The Motivations and Dynamics of Zimbabwe’s 2017 Military Coup
Miles Tendi, Associate Professor in African Politics, has published a new article in African Affairs on military coups.
Robert Mugabe resigned as Zimbabwe’s president in November 2017, following a military action called Operation Restore Legacy. This article examines the motivations and dynamics of Operation Restore Legacy, which it characterizes as a coup by military generals that had significant commonalities with historical coups in Africa. This characterisation, which is informed by the accounts of coup participants and a reading of the literature, challenges interpretations of the coup as ‘a non-coup-coup’, ‘very Zimbabwean’, or ‘special’. The article argues that the coup was a vote of no confidence in Mugabe’s leadership, which succeeded because soldiers from Zimbabwe’s 1970s independence war subscribed to the coup’s stated ideal to restore liberation struggle principles in the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front party as well as party members who had been sidelined. Liberation war veterans held decisive army and air force command posts when the coup occurred. The article’s emphasis on liberation struggle principles as a crucial determinant of the coup’s success is a counterpoint to game theoretic approaches to coup dynamics that disregard political beliefs as a consequential factor in the realization of coups. In respect of motivations, the article advances interrelating motives and contends that the coup’s catalyst was Mugabe’s refusal to meet his generals on 13 November 2017, for vital talks on widening differences between both parties. Sealing off dialogue catalyzed the coup.