp of a presidential election year”, wrote the NY Times. The arrests also came within discussions and uncertainties about Venezuela’s deepening economic crisis and what has already been labeled as a default by some. A general overview of the economic and default situation can be found here.

CNN (Antonio Ledezma)
The Independent (International Criminal Court)
NY Times (oil industry arrests)
CNBC (economic overview)

Democratic Republic Congo

On November 22, representatives of the Guarantors of the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for the DRC and the region, including the African Union, United Nations, International Conference of the Great Lakes Region and the Southern African Development Community met in Ethiopia to review the status of preparations for elections in DRC, also discussing coordinated regional and international support. During the meeting, they reaffirmed their commitment supporting “a democratic and peaceful transition in the DRC through credible and transparent elections” and called on the government to “ensure the required political space throughout the country, including freedom of peaceful assembly and equitable access to state media”, reported ReliefWeb, referring to the official statement.

New Vision also reported on the UN condemning a new spike of human rights violations, for many of which security forces were said to be responsible. Violations included, among others, extra-judicial killings and rape. The increase in violence follows an outbreak of street protests opposing the prolonged rule of President Kabila who has been in office since 2001, but refused to step down even though he would have to do so by law. Only on Saturday, six protesters were injured after police had fired during an opposition rally in Kenge (Western DRC). Meanwhile, the police claimed that only one protester had been wounded due to rocks thrown by other demonstrators. The opposition, which criticized the recent decision to schedule elections (only) for December 23, 2018, is “considering a ‘peaceful demonstration’ in Kinshasa on November 28, according to a letter seen by AFP”, published News24.

New Vision

The United States of America

On Monday, the White House asked the U.S. Supreme Court to allow President Donald Trump’s latest travel ban to take full effect after a San Francisco appeals court ruled last week that only parts of it could be enacted, meaning the legislation would only apply to people from Iran, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Somalia and Chad without connections to the US. The ban had been announced on September 24th, replacing two previous ones which had been impeded by federal courts. The appeal to the Supreme Court argued that the latest travel ban differed from the previous bans and was “based on national-security and foreign-affairs objectives, not religious animus.” Trump said such a ban was needed to protect the US from Islamist militants’ attacks, while critics have called it a ‘Muslim ban’ violating the US Constitution by discriminating based on religion.

President Trump further drew criticism for backing Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore who is accused of sexual misconduct involving teenagers and who some have called on to quit the race. However, according to previous statements Trump had also found Moore’s allegations to be “extremely troubling” and stated, according to BBC: “I think it’s a very special time, a lot of things are coming out and I think that’s good for our society and I think it’s very, very good for women and I’m very happy.”

The US President has further announced to designate North Korea as “state sponsor of terror” amid increased nuclear tension on the Korean peninsula. Trump has described the move as “part of the US ‘maximum pressure campaign’ against Pyongyang”, wrote The Guardian. Congressional lawmakers have pressured to relist North Korea after it had been removed in 2008, though some are fearing to increase the already aggravated tensions on the peninsula. With this step, North Korea would join Iran, Sudan and Syria on the above list, which has been welcomed by South Korea and Japan.

Reuters (travel ban)
BBC (Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore)
The Guardian (North Korea)


A bill introduced by Poland’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party “undermine[s] the fairness of elections, opposition deputies said in parliament on Thursday”, wrote Euronews. The PiS has claimed their proposal would make voting more transparent, while critics said its real aim is boosting PiS’ prospects in upcoming elections. The party has been under criticism from the European Commission, for eroding democratic standards, by its push to bring the judiciary and state media under more direct control  in Poland, besides issues over migration and logging. The bill is being voted on by the PiS-dominated parliament today and would have to be signed into law by President Andrzej Duda. A number of rights groups have signed a petition this week stating the plan’s to overhaul the judiciary would mean an end to “Poland’s status as a democratic state based on the rule of law”, wrote Reuters.

Earlier this week, EU Council President Donald Tusk has harshly criticized the Polish government and has linked its politics to a “Kremlin plan”. The Polish government in return accused him of “attacking Poland”. French President Emmanuel Macron said on Thursday that Poland’s plans remained a cause for concern, while there were also a decreasing number of subjects for disagreement for the two countries. However, he said France would follow the EU’s conclusions of an investigation concerning Poland’s judicial reform, reported Reuters.


Other News

Maldives – The Maldives central bank has warned over mounting state debts and voiced concern over the country’s continued dependency on foreign financial markets. Meanwhile, President Abdulla Yameen has “warned of ‘ideological warfare and malicious economic schemes’ against his country” after Indian and US diplomats had met to discuss the situation in the Maldives, wrote the Observer Research Foundation on Eurasia Review. Internally, “[t]he opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has called on the authorities to quit harassing social media activist Thayyib Shaheem”, reported Raajje.

Yemen – Reuters reported, a U.S.-funded famine survey said that thousands of Yemenis could die daily if a Saudi-led military coalition continues its blockade on the country’s key ports. CANVAS had already reported of the aggravating humanitarian situation in Yemen throughout the last weeks.

Kenya – On Monday, Kenya’s Supreme Court ruled unanimously to uphold the re-election of President Uhuru Kenyatta in October’s repeat presidential vote which opposition candidate Odinga had boycotted, dismissing two legal challenges. Reuters states Kenya’s current political crisis is likely to continue and clashes between opposition supporters and the police led to several deaths over the weekend, further causing riots met with tear gas.

Lebanon – Wednesday, Prime Minister Saad Hariri suspended his surprise resignation, after having announced the latter earlier this month in Saudi Arabia. It had come amidst a regional power struggle between Saudi Arabia and Iran and a renewed Saudi condemnation of Hezbollah, Hariri’s partner in government. Lebanon itself is struggling with the number of incoming refugees, tensions from Hezbollah’s involvement in the Syrian conflict alongside Bashar al-Assad, as well as internal sectarian divisions. Saudi Arabia had already persuaded most of the 22 member states of the Arab League to condemn Hezbollah as a ‘terrorist organization’ at a meeting in Cairo on Sunday.

Manus Island – Around 400 refugees have been refusing to leave a controversial immigration detention center on Manus Island (Papua New Guinea), claiming the new one they are supposed to be relocated to, would offer them less security. When police entered the center this week, refugees claimed them to have acted ‘heavy-handedly’, whereas officials state police had been peaceful. Australian Prime Minister Turnbull made clear this would not affect Australian immigration policies. Nevertheless, comments by New Zealand’s (NZ) Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern had raised speculations about Turnbull considering NZ’s offer to take up 150 of the detainees.

Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte’s spokesman said on Thursday that there is a “strong likelihood” Duterte will lift an earlier suspension on police from his ‘war on drugs’. Almost 4,000 Filipinos have been killed in what police say are anti-drug operations, which had received international criticism. Reuters quoted Human Rights Watch Asia’s deputy director saying that “people should ‘brace for more bloodshed’ and called again for a United Nations-led international investigation.” The President also canceled peace talks with rebels from the Communist Party of the Philippines who have been involved in one of Asia’s longest insurgencies, threatening to categorize them as a ‘terrorist group’.

CANVAS’ Daily News

Also read what we featured in our daily news section this week, besides our in-depth analysis of Zimbabwe mentioned above:

Zimbabwe’s Unity of Purpose (in Protest-Signs)
Throwing a Pie – More than a Simple Act of Protest

With Mugabe down, the real struggle for New Zimbabwe has just begun! – [In Depth Analysis]

Photo Credits: BBC

Published on 23/11/2017

Coup, resignation, celebration-good news or the bad news for Zimbabwe?

Despite the dancing people in the streets of Harare, we must be aware that the coup in Zimbabwe which led to resignation of its long sitting president Mugabe, was not committed in their best interest. Not in the first place, at least. And where most analysis of the recent military intervention focuses on the outcomes of the coup, maybe we should start by realistically looking at its roots. If the ultimate goal is to create a more free and democratic society in Zimbabwe, there is both good news and bad news for the country. Only when we understand that the military intervention is focused on the continuation of ZANU-PF rule in the first place, can we decide what the role of the political opposition, civil society and international community should now be.

Let’s start with the bad news.


The difference between the Party and the State

In Zimbabwe, ruling party and state have been interwoven for over 37 years. With ZANU-PF being supreme over state institutions and -structures, whatever happens in ZANU-PF directly affects the state (Msindo 2016). The lines between the ruling party and the state have become blurred, and as a result of ZANU-PF’s monopoly on power, Zimbabwe has become a de-facto one-party state.

The ruling party uses “both tangible and intangible” state-resources for its campaigns during elections, giving ZANU-PF a decisive advantage over opposition political parties.[i] Furthermore, the party’s thorough control over state institutions such as state-media, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, and Registrar General’s Department has enabled ZANU-PF to control the electoral process. Finally, the party obscures the difference between ZANU-PF and Zimbabwean nationalism, in very subtle ways. Funerals of former ZANLA-fighters are turned into state-events, and the Zimbabwean flag is appropriated as a party symbol.[ii]

As much as United Kingdom Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson expressed hope that a “stable and successful Zimbabwe” will emerge from the coup, there is one thing Johnson clearly does not fully understand. The military coup is not about the future of a country, but about the power-structures within the ruling party in the first place. Unfortunately enough for the cheering people in the streets of Harare on Saturday, General Constantino Chiwenga did not have the Zimbabwean citizens on his mind when he drove down Josiah Tongogara Street towards State House late on Tuesday last week.

While the military coup might seem to be focused on those who caused the socio-economic deprivation in the state, what it essentially seeks to do is control the power-structure within the ruling party. The difference between what is good for the ruling party and what benefits the state should therefore be clearly kept in mind when developing scenarios for the roadmap to a more free and democratic Zimbabwe. Despite Major General SB Moyo’s  suggestions that the military actions were motivated by “crimes that are causing social and economic suffering in the country”, it was in fact a shifting power-balance in the succession struggle within the ruling party that eventually caused the army to move.


Succession Struggle

This succession struggle dates back to the 2014 purge of former vice-president Joice Mujuru and eight cabinet ministers. Mujuru was said to have become a too powerful force within the party, and was then accused variously of corruption, theft and even plotting to kill President Mugabe. Mujuru and her followers had to go, a practice that is said to be characteristic of Robert Mugabe’s style of ruling ZANU-PF.

When Mujuru was replaced by Emmerson Mnangagwa, a bitter struggle between two factions within the ruling party began, which continued relatively quietly until last week. The so called ‘G-40’-faction represents the younger generation within ZANU-PF, a group of politicians [most notably, Jonathan Moyo, Saviour Kasukuwere and Patrick Zhuwao] without war-credentials. G-40 allegedly backed Mugabe’s wife Grace for the party-leadership, despite the fact that ‘Gucci-Grace’ is not popular among most groups in Zimbabwean society.

On the other hand, is the so called ‘Team-Lacoste’-faction, which backs Mnangagwa as Mugabe’s successor for party-leadership. The former Vice-President has been with Mugabe from the start, as they worked together both during the liberation-struggle as well as during Mugabe’s ruling days. Mnangagwa has a strong following in Zimbabwe’s powerful military and amongst war veterans, and has kept a lot of connections from his days as both Minister of Defense and intelligence chief.

In December, ZANU-PF planned to host its last annual congress before the 2018 elections. As the party-assembly is seen as a decisive event for the future of the party, all contesters for party-leadership have tried to position themselves as best as possible. As several of the G40 faction members were discredited over the last months, Mnangagwa’s hand seemed to play out. However, early this month, the factional infighting took a different turn, as Mugabe openly accused Mnangagwa of “disloyalty, disrespect, deceitfulness and unreliability.”[iii] On November 7, Mugabe fired Mnangagwa. For many, his removal meant that Grace Mugabe was expected to be appointed vice-president at the party congress in December.


Time for Bob to rest now

Why the bad news is so important

From that point onwards, we can clearly see that the conflict out of which the coup came forth is about the party and not about the country. On November 8, before the coup still, War-Veterans leader Chris Mutsvangwa stated that “[President Robert] Mugabe is not the owner of the party.” On that same day, Mnangagwa released a statement saying that he had fled Zimbabwe, lashing out to his President saying that “the ruling ZANU-PF party “is not personal property for you and your wife to do as you please.”

On Monday November 13, Zimbabwe’s army chief Constantino Chiwenga demanded a “stop” to the purge in the ruling party and warned that the military could intervene. Then, very late on Tuesday, soldiers sealed access to parliament, government offices and courts in Harare. Access to the president’s official residence was also blocked by troops, and Robert Mugabe is forced into negotiations about the end of his rule. After Robert Mugabe hijacked these negotiations to postpone his departure from power, an impeachment-procedure started on November 20.

In his Sunday address to the Zimbabwean nation, Robert Mugabe stated that he does “believe that these [issues raised by the military] were raised in the spirit of honesty and out of deep and patriotic concern for the stability for our nation and for the welfare of our people.” Seeing the cheerful and especially diverse and united front of people in the streets of Harare on Saturday, one would almost start to believe that the military decided on their move out of sincere concerns for all of those who came out on Saturday. The truth, however, is different.

The main concern of those who are now being hailed as the revolutionaries of Zimbabwe, not in the last place by the Zimbabweans themselves, is the power of the ruling party over the country. All these clues should clearly show us that this coup was not brought about because several million people are suffering in Zimbabwe, but because a handful of elite saw their power-position being given away by a 93 year old man.

This distinction is of a vital importance, as it emphasizes the risk that the ongoing redistribution of power will not change anything for the people of Zimbabwe. The de-facto one party state; the control of ZANU-PF over the electoral process; the suppression of contentious political claims; the subtle monopolization of Zimbabwean nationalism by ZANU-PF; none of this has changed with the military coup and the appointment of Emmerson Mnangagwa as the new party leader. As Steven Feldstein puts it, “Mnangagwa is massively invested in ensuring his continued and unfettered access to power, which has proven highly lucrative for him. The vice president is “reputed” to be one of Zimbabwe’s richest people. All of this suggests he might become yet another dictator.” Instead of cheering that Mugabe’s days seem to be over, let us focus on the opportunities the current developments offer for more democratically oriented forces to go against a continued ZANU-PF dominated Zimbabwe.


The Good News

As Jason Burke and Emma Graham-Harrison finally expressed in the Guardian on November 20, “the [military] purge has in effect decimated the [G-40] group and underlines the degree to which the overthrow of Mugabe’s 37-year rule has been driven more by competition for power within the ZANU-PF than popular anger at a dictatorial and corrupt regime.” However, this popular anger, or decades of build-up grievances if you will, seems to be able to more and more take over the momentum that the coup has created.

This is where the good news comes in. As we speak, the citizens of Zimbabwe could be hijacking the military coup, turning the elite’s power-quest into a bottom-up demand for a more free and fair Zimbabwe. The call for people to take their frustration over Robert Mugabe’s refusal to step down to the streets might have been insinuated by the military and ZANU-PF elite to make their purge look like the will of the people. However, as Zimbabweans continue to be on the streets of all major Zimbabwean cities, the recent developments in the country have opened up unbelievable opportunities for those forces in Zimbabwean society that can counter ZANU-PF’s continued authoritarian and corrupt rule.

The Zimbabwean military leadership is trying everything they can to make their coup look like something constitutionally legitimate. This is not without a reason. The eye of the world is on Zimbabwe. With the exception of the violence surrounding the 2008 elections, Zimbabwe has been largely ignored by the international media in the last two decades.[iv] That is different now.


Zimbabwean MPs cheered and celebrated as Mugabe’s resignation was announced

Political Opposition

These newly found opportunities are especially beneficial for the Zimbabwean political opposition parties. Only a few months ago, there seemed to be not a single chance for them to play a serious role in next year’s elections. Due to big divides between political parties and coalitions, and a very ill Morgan Tsvangirai desperately holding on to the leadership of the MDC-T, ZANU-PF was looking forward to another walk-over electoral victory in 2018.

Now, the people on the streets of Zimbabwe and their call for democratic change have opened up a window of opportunity. The question is, however, can the opposition regain the trust of the people, which is currently at an all-time low. From field-research conducted earlier this year one can conclude that the hope for a better Zimbabwe that mainly the MDC brought up to 2008 was shattered in the last decade. Especially during and after the period of the Government of National Unity (GNU), that party lost a lot of public support.[v]

The party’s grassroots structures had been badly damaged by the violence preceding the 2008 elections. The actions of the MDC-T during power sharing then damaged the party’s public reputation. The side-lining of civil society from the negotiations not only put tremendous strain on the MDC-T’s relations with the civic movement that had brought it to life, but also eroded the popular support for the Global Political Agreement. Its upper leadership visibly benefiting from participation in the inclusive government[vi] fostered the perceptions that the party had “joined the gravy train”.[vii] The eventual walk-over victory of ZANU-PF in the 2013 elections sealed the fate of the political opposition. A 2017 study by Lekalake shows that trust in opposition politics collapsed, from 64% in 2008 to only 34% in 2014. Personal affiliation with opposition political parties even dropped from 74% in 2008 to 28% in 2014.


End of Political Apathy?

Over the last two decades, the aggressive strategies that characterized the sphere of party-politics in Zimbabwe developed into a heavily polarized society, which was not limited to the political realm. “Zimbabweans viewed political and economic developments through the heavily tinted lens of party affiliation”.[viii] Creating ‘insiders and outsiders’, these short-run strategies of polarization then brought with them intimidation, violence and subsequently fear.[ix]

The inaccessibility of the political realm, combined with the disappointment in the MDC described above, has resulted in political apathy among Zimbabwean citizens. Zimbabwean youth in particular respond to this polarized field of political violence and intimidation by withdrawing from that public political sphere and staying away from political actors and discourses.[x] Citizens would rather accept the inaccessibility of the party-political sphere than run the risk of getting caught up in the violence that it is characterized by, resulting in “the comfort of doing nothing”.[xi]

But with the recent events in Zimbabwe, the tables have turned. With the whole world watching, the party-political sphere cannot be dominated by violence and intimidation any longer. The mass-mobilization we have seen on the weekend, which continued on Monday, is the first proof of a re-engaged citizenry. This is an unprecedented window of opportunity, but it remains doubtful if the opposition parties can regain the trust lost in the last decade.


Chance for Social Movements to step in?

This is where Zimbabwe’s social movements step in. Where the opposition-parties should play the role of the end-vehicle to translate the mobilized momentum into political yields, a broader coalition of democratic forces in Zimbabwe should first ensure that the military coup will not end up a replacement of the one bad guy with another. In seizing the current window of opportunity, Zimbabwean social movements might play a decisive role. Where the current status of the political opposition is at an all-time low, the movements’ 2016 contentious episode is still fresh in memory.

The year 2016 proved their capability to mobilize a big part of the Zimbabwean citizenry. With #ThisFlag and #Tajamuka/Sesjikile as the main protagonists, the latest episode of social movements in Zimbabwe was able to let Zimbabwean citizens make unprecedented contentious political claims against their repressive government. Field-research carried out in Zimbabwe between March and June 2017 abstracted some of the most important factors which made this mobilization possible.

What was essential for mainly the #ThisFlag-movement in 2016 was a revaluation of active citizenship, as an alternative for participation in the party-political landscape. Values of boldness, framed as “holding the government to account without fear or favor,”[xii] and a renewed love for one’s country, opposed to selfish interests of the ruling elite, created a clear identity-divide between the movements, and those they fought against.[xiii] Today, this clear identity-divide is of essential importance to not mistake power-hungry elites for Zimbabwe’s new liberation heroes, as described in the beginning of this article.

Furthermore, part of the repressive circumstances, which made the 2016 protests such a surprising phenomenon, could be said to no longer stand in the way of mass mobilization. With the whole international community watching, ZANU-PF cannot use their repressive tactics in the way they did openly in 2008, and a little bit more hidden in 2013. Also, the low-threshold methods #ThisFlag had to offer for citizens to be able to participate in protest have now become unnecessary. If a broad spectrum of civil society actors can continue the momentum of a citizenry which seems ready to take the streets and stand for democratic changes, while the whole world is watching, that might be able to force the ruling party to allow them/the political opposition a seat at the table.[xiv]


Every Crisis Forms an Opportunity!

The parallels with a different revolution that happened in 2011 are crystal clear. After mass protests in the streets of Cairo, the military abused the Egyptian citizens by hijacking their revolution. While the people of Egypt thought they were changing their country, the military interference silently turned their “purpose” into one which legitimized internal power struggle within ruling elite, hiding it as a ‘people’s revolution’. Do we recognize this from somewhere? Eventually, the bad guy was kicked out, only to pave the way for another strongman in the making and people started being suppressed again as soon as they left the streets.

In the last week, the Zimbabwean citizens stood up and started to mobilize for that change. But a hijacking is dangerously close again. Mugabe’s resignation is not the people’s victory yet, because also here we could see one dictator being replaced by another. That is why now, the political opposition and social movements, supported by the world’s eye focused on Zimbabwe, should push as hard as they can to translate the current excitement into political concessions by the ruling party.

The way to do that would be by actively leading the “awakening of the people” and make sure that the most important problems of Zimbabwean society – such us democracy, human rights, political and social oppression and economic reforms – are on the top of the list during the transition process that will be taking place in next few months.

Anyone inclined to see the results of this strategy, might have to consider looking beyond the 2018-elections. Real political reform through cultural alteration in Zimbabwe will prove to be a marathon rather than a sprint. However, the current momentum provides an opportunity for short-term impact, and opposition political parties, social movements and other civil society actors should not let that opportunity get away. The Zimbabwean revolution should not be about Uncle Bob vs. The Crocodile – it should be about turning a suffering country away from the path of dictatorship and despair.




Aeby, Michael (2016), “Making an impact from the margins? Civil society groups in Zimbabwe’s interim power-sharing process”, Journal of Modern African Studies, 54.4, 703728.

Chigora, Guzura and Ndimande (2015). The Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (ZANU PF) Regime in Power in the 21st Century: A Question of Popular Support or Preserving Power by Undemocratic Means, International Journal of Politics and Good Governance Volume VI, No. 6.3 Quarter III 2015

Kagoro, Brian (2005) “The prisoners of hope: Civil Society and the opposition in Zimbabwe”, African Security Review, 14:3, 19-29.

LeBas, A. (2006), “Polarization as craft: party formation and state violence in Zimbabwe”, Comparative Politics, 419-438

LeBas, A. (2014), “The perils of power sharing”, Journal of Democracy, 25(2), 52-66.

Lekalake, R. “Popular views of the opposition in Southern Africa’s one-party dominant regimes”, AfroBarometer Policy Paper Nr. 38, February 2017, online via

Msindo, E. (2016). Factionalism and Robert Mugabe’s Leadership in Zimbabwe. Governance and the Crisis of Rule in Contemporary Africa, 147-172.

Oberdorf, J. P. R. A. (2017). Inspiring the Citizen to be Bold: Framing Theory and the Rise and Decline of the# ThisFlag-movement in Zimbabwe (Master’s thesis).

Oosterom, M. A. and Lloyd, Pswarayi, “Being a Born-free. Violence, Youth and Agency in Zimbabwe”, Institute of Development Studies Research Report 79, December 2014, online via

Raftopoulos, Brian (2013) “The 2013 Elections in Zimbabwe: The End of an Era”, Journal of Southern African Studies, 39:4, 971-988.

Raftopoulos, Brian (2014), “Zimbabwean Politics in the Post-2013 Election Period”, Africa Spectrum, 49, 2, 91-103.

Ranger, T. (2004), “Nationalist historiography, patriotic history and the history of the nation: The struggle over the past in Zimbabwe”, Journal of Southern African Studies, 30(2), 215234.



[i] Chigora, Guzura and Ndimande 2015: 10

[ii] Ranger 2004, Oberdorf 2017: 39

[iii] Earlier this month, a documentary is leaked, allegedly made by Education Minister Mojo, outlining how Mnangagwa would have subverted and captured State-institutions in a power grab.

[iv] See Coltart (2008: 9) for a reflection on the reasons for this. In the instances Zimbabwe is covered by  international media, the conflict is mainly used as an arena in which the battle over meaning and definition of the crisis on a macro-level takes place, rather than  a platform to tell the story of the Zimbabwean struggle at a micro-level. See for example Williams (2005) on the British media reporting on Zimbabwe.

[v] Raftopoulos 2013: 984-985, 2014: 98

[vi] LeBas 2014: 60, 2016: 4

[vii] Aeby 2016: 719

[viii] LeBas 2006: 420

[ix] LeBas 2014: 53-54

[x] Oosterom & Pswarayi 2014: 47

[xi] Kagoro 2005: 21

[xii] Evan Mawarire, “Rehearsing the #ThisFlag six core values”, 22 of July 2016, Accessed 10 July 2017, online via, 26th of July 2016, also see

[xiii] Oberdorf 2017: 37-38

[xiv] Besides #ThisFlag and #Tajamuka/Sesjikile, there have been other social movement making waves in Zimbabwe for the past two years. Some which have to be considered are the National Vendors Union Zimbabwe (NAVUZ), Occupy Africa Unity Square (OAUS), and #ZimbabweYadzoka (focused on the rural communities of Zimbabwe).



Throwing a Pie – More than a Simple Act of Protest

Published on 22/11/2017

The art of creative and humorous nonviolent resistance methods, laughtivism if you will, has been a popular topic for readers all around the world. Pie, and then especially the throwing of the object, could be considered a prototype political provocation, and a powerful punchline when staying on the surface of the act itself. David against Goliath, an “act of punching up”, mostly against a higher status person, showing that, with our face covered in pie, we all look alike, and nobody would dare to claim a superior position with a face full of cream.  

An unprecedented piece of journalism by Ben Paynter shows us the history of throwing pie as a form of nonviolent activism.  Although the record of political pie-throwing dates back to at least the mid-1600s, the recipe (of both the pie and the protest-method), have not changed much. Although maybe for one factor. Over time, “each hit became a surreal must-share moment for news agencies,” and pie-throwing “became an early political meme.” Communicating with their followers, but also more neutral audiences, “activists made sure to videotape or take pictures of each delivery, which with the growing reach of the internet were easily passed along to embolden others,” according to Paynter.  

But why exactly is throwing pie funny? Paynter claims that it is good to emphasize this for a bit, given the fact that some people involved in the act “felt the pie throwing was theater of such poor quality that it required a violent response.” To explain the humorous nature of pie, we can use something called the Benign Violation Theory, and was developed by Peter McGraw, marketing and psychology professor at the Humor Research Lab at the University of Colorado Boulder. According to McGraw, “for something to be funny in the eyes of the audience, the situation needs to be wrong yet okay, threatening yet safe. It needs to not make sense, yet make sense.” Most everyday experiences can be considered either good-natured (benign) or inappropriate (a violation). Only when a certain inappropriate action is made to be acceptable will it be considered funny: a benign violation! Throwing pie is inappropriate, but throwing a pie as a form of protest instead of using violence then makes it relatively acceptable.  

However, as with every method, there should come an underlying strategy. When this strategy is not in line with the act of throwing a pie, things might get ugly. And of course Paynter is right to conclude that, “from a strategic standpoint, pelting someone with a non-lethal, somewhat fluffy object makes sense: baked goods do less damage than bullets.” However, as our very own Srdja Popovic points out in the article, even pie-throwing can be a step to far sometimes. The best nonviolent acts are low risk and should not alienate any potential supporters, so they can be repeated by others to build momentum. How innocent pie throwing might sound, examples from Paynter’s article prove that the action can carry physical and legal repercussions. “[Pie throwing] can be funny, but it also can be offensive and insulting and people can take it differently,” Popovic says. 


Read Paynter’s full article here, and think twice before you start throwing them pies around! 

Zimbabwe’s Unity of Purpose (in Protest-Signs)

Photo: Protesters demanding President Robert Mugabe stands down march towards State House in Harare. The fact that Mugabe has to go seems to represent most Zimbabweans. But what will happen after the 93-year old is put aside? Photograph: AP (via

Published on 20/11/2017

This weekend, Zimbabweans all over the country took to the streets. On Saturday, tens of thousands of protesters came out to demand an end to Mugabe’s rule, but seemingly also to simply celebrate that change was finally coming. And change is coming, that is for sure. An official source with direct knowledge of the ongoing negotiations told CNN that Zimbabwe’s long-time president has agreed to the terms of his resignation and a letter has been drafted. According to the source, the aim of Sunday’s televised speech, in which Mugabe amazed and infuriated the country by apparently resisting calls to step aside, was to ensure the veteran leader openly declared the military’s actions to be constitutional. Despite the disappointing speech, the end of the Mugabe era is only a matter of time.  

Saturday’s protests were described to represent an unprecedented diversity within Zimbabwean society. From war-veterans to displaced white farmers, from ZANU-PF supporters to social-movement leaders, protesters seem to agree on this one point: Mugabe has to go! However, when Mugabe goes, several different scenarios could develop. In very simple terms, the spectrum goes from continued ZANU-PF autocracy under a different leader on the one side, to a transitional coalition authority leading the country into free and fair elections on the other (most positive) side. Considering this spectrum of possibilities, it should be doubted if every Zimbabwean who found him- or herself in the streets on Saturday would still be so united as to the future of Zimbabwe.  


Unity of Purpose 

If we look at the role nonviolent strategy could play in the country, the success of the future struggle for a more democratic and free Zimbabwe will be strongly influenced by three general principles: Unity, Planning, and Nonviolent Discipline. Let us look at the first principle of unity, for now. Besides unity of people, and unity within the organizations which will have to oppose the authoritarian and repressive forces in Zimbabwe, there has to be unity of purpose. As page 87 of the Canvas Core Curriculum tells us, “a movement or campaign must have internal consensus about its goals, and these goals must resonate with significant parts of the larger population.” ‘Mugabe must Go’ might be the mantra which unites the purpose of the broadest base of the protesters on Saturday. However, after Mugabe goes, what must happen? Is there a unity of purpose among Zimbabwean on that part? Or is celebration enough for now? 



As an in-depth research on the purpose of protesters in Zimbabwe might prove hard on such a short notice, let us use a different source: protest signs. As Zimbabweans are becoming a more and more connected people, pictures and videos of Zimbo’s protesting went all over the world on the weekend. What can their protest signs tell us about the unity of purpose among Zimbabweans?  

First, we can see many signs thanking the Zimbabwean Defense Forces, for the role they played in the inevitable toppling of Robert Mugabe. Especially army General Constantino Chiwenga seems to have earned the respect of many protesters. However, would these same people vouch for a continued control of the army over Zimbabwe? Or a new intervention by the General when the developments, let’s say in three months’ time, are not to his liking? It would not be acceptable to say this opinion would resonate with significant parts of the larger population in Zimbabwe, especially not those favoring a more constitutional roadmap towards the future.  

Furthermore, Emmerson Mnangagwa was a strongly represented person in the protest signs over the weekend. The former Vice-President, who is now put forward as the next leader of ruling party ZANU-PF, could, however, not be said to represent the larger population either. As Steven Feldstein puts it, “Mnangagwa is massively invested in ensuring his continued and unfettered access to power, which has proven highly lucrative for him. The vice president is ‘reputed’ to be one of Zimbabwe’s richest people. All of this suggests he might become yet another dictator.” Although the favored option for some, it does not seem likely Mnangagwa as Zimbabwe’s next leader is in the best interest of the Zimbabwean citizen either. Many protest signs also made reference to the fact that, more than wanting Mnangagwa as their next leader, Zimbabweans would at least not accept Grace Mugabe as the next in line of the Mugabe-dynasty, adding to the division in purpose.  

What might worry some, finally, is that those signs referring to bread and butter issues, or a better life for the average Zimbabwean, are very hard to find. A democratic, constitutional process, in which Zimbabwean opposition is represented besides ruling party ZANU-PF seems like the best and most realistic option moving forward for Zimbabwe. But signs referring to the unwanted interference of the African Union or Southern African Development Community, is as far as Zimbabwean protesters get. A free Zimbabwe, for future generations is as scarcely represented. But wouldn’t that be at least part of the goals that should resonate with significant parts of the larger population?  

Luckily, protest signs will not define the future of Zimbabwe by themselves. 

 To end on a lighter note, humor is a Zimbabwean characteristic that cannot be denied. Despite a military coup, the end of a 37-year rule, and not to forget an ongoing socio-economic crisis, some protesters have other things on their mind 

Weekly Report: 17 November, 2017

Photo: Ruling Party tensions reached a peak this week in Zimbabwe, when the military forced Robert Mugabe off the stage after 37 years in power – Photograph: Philimon Bulawayo_Reuters


Martha O’ Donavan, the American woman who’s arrest CANVAS reported on last week, has been granted bail last Friday. O’ Donavan’s, who is charged with subversion over allegedly insulting President Robert Mugabe on Twitter, her bail was set on $1,000. According to the Washington Post, she did not speak to reporters as she emerged from a prison in the capital, Harare, and left in a U.S. Embassy vehicle. As are the conditions attached to her bail, O’Donovan had to hand over her passport to the Zimbabwean authorities, and has to report to the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) on Monday and Friday. On Tuesday, Human Rights Watch releases a small report on the most recent clamp down on media in Zimbabwe, calling on the government to create an independent body to impartially investigate police abuses against journalists.

Also late last week, release an opinion-piece by Blessing Miles Tendi, on the role the British authorities might have played in the lay-off of former vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa. “With Mnangagwa’s dismissal,” Tendi argues, “the UK’s alleged strategy [to support Mnangagwa as Zimbabwe’s next president] has not only clearly failed, but its perceived backing for Mnangagwa prompted outrage among many Zimbabweans, further weakening the UK’s image in the country. Moreover, its support for Mnangagwa may have even contributed to his downfall.” Tendi moves on to argue that, besides the fact that UK-meddling in the presidential succession process is a known stick used by Mugabe, the UK should have recognized that associating itself with Mnangagwa would provoke heated domestic opposition because the controversial Mnangagwa has a long history of human rights abuses and violence.

Early this week, Reuters covered a piece by MacDonald Dzirutwe, relating to the building economic crisis in Zimbabwe. According to Dzirutwe, the cryptocurrency bitcoin is becoming a rare protection from the onset of hyperinflation and financial implosion for Zimbabweans. As Zimbabweans are desperately looking into anything they think might retain value, “some are turning to bitcoin out of desperation as their bank deposits lose value almost by the day, while others are using the online currency for housekeeping such as funding family members studying abroad,” the article claims. Bitcoin’s attraction to Zimbabweans also lies in the difficulty of making foreign payments due to government capping or halting transactions which make more money leave the country. For those in Zimbabwe who still have assets, that is.

Then on Tuesday and Wednesday, the army takes over Zimbabwe. Read all about the developments in the last few days on our website!

1. Al Jazeera
2. Human Rights Watch
3. African

  1. Reuters


One day ahead of the court hearing, Human Rights Watch brought out a statement on the upcoming ruling of Cambodia’s highest court on opposition party CNRP. On November 16, the Supreme Court will rule on a case brought at the behest of Prime Minister Hun Sen in October to dissolve the CNRP. The Cambodian government has accused that opposition party of trying to stage a “color revolution” – a reference to popular uprisings around the globe – but has provided no evidence of illegality in its court filings. Human Rights Watch stated that “Cambodia’s Supreme Court should resist government pressure to rule on dissolving the country’s main opposition party,” and added that “Cambodia’s international donors and supporters should state clearly that dissolution of the Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) will delegitimize national elections scheduled for 2018.” In the meantime, the opposition itself has seemed to have given up hope for the court-case. As the judge who heads the Supreme Court, Dith Munty, is a member of the permanent committee of the ruling Cambodia People’s Party (CPP), Mu Sochua, a deputy of Kem Sokha claimed that “there is no chance whatsoever for CNRP to escape dissolution.”

Meanwhile, on that same Wednesday, former opposition leader Sam Rainsy, who fled to France in 2015 to escape a jail term for defamation, announced he was returning to the CNRP-party. He left that same party in February over fears his membership would lead to it being banned. Rainsy is now running his political operations from Paris. “I’d like to announce that I, Sam Rainsy, became a member of the Cambodia National Rescue Party again from now onwards, whether it is dissolved or not,” he wrote on his official Facebook page. In an interview with Euronews this week, the opposition politicians claimed that he was in no hurry to return to his home country. “He [Hun Sen] would not hesitate to kill me or to kill any other leader of the CNRP…this is a different game. This time, we need a comprehensive solution to the crisis.” The components of such a solution, Rainsy stated, include the release of all political prisoners, an end to an atmosphere of political intimidation, and the re-opening of shuttered media. Although Rainsy acknowledges that this approach will “take time to achieve”, he claims it is the only way to ensure long-term results.

On Thursday, the inevitable happens, as Cambodia’s Supreme Court ordered the main opposition party to be dissolved. Dealing a crushing blow to democratic aspirations in the increasingly oppressive Southeast Asian state, the decision clears the way for the nation’s authoritarian leader to remain in power for years to come. Prime Minister Hun Sen also stated that 118 opposition party members would be banned from politics for the next five years, and the verdict could not be appealed. On that same day, The United States demands that Cambodia reverses its ban on the country’s main opposition, and warns that the dissolution of the party would strip 2018 elections of legitimacy. Reuters reports that Cambodia now faces US and EU sanctions.

1. Human Rights Watch

  1. Euronews
  2. AP News


Early this week, Human rights groups poured scorn on a Myanmar military investigation into alleged atrocities against Rohingya Muslims, branding it a “whitewash” and calling for U.N. and independent investigators to be allowed into the country. The reactions came after military sources posted the findings of an internal investigation on the Facebook page of its commander in chief, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, on Monday. The report said “it had found no instances where its soldiers had shot and killed Rohingya villagers, raped women or tortured prisoners. It denied that security forces had torched Rohingya villages or used excessive force,” according to Reuters.

On Monday, Bob Geldof announced that he would returns his Freedom of the city of Dublin honor in protest over Aung San Suu Kyi, who also holds the award. In a statement, the Live Aid founder and musician blasted the Burmese Nobel peace laureate, who has faced widespread criticism over her country’s treatment of its Rohingya Muslim minority. Geldof, originally from Dublin, said: “Her association with our city shames us all and we should have no truck with it, even by default. We honored her, now she appalls and shames us. I do not wish to be associated in any way with an individual currently engaged in the mass ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya people of north-west Burma.” On Saturday fellow Irish musicians U2 also criticized Burma’s civilian leader, urging her to fight harder against serious violence inflicted by the nation’s own security forces.

On the same day Human Rights Watch calls on the Burmese government to withdraw the protest ban for Yangon, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson visited Myanmar for talks with the country’s leaders. Tillerson was expected to hold talks about the situation in northern Rakhine state, meeting with leader Aung San Suu Kyi and Myanmar’s powerful military chief, Min Aung Hlaing, who is in charge of operations in Rakhine. U.S. lawmakers and activists are urging Tillerson to sanction Myanmar’s military if it doesn’t stop what a top United Nations official has called “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing” against the Rohingya Muslim minority. More skeptical opinion makers see the visit as to show Trump administration takes human rights seriously.

1. Reuters

  1. BBC
  2. Politico


Late last week, VOA News reports that The United States and Italy have organized an informal U.N. Security Council meeting on Venezuela. The meeting is aimed at preventing the crisis in that country from turning into a security threat, in the face of a crumbling Venezuelan economy. U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley will chair the informal meeting, which will include addresses from U.N. human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein and Organization of American States Secretary-General Luis Almagro. Haley is urging the U.N. Security Council to turn its attention to the situation in Venezuela, which has until now maintained that regional organizations were best suited to address the crisis. Permanent council members Russia and China boycotted the talks.

As the meeting happened on Monday, Human Rights Watch called on the UN Security Council to put strong, multilateral pressure, on the country, without which the human rights and humanitarian crisis will only get worse. According to HRW, the council should focus on the regime’s descent into authoritarian rule, the widespread brutal force to react on protests, a humanitarian crisis evolving out of the political crisis, and the impact emigration has on neighboring countries.

Before the first round of debt-restructuring talks took place starting from Monday, Venezuela claims to have reached an agreement to refinance and restructure the debt with Russia. As that deal was finalized on Wednesday, Venezuela’s other main creditor and ally China has chosen not to go along with the offer of debt relief. The Chinese foreign ministry on Wednesday expressed confidence that Caracas could “properly handle” its debt crisis, adding that financial cooperation was “proceeding normally”.

1. VOA News
2. Human Rights Watch
3. The Guardian


Spain remains deeply divided over the independence question of its Catalonian region. The Spanish prime minister Rajoy on Tuesday ruled out negotiating the future status of Catalonia with its ousted leaders. If up to him, “all of those who deceived Catalonia should be barred from public life”, Mr Rajoy stated in his first interview after imposing direct rule over Catalonia, adding that “in political terms they are off limits”. These remarks are a smack in the face of Catalan President Puigdemont. In an interview published on Monday by Belgian newspaper Le Soir, Mr Puigdemont had said that he believed agreement with the Spanish government was possible on something short of full independence for Catalonia.

Then, early this week Madrid announced that it believes Russian-based groups used online social media to heavily promote Catalonia’s independence referendum last month in an attempt to destabilize Spain. Although Catalonia’s separatist leaders have denied that Russian interference helped them in the vote, Spain’s defense and foreign ministers said they had evidence that state and private-sector Russian groups, as well as groups in Venezuela, used Twitter, Facebook and other Internet sites to massively publicize the separatist cause and swing public opinion behind it in the run-up to the referendum. According to CNN, however, the Spanish government could not “say with certainty” if the Russian government was behind it, Defense Minister Maria Dolores de Cospedal claimed.

1. Telegraph

  1. Reuters


Early this week, close to 60 people are reported to have been killed in air strikes on a rebel-held town in northern Syria. Atareb is located in an area of Aleppo province that is part of a so called “de-escalation zone”, established earlier this year by Russia and Iran – which support the Syrian government – and Turkey, which backs the rebels. The zones are credited for creating a decline in violence, but intermittent clashes have continued while humanitarian access is minimal. It is not clear whether the strike was carried out by Syrian government warplanes or those of its ally Russia.

Then on Tuesday, a Foreign Ministry statement, carried by state-run media, said that US troops in Syria supporting the international coalition to defeat ISIS have no right to be there. “The presence of the US forces or any foreign military presence in Syria without the consent of the Syrian government constitutes an act of aggression and an attack on the sovereignty of the Syrian Arab Republic,” Syria’s state-run news agency quoted an unnamed source in the Foreign Ministry. The comments came a day after U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis said “we are not going to just walk away right now” before the U.N-backed political process yields results. The US-led coalition has cited UN Security Council Resolution 2254 to justify its presence in Syria, which calls for “member states to prevent and suppress terrorist acts” specifically committed by ISIS, al-Nusra, al-Qaeda, among others. Kurdish officials also stated that they want the U.S. troops to remain in the country to help prevent clashes with pro-government forces, which are also battling IS.

On Thursday, the United Nations Security Council is due to vote on rival U.S. and Russian bids to renew an international inquiry into chemical weapons attacks in Syria. Washington and Moscow have put forward a draft resolution on renewing the mandate of the Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM), tasked with identifying perpetrators of Syria’s toxic gas attacks. According to Reuter, “diplomats say there is little support among the 15-member council for the Russian draft, which Russian U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia has said aims to correct “systemic errors” of the inquiry.” Late on Thursday, Russia vetoed a US-sponsored resolution that would have extended its mandate. “For the tenth time on Syria, and the fourth time on chemical weapons, Russia has actively obstructed the international community’s ability to identify the perpetrators of chemical weapons attacks,” Nikki Haley, US ambassador to the UN, said after the vote. After Russia lost a procedural vote at the Security Council on Thursday and was ordered to put its resolution up for a vote before the US proposal, it withdrew its own resolution.

1. BBC

  1. Newsweek
  2. Reuters

The United States of America

Despite the fact that the ongoing situation between the United States and North-Korea proceeds to scare many on this planet, the battle of words between the Trump-administration and Kim Jong-un also develops into something which looks like a fight between two six-year old’s. Late last week, after President Trump claimed North Korea’s leader insulted him by calling him an ‘old lunatic’, he hit back with a tweet saying: “Why would Kim Jong-un insult me by calling me ‘old,’ when I would NEVER call him ‘short and fat?’” As Trump has been working hard to rally global pressure against North Korea’s nuclear weapons program on his most recent Asia-trip, one could wonder if the laughtivism is part of his tactic, demonizing North Korea, and keeping it apart from the international community.

On the weekend, right before Trump’s last stop on his Asia-tour, various groups staged a series of protests against the scheduled visit of US President Donald Trump in the Philippines. At least 1,500 protesters gathered on Monday at the beginning of the ASEAN Summit activities. According to the protests groups, their biggest concern is “US encroachment on the sovereignty of nations in Asia through war and one-sided economic relations.” The activists are also protesting against the plan of the US government to fund the administration’s campaign against illegal drugs. The Philippines will be Trump’s last stop on a marathon tour that has taken him to Japan, South Korea, China as well as Vietnam.

1. South China Morning Post

  1. Straits Times

Democratic Republic Congo

Late last week, the UN Human Rights Committee told the DRC to get their human rights record in order. The U.N. watchdog gave Democratic Republic of Congo a year to report on actions it has taken to hold free and fair elections and clean up its rights record. Congo should come back with an explanation by November 2018, rather than after the regular four years between reviews. The Kabila-regime has scheduled elections for December 2018. Where the main opposition parties have rejected the date, other institutions seem to accept that the elections will be delayed more than two full years. The African Union has said the new electoral timetable must be “scrupulously respected” and US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley stated that citizens are “hungry for democracy and new leadership”.

The streets stayed empty in Kinshasa on Wednesday. Where several civil-movements have called for protests in the last week, on Wednesday the streets stayed calm, after these same movements organized a mass stay-away (une journée ville-morte). The protest was organized by one of the biggest social movements in Congo, named Lutte pour le Changement (#LUCHA), to refuse the election-calendar which was published by CENI last week, and to demand Joseph Kabila to step aside. The call was supported by the biggest opposition fractions. The tactics of a stay-away was also chosen after police forces announced they would hit hard on all gatherings of more than five people around Congo.

1. EWN

  1. (article in French)


The far right seems on the rise in Poland, as 60,000 people marched through Warsaw on Saturday (Poland’s Independence Day), seeing demonstrators tout white supremacist, anti-Semitic and Islamophobic messages. The most disturbing fact, however, might not be a banner which said, “pray for Islamic holocaust” and carried signs with slogans like “white Europe of brotherly nations”, while others chanted “pure Poland, white Poland” and “refugees get out!” Most disturbing, however, must have been the fact that, although the country’s government condemned racist and xenophobic ideas, it called the event “a great celebration of Poles, differing in their views, but united around the common values of freedom and loyalty to an independent homeland”. According to New York Times, “the more salient point was the ministry’s defense of the demonstration as an outpouring of patriotism. The only people arrested were some pro-democracy counter-protesters.”

A wholly different protest in Poland late last week, as police had detained 22 people “for disturbing the peace” at the headquarters of Poland’s forest management agency. The activists were calling for the withdrawal of heavy machinery from the Bialowieza forest. For this area, the only remaining primeval forest in Europe, the EU’s high court issued an injunction forbidding the country from continued logging, but Poland’s government has ignored the order, and continued to allow logging. That move unprecedented move, as the first case that an EU member state has ignored such an injunction. According to Deutsche Welle, “many believe the move to open up logging in the Bialowieza forest is a show of strength by the nationalistic Law and Justice (PiS) government, intent on showing the EU, which has accused the government of undermining democracy in the last two years, that it has the power to do what it wishes with its own land.”

1. New York Times

  1. Deutsche Welle

Other News

The Maldives – On Thursday, the Maldivian Civil Court accepted a case filed by RaajjeTV, over the MVR 500,000 imposed on the station by the Maldives Broadcasting Commission (MBC). One of the most important sources of independent news in the Maldives was fined MVR 500,000 on 8 October this year, for allegedly broadcasting content that “threatens national security”. The station has been fined thrice this year, under the controversial defamation law introduced in August 2016. The first fine, MVR 200,000, was imposed in March, while a second fine of MVR 1 million was imposed the same day it paid the first fine. All three cases have been appealed at the Civil Court – Raajje

Kenya – On Tuesday to Kenya’s Supreme Court reviewed petitions challenging President Uhuru Kenyatta’s victory in last month’s presidential election, in what may be the last chance for legal scrutiny of the vote – Reuters

Hong Kong – The Court of Appeal granted several activists, who were jailed for between eight and 13 months over their involvement in the protests outside the Legislative Council, to proceed to the Court of Final Appeal for permission to appeal. Their 2014 protests were aimed at then-Finance Committee chair Ng Leung-sing forcing a vote on a HK$340 million funding plan for a controversial northeast New Territories development plan – Hong Kong Free Press

CANVAS’ Daily News

Also read what we featured in our daily news section this week:

Animal rights protest in London – what to learn from animal rights activism

Peace Science Digest focuses on Nonviolent Resistance

Zimbabwe Coup November 2017 – Developments and Analysis

Published on 17/11/2017

Seeing the recent developments in Zimbabwe, with an alleged coup on Tuesday/Wednesday as the peak so far, we are in dire need of some background and perspective. Below you will find a small analysis on the most recent developments in the country.

Splits in the ruling party over succession

As Robert Gabriel Mugabe does not have the eternal life, the battle for his succession has started within ruling party ZANU-PF. However, the current president has set out to rule Zimbabwe unchallenged for the rest of his life. His favored technique for guaranteeing his dominance is to build up potential successors only to destroy them, when coming to close to power.

The succession struggle has not started only last week, but dates back to the 2014 purge of former vice-president Joice Mujuru and eight cabinet ministers. Mujuru was said to become a too powerful force within the party. She was then accused variously of corruption, theft and even plotting to kill Mr Mugabe, and therefore she and her followers had to go. Mujure was replaced by Emmerson Mnangagwa.

Then, a bitter struggle between two factions within the ruling party began, which continued relatively silently until last week. On the one hand, there is the so called ‘G-40’-faction. This faction is supposed to represent the younger generation within ZANU-PF, and is allegedly led by Education Minister Jonathan Moyo and Zanu-PF political commissar Saviour Kasukuwere. The faction’s main point of existence seems to be to fight against Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa succession as party leader. As an alternative, G-40 seems to support Mugabe’s wife Grace, who is more and more profiling herself as the main guard for anyone and anything who will put the position of her husband under attack. Grace (nicknamed Gucci-Grace for her exorbitant shopping sprees), is not popular among Zimbabwean citizen. Although G40 is believed to be fronting the First Lady for succession, there have been no official statements she would be running for the position when her husband dies.

On the other hand, there is the so called ‘Team-Lacoste’-faction, which backs up Mnangagwa as Mugabe’s successor for party-leadership. The former Vice-President has been with Mugabe from the start, as they worked together both during the liberation-struggle as well as during his ruling days. Mnangagwa has a strong following in Zimbabwe’s powerful military and amongst war veterans, and has kept a lot of connections from his days as both Minister of Defense and intelligence chief.


Latest Developments

In December, ZANU-PF will host its last annual congress before the 2018 elections. As the party congress is seen as a decisive event, all contesters for party-leadership are trying to position themselves as best as possible. As several of the G40 faction members were discredited over the last months, Mnangagwa’s hand seemed to play out. However, early this month, the factional infighting took another turn, as Mugabe openly accuses Mnangagwa of “disloyalty, disrespect, deceitfulness and unreliability.” A documentary is leaked, allegedly made by Education Minister Mojo, outlining how Mnangagwa would have subverted and captured State-institutions in a power grab. On November 7th, Mugabe fires Mnangagwa. For many, his removal meant that Grace Mugabe is expected to be appointed vice president at the party congress in December.

From that point, we could slowly see the signs of what eventually happened this week. On November 8, war veterans head Chris Mutsvangwa said that “[President Robert] Mugabe is not the owner of the party,” and called on almost every group thinkable in Zimbabwean society (churches, whites, MDC, the diaspora and South-Africa) to address the “menace that Zimbabwe now faces with Mugabe a senior old man with a mad wife.” On that same day, Mnangagwa released a statement saying that he had fled Zimbabwe, lashing out to his President saying that “the ruling ZANU-PF party “is not personal property for you and your wife to do as you please.”


Military coup

On Monday, Zimbabwe’s army chief Constantino Chiwenga demanded a “stop” to the purge in the ruling party and warned the military could intervene. Then, very late on Tuesday, soldiers seal access to parliament, government offices and courts in Harare. Access to the president’s official residence is also blocked by troops. The first official statement comes very early on Wednesday-morning, when the military takes over state broadcaster ZBC and military spokesman, Major General SB Moyo makes an announcement on state television. In this statement, the military explains it has temporarily taken control of the country to “target criminals” around President Robert Mugabe. They also immediately state that Mugabe and his family are “safe and sound and their security is guaranteed”. Finally, the statement also emphasizes that “this is not a military takeover of government,” but an act committed “to pacify a degenerating political, social and economic situation in our country which if not addressed may result in violent conflict.”


Towards the Future

After a day of house-arrest, talks between the president and senior military officers continue on Thursday, with senior church leaders and envoys sent from neighboring South Africa involved in mediation efforts. Emmerson Mnangagwa was reported to have returned to Zimbabwe on Tuesday evening from South Africa. Speculations about him replacing Robert Mugabe as the leader of Zimbabwe continued up to this moment. Mnangagwa’s particular role in the coup remains unclear. Reports that Grace Mugabe had fled to Namibia on Wednesday appeared false, with several sources saying she was detained with her husband in their residence in Harare.

According to the Guardian, several opposition officials have stated that negotiations had been ongoing for several months with “certain people within the army”, with that same army reaching out to different factions to discuss the formation of a transitional government. One opposition official said Mugabe would resign this week and be replaced by Mnangagwa, with opposition leaders taking posts as vice-president and prime minister, although there have not been any official statements as to this moment. However, Robert Mugabe seems to stubbornly hold on, demanding that he can finish his term in office.


Pillars of power

The early Wednesday speech by Major General SB Moyo on state television is very important to understand the movement of different power forces in Zimbabwe right now. Instead of speaking of their military takeover in bold and powerful terms, his argumentation is very inclusive, almost humble. Moyo addresses Robert Mugabe as “His Excellency, the president of the republic of Zimbabwe and commander in chief of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces”, as if Mugabe is still fully and solidly in power.

Moyo then continues to address all stakeholders in society (civil servants, judiciary, parliament, citizens, political parties, religious groups, the media and the war-veterans). Goal seems to be to facilitate this transition of power as calm and clean as possible. But is that an option in such a fractured and tense political arena? And wouldn’t it be naïve to see the military coup as such an altruistic deed? Let us look at some of the main players up close.

President Robert Mugabe

One has to understand that, even at this moment when President Mugabe’s role seems to have played out, it is not. Despite the fact that he has mistreated Zimbabwe for the past 30 years, his support-base is still incredibly strong. As Piers Pigou, a South Africa-based analyst for the International Crisis Group put it. “The [army] still need him to provide a veneer of legitimacy and constitutionalism. If he doesn’t want to play ball that is a bit of a problem.” It is not without a reason that the military statement on Wednesday began with saying that the President is safe and that this military takeover was not directed towards him. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that the events of the last 72 hours in Zimbabwe mark the beginning of the end of Robert Mugabe’s reign.

Grace Mugabe and the G40-faction

Can the faction of young Turks within the ruling party still play a role, influencing the process towards a new power divide in Zimbabwe? This does not seem to be likely, as they are (more than President Mugabe) the target of the military take-over. According to the BBC, several ZANU-PF officials are reported to be in custody including, Mr Mugabe’s former spin doctor Jonathan Moyo and Finance Minister Ignatius Chombo. Zimbabwean newspaper NewsDay is reporting that MP and government minister Paul Chimedza has been arrested at a road block trying to flee to South Africa.

The question now is how different organizations in society who used to back G40 or Grace Mugabe will react. As an example: ZANU-PF Woman’s League used to be backing Grace very firmly. At last year’s annual ZANU-PF conference, the Women’s League had moved that President Mugabe should appoint a woman into the presidency; a trick designed to influence the reassignment or expulsion of Mnangagwa to make way for a female Vice President. No official statement has come from their side yet.

Zimbabwean Military

A force which has always been strongly in the grip of the ruling-party, now has chosen a clear side. This has only been possible because of the rifts within ZANU-PF. It has to be understood that, in the revolt against specifically Grace Mugabe, the military top in Zimbabwe would never allow somebody without liberation-war-credentials to be the leader of the country. The military has strong ties to ZANU-PF as the liberation party, not to just any person who might want to lead that party.  Mnangagwa has these credentials, and his connections stemming from former positions as Minister of Defense and the intelligence-services give him a clear head start.


Because police officers are believed to be on President Mugabe’s side, the army moved in to take power over the police forces early on Wednesday. The Zimbabwean military is in charge of a paramilitary police support unit depot in Harare and has disarmed police officers there, an army source told Reuters. Only in August, there were clashes in central Harare between the Zimbabwe Republic Police – loyal to first lady Grace Mugabe and her allies in a Zanu-PF faction, G40 – and soldiers who are loyal to Mnangagwa. The role of the ZRP seems to be played out for now.

War Veterans

Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association (ZNLWVA)’s members have been an integral part of President Mugabe’s election campaign machinery since the emergence of the Movement for Democratic Change led by Morgan Tsvangirai. However, the War Veterans are now firmly opposing Robert Mugabe’s increasingly authoritarian rule. Already in 2016, the veterans announce a split from Mugabe, after which a personal with Mugabe develops.  Christopher Mutsvangwa, chairman of the ZNLWVA, was one of the victims of the purge of Mnangagwa’s allies from the party over allegations of indiscipline and plotting against President Mugabe. As well as for the military leadership, the war veterans find it very important for somebody with actual liberation war credentials to rule over ZANU-PF and thus over Zimbabwe. However, the stance of the war veterans is different to that of the military, in that their struggle is essentially against Robert Mugabe and his dictatorial tendencies. The military looks beyond this and tries to guide the future direction of the ruling party itself.

Political Opposition

As for the political opposition, the coup all of a sudden offers possibilities of which nobody had dared to dream a few months ago. None of the key players in the opposition have condemned the military coup so far, and some even dare to speculate on their role in the “roadmap back to legitimacy”. Truth is, however, that the political opposition seems to have had no hand whatsoever in the current developments in Zimbabwe. The opposition is fractured, but more importantly has lost its popular support over time. The hope for a better Zimbabwe that the MDC brought up to 2008 was shattered in the last decade. Especially during and after the period of the GNU, the MDC lost a lot of public support. The party’s grassroots structures had been badly damaged by the violence preceding the 2008 elections, and the actions of the MDC-T during power sharing damaged the party’s public reputation. The MDC side-lined civil society, while its upper leadership visibly benefitted from participation in the inclusive government. That fostered the perceptions that the party had “joined the gravy train.” The eventual walk-over victory of ZANU-PF in the 2013 elections sealed their fate. Now, all of a sudden, we can think of a scenario in which the opposition parties would join a transitional government. Where this might offer new opportunities to build their support towards the 2018-elections, it would be naïve to think that a new ZANU-PF leadership would allow their power to be taken away by the opposition.

South Africa – International Community

As the regional superpower, South Africa appears to be backing the takeover, as they are sending ministers to Harare to help with negotiations to form a new government and decide the terms of Mugabe’s resignation. The South-Africans, as well as the rest of the international community will mostly profit from a relatively calm take-over of power, as this will benefit the stability in the region. Despite the fact that Mnangagwa is not their dream candidate for the Zimbabwean leadership, this might be of minor importance for now. Alpha Conde said Thursday that the African Union “will never accept the military coup d’etat” in Zimbabwe. The head of the African Union stated that, despite the fact that there are internal problems, these have to be solved politically by the ZANU-PF party and not with an intervention by the army

Civil Society and Social Movements

In line with the Zimbabwean political opposition, the civil society is also fractured, seeming to play no role in this episode of hard power. This week’s events also simply shift public attention away from their efforts. Nevertheless, civil society organizations such as #ThisFlag, the Zimbabwean Heads of Christian Denominations, and others call on the people in power, especially the military, to provide them with a clear roadmap back to constitutionalism. Some of them even pledge for a solution in the form of an inclusive government or another kind of transitional authority to be put in place. The role of these groups seems to be to focus the Zimbabwean citizen’s attention on the issue of what happens after the military coup is over, and the battle for power has been settled.


Possible Scenario’s

It is important to emphasize that this coup is essentially and foremost a party occasion. Despite the fact that the military is of course a state-institution, the power-struggle revolves around the party in the first place. Because ZANU-PF and the Zimbabwean state are so interwoven, one tends to forget that the coup is not so much focused on taking control over the country, as well as over the direction in which the leadership of the ruling party is headed. This is essential in realistically assessing what might be the outcome of the restructuring of power in Zimbabwe. Simply said, the leadership of the ruling party is subject of negotiation, the leadership of the country by the ruling party is not.

That being said, several news sources claim that Robert Mugabe would announce his resignation somewhere on Friday, although until now this has not been confirmed. According to South Africa’s Times Live, based on a senior intelligence source, Mr Mugabe is insisting he remains Zimbabwe’s only legitimate ruler in Zimbabwe. In any case, the Zimbabwean leader is stalling the process until today

Although there is a slight chance of the President staying in power at the end of this, the days of Robert Mugabe as Zimbabwe’s leader seem to be over. The seemingly most logical development would now be for Mugabe to announce his own resignation (probably mentioning health as the official reason to safe face), and putting forward Mnangagwa as his successor. Possibly, the Mugabe-family would negotiate a free passage out of Zimbabwe, opting to go into exile. Then, the December ZANU-PF party congress will elect the former Vice-President as the new party-leader, who is running for the presidency in the 2018 elections. However, this is not the preferred option of those in the opposition, as well as many western governments, who fear Mnangagwa would be in many ways a continuation of Mugabe. As the New York Times puts it on Wednesday, it would be “naïve to believe that any leader who takes power under such conditions will strive for democratic reform.”

An alternative scenario would include opposition political parties in negotiations towards a transitional government following the military takeover. Although speculative, this would be the preferred option for Mnangagwa, with economic recovery as the first priority. Main opposition party MDC-T (in the person of Secretary-general Douglas Mwonzora) has, however, already stated that this is possible “only if certain conditions were met,” alluding to the unfortunate process during the 2009-2013 Government of National Unity.

A final scenario could be a continued control over Zimbabwe by the military. Despite their apparent humble attitude, there is no more powerful force in Zimbabwean society at the moment. When the military leaders will not see a solution with enough beneficial guarantees for their people, holding on to power a little longer is a likely possibility. With the power in the hands of the military, Zimbabweans will be left at the mercy of a very unpredictable group that has rarely worked on behalf of the people in the past.


Photo: In his first public appearance after the coup, Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe arrives to preside over a student graduation ceremony at Zimbabwe Open University on the outskirts of Harare Photograph: AP – via

Peace Science Digest focuses on Nonviolent Resistance

Published on 16/11/2017

Peace Science Digest is a project by the War Prevention Initiative and on a bi-monthly basis, covers selected research and findings in the field of Peace Science (Peace and Conflict Studies), seeking to “enhance awareness of scholarship addressing the key issues of our time by making available an organized, condensed, and comprehensible summary of this important research as a resource for the practical application of the field’s current academic knowledge.” It is Peace Science Digest’s goal to create “a mutually beneficial link between the field’s academic community and its practitioners, the media, activists, public policy-makers” and others.

The War Prevention Initiative envisions “a world beyond war by 2030 and humanity united by a global system of peace with justice”, while its mission “is to advance the Global Peace System by supporting, developing and collaborating with peacebuilding efforts in all sectors of society.”

In its June 2017 Special Issue, Peace Science Digest focused on the topic of Nonviolent Resistance, covering publications on the following five topics:

  • “Adding Humor to the Nonviolent ‘Toolbox’”
  • “Diversity, Identity, and Privilege Among Multinational Activists in Palestinian Civil Resistance”
  • “Creating a Broad-Based Movement for Black Lives”
  • “Indigenous Civil Resistance and Treaty Rights”
  • “Nonviolent Resistance and Government Repression“

In these articles, Peace Science Digest compiles and discusses the main findings of other authors’ publications, also addressing the respective topic’s contemporary relevance and practical implications. Moreover, the publication points towards further useful sources concerning the issues.

And not only the Special Issue of Peace Science Digest comprises topics relevant for nonviolent struggle. If you are interested, take a look at other articles the Peace Science Digest has published, as well, or check out other suggested resources on the War Prevention Initiative’s website. To find the Peace Science Digest’s Special Issue on Nonviolent Resistance and download it for free, follow this link.


Photo: Cover of Peace Science Digest, Vol. 2 Special Issue “Nonviolent Resistance”, June 2017

Animal rights protest in London – what to learn from animal rights activism

Photo: PETA protest outside the London store earlier last week (PETA, via

Published on 14/11/2017

Last Saturday, crowds of animal rights activists gathered outside a high-end clothing store in central London to protest their alleged mistreatment of coyotes and geese used to make their products. Canada Goose opened a new store in a popular shopping area in England’s capital, causing animal rights activists to go demonstrate.

The fashion brand had received global criticism, as Coyotes are caught for their fur in the wild in steel traps and then shot or bludgeoned to death, according to animal rights group PETA. The rights group also claims that the geese used for downs are mistreated in the making. Canada Goose previously responded to the allegations by stating that “’Surge, PETA and other activist groups misrepresent the facts and use sensational tactics to try to illicit a reaction and mislead consumers… They ignore the strict government regulation and standards that are in place, as well as our commitment to ethical sourcing practices and responsible use of fur and down’”, wrote the EveningStandard. During the nine-hour protest, demonstrators held up signs reading “fur is murder” or recited chants like “fur trade, torture trade”, among other things.

Earlier in September, several thousand activists protested during a march in London to end animal cruelty, as did others in various cities worldwide. Reports even claimed that some 30,000 activists had come to the streets in Tel Aviv which marked the largest animal rights march in Israel’s history. PETA reported on its President Ingrid Newkirk highlighting “the point that powerful marches like this one lead to impactful change” and that “[t]he world is waking up thanks to activism.”

However, animal rights activism has sometimes faced criticism, not only from their ‘opponents’ as in the London Canada Goose case. And neglecting the ethical and ideological dispute behind some of the criticism, the animal rights movement could reflect on some of its critique to think about improvement of their campaigns. As becomes apparent in an article about activists protesting in front of a small butcher selling “‘locally sourced, sustainably raised’ meat” in Berkeley, forcing the owners to put up an animal rights sign in the shop window, animal rights activists sometimes could (re-)consider their chosen tactics, strategies and goals.

In their actions, activists were perceived to be bullying and threatening the shop owners who claimed “’[t]heir tactics are really extremist’”, wrote the Guardian. The newspaper further stated that the Berkeley case as well as the “threat of similar protests have sparked backlash across the state.” Some have voiced their lack of understanding for why the activists had targeted such a shop instead of big ‘animal factories and meatpackers responsible for brutality on an unimaginably greater scale’, suggesting that the total abolition of meat-consumption could be unrealistic. Another article also reflected on the “Five fatal flaws of animal activism” already in 2010, though arguing from a more pro-animal rights perspective. Disregarding the points made in favor of being possibly more ‘radical’ in their claims and agenda, the author made valuable comments on the movement.

Reading the criticism of the Berkeley case and animal activism in general could then lead us to some questions to generally keep in mind when planning campaigns and movements:

  • Can our vision of tomorrow and objectives attract a wide base of support, and are they reasonably attainable?
  • Do we have a clear message and how do we communicate it?
  • Are the tactics we are using helping our overall strategy and thus, to achieve our vision of the future?
  • Are the tactics we are using attracting more people to our cause or could they possibly push away potential allies?
  • Which other groups and agendas could we cooperate with to make the movement stronger and help achieve our goals?

So no matter what your stance on the issue of animal rights is or which other cause you support, keep in mind these points when planning your actions and evaluating past operations. What else to consider, and to learn more about planning nonviolent movements, you can also consult our online publications for free.

For reading more about what the above thoughts on animal rights are based on, read the article on last week’s protest in London here, find the reflections on the case of animal rights protests in Berkeley here and read the 2010 article on flaws of animal activism here.