Explainer: How China influenced the ousting of Robert Mugabe

Chinese President Xi Jinping arrives to attend the closing statement for the Asian-African Conference in Jakarta April 23, 2015.

Explainer: How China influenced the ousting of Robert Mugabe

The long-time allies of Zimbabwe had more than a hand in Mugabe’s demise…

Explainer: How China influenced the ousting of Robert Mugabe

Chinese President Xi Jinping arrives to attend the closing statement for the Asian-African Conference in Jakarta April 23, 2015.

Sacked as the Zanu PF leader, recalled by the party, and abandoned by former comrades. Robert Mugabe remains President of Zimbabwe this Monday in name only. We may have China to thank for these developments, though.

It might be hard to join the dots on this one, but it eventually makes sense. Army Chief Constantino Chiwenga’s visit to Beijing last week no longer looks like a routine act of diplomacy. It’s looking more like the final part of an intricate jigsaw.

Chiwenga met Chinese Defence Minister Chang Wanquan in Beijing on Friday, and had engaged in discussions with President Jinping just days before initiating a coup. It’s been an iron in the fire for a little while according to CNN, but the sacking of Emmerson Mnangagwa two weeks ago has accelerated the non-coup.

So why would China back a military-led transition, after years of support for Mugabe?

What is the link between China and Zimbabwe?

Zimbabwe is very much a dependant partner in this relationship, with the Chinese being the largest market for their exports. The Asian superpower is Zim’s fourth-biggest trade partner, with the country being propped up by the billions of dollars invested through Chinese businesses.

Official diplomatic relations began in 1979, when China helped arm Robert Mugabe’s guerrilla fighters during their struggle for independence. Mugabe then visited Beijing a year after Zimbabwe was liberated, and began their history of diplomacy.

When Mugabe’s regime alienated themselves from the west and the EU, he pursued the ‘Look East’ policy in the early 2000s. He encouraged more trade with Asian countries, to move away from western powers. The wave of investment never came however.

Why would China want to overthrow Robert Mugabe?

Well, it’s nothing personal. Just business. Mugabe’s poor management of the economy has began to hurt Chinese investment, which is said to have topped $450m this year alone.

China’s regime want to remain loyal to an old friend, but they don’t feel happy with how their money is looked after.

Luckily for them, Bob isn’t the only child of the revolution that the Chinese have a special relationship with. They are also quite fond of Emmerson Mnangagwa. He did his military training in China during the 70s.

China have a very active interest in Zimbabwe’s armed forces. They make a lot of money through selling weaponry and armour to the country. So if they can keep the Zimbabwe Defence Forces well-fed, they can also line their own pockets nicely. Mnangagwa has been a military man all his life, and Jinping is ready to put his faith in ‘The Crocodile’.

How much money do China invest in Zimbabwe?

  • On top of the $450m from 2017, Trade hit $1.1bn last year, with China profiting from Zimbabwe’s tobacco, cotton and mineral industries
  • Chinese state construction firms have also been active, building infrastructure including Zimbabwe’s $100m (£75m) National Defence College
  • And last year China agreed to finance a new 650-seat parliament in Harare
  • In August, Zimbabwe’s government said a Chinese company planned to invest up to $2 billion to revive operations at Zimbabwe Iron and Steel Company (ZISCO)

Will China influence the next leader of Zim?

They have a particular liking for Mnangagwa, and they approved of the transition plan to help stop the ‘G40’ faction within Zanu PF.

Also known as Generation 40, they are a group within the party that were pushing for Grace Mugabe to replace her husband as Prime Minister. Many political representatives see this as a suicidal move. In China’s book, it had to be stopped.

What happens now is that Mugabe’s refusal to resign will trigger an impeachment process. Two-thirds of Parliament will have to agree to his dismissal. If this occurs, Mugabe will officially be ousted as leader.

An interim government – lead by Mnangagwa, and flanked by members of both Zanu PF and Movement for Democratic Change – will steer the country into the 2018 general elections in August. The date, however, is subject to change.

China made their demands

If you’re wondering why we aren’t calling this a coup, and why the military are being so gentle to a man making them tear their hair out, it’s simple. These were China’s demands.

According to CityPress sources, China only approved the coup once they had guarantees no-one would be killed. It was given the go-ahead when they acknowledged Emmerson Mnangagwa would take over. China didn’t just approve of this non-coup. They pulled all of the strings.