Somalia is among several Muslim nations that have adopted a neutral stance in the GCC crisis. Mogadishu heavily relies on financial support and trade from Gulf countries but experts says that its decision to remain neutral might have serious economic consequences in the future.
HARARE (Reuters) – Zimbabwe’s military said on Wednesday it had seized power in a targeted assault on “criminals” around President Robert Mugabe who were causing social and economic suffering, but gave assurances the 93-year-old leader and his family were “safe and sound”.
In a short broadcast on national television, which was seized overnight by soldiers, a spokesman for the military said it expected “normalcy” to return as soon as it had completed its “mission”.
The military detained Finance Minister Ignatius Chombo on Wednesday, a government source said. Chombo was a leading member of the so-called ‘G40’ faction of the ruling ZANU-PF party, led by Mugabe’s wife Grace, that had been vying to succeed Mugabe.
Soldiers deployed across the Zimbabwe capital Harare and seized the state broadcaster after Mugabe’s ruling ZANU-PF party accused the head of the military of treason, prompting frenzied speculation of a coup.
Just 24 hours after military chief General Constantino Chiwenga threatened to intervene to end a purge of his allies in Mugabe’s ZANU-PF, a Reuters reporter saw armored personnel carriers on main roads around the capital.
Aggressive soldiers told passing cars to keep moving through the darkness. “Don’t try anything funny. Just go,” one barked at Reuters on Harare Drive.
Two hours later, soldiers overran the headquarters of the ZBC, Zimbabwe’s state broadcaster and a principal Mugabe mouthpiece, and ordered staff to leave. Several ZBC workers were manhandled, two members of staff and a human rights activist said.
Shortly afterwards, three explosions rocked the center of the southern African nation’s capital, Reuters witnesses said.
Mugabe, the self-styled ‘Grand Old Man’ of African politics, has led Zimbabwe for the last 37 years.
In contrast to his elevated status on the continent, Mugabe is reviled in the West as a despot whose disastrous handling of the economy and willingness to resort to violence to maintain power destroyed one of Africa’s most promising states.
The United States and Britain advised their citizens in Harare to stay indoors because of “political uncertainty.”
“U.S. citizens in Zimbabwe are encouraged to shelter in place until further notice,” the U.S. statement said. The British Foreign & Commonwealth Office statement told “nationals currently in Harare to remain safely at home or in their accommodation until the situation becomes clearer.”
The Southern African nation has been on edge since Monday when Chiwenga, Commander of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces, said he was prepared to “step in” to end a purge of supporters of sacked vice president Emmerson Mnangagwa.
Only a few months ago, Mnangagwa, a former security chief nicknamed “The Crocodile”, was favorite to succeed his life-long political patron but was ousted a week ago to pave the way for Mugabe’s 52-year-old wife Grace to succeed him.
‘POLITICS OVER THE GUN’
Soldiers stand beside military vehicles just outside Harare,Zimbabwe,November 14,2017. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo
Chiwenga’s unprecedented statement represented a major escalation of the struggle to succeed Mugabe, the only leader Zimbabwe has known since it gained independence from Britain in 1980.
Mugabe chaired a weekly cabinet meeting in the capital on Tuesday, officials said, and afterwards ZANU-PF said it stood by the “primacy of politics over the gun” and accused Chiwenga of “treasonable conduct … meant to incite insurrection.”
The previous day, Chiwenga had made clear the army’s refusal to accept the removal of Mnangagwa – like the generals a veteran of Zimbabwe’s anti-colonial liberation war – and the presumed accession of Grace, once a secretary in the government typing pool.
Local government minister Saviour Kasukuwere, a leading figure in her relatively youthful ‘G40’ faction, refused to answer Reuters questions about the situation in Harare. “I‘m in a meeting,” he said, before hanging up shortly before midnight.
Army, police and government spokesmen refused to answer numerous phone calls asking for comment.
Neither Mugabe nor Grace have responded in public to Chiwenga’s remarks and state media did not publish his statement. The Herald newspaper posted some of the comments on its Twitter page but deleted them.
The head of ZANU-PF’s youth wing, which openly backs Grace, accused the army chief of subverting the constitution.
“Defending the revolution and our leader and president is an ideal we live for and if need be it is a principle we are prepared to die for,” Youth League leader Kudzai Chipanga said at the party’s headquarters in Harare.
Grace Mugabe’s rise has brought her into conflict with the independence-era war veterans, who enjoyed privileged status in Zimbabwe until the last two years when they spearheaded criticism of Mugabe’s handling of the economy.
In the last year, a chronic absence of dollars has led to long queues outside banks and an economic and financial collapse that many fear will rival the meltdown of 2007-2008, when inflation topped out at 500 billion percent.
Imported goods are running out and economists say that, by some measures, inflation is now at 50 percent a month.
According to a trove of intelligence documents reviewed by Reuters this year, Mnangagwa has been planning to revitalize the economy by bringing back thousands of white farmers kicked off their land nearly two decades ago and patching up relations with the likes of the World Bank and IMF.
Whatever the outcome, analysts said the military would want to present their move as something other than a full-blown coup to avoid criticism from an Africa keen to leave behind the Cold War continental stereotype of generals being the final arbiters of political power.
“A military coup is the nuclear option,” said Alex Magaisa, a UK-based Zimbabwean academic. “A coup would be a very hard sell at home and in the international community. They will want to avoid that.”
‘Statement from the Zimbabwe Defense Forces’
15 November 2017 at 01:26
Fellow Zimbabweans, following the address we made on 13 November 2017 which we believe our main broadcaster, ZBC and The Herald were directed not to publicise, the situation in our country has moved to another level.
Firstly, we wish to assure the nation that His Excellency, The President, of the Republic of Zimbabwe, Head of State and Government and Commander in Chief of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces, Cde R.G Mugabe and his fa,ily are safe and sound and their security is guaranteed. We are only targeting criminals around him who are committing crimes that are causing social and economic suffering in the country in order to bring them to justice.
As soon as we have accomplished our mission we expect that the situation will return to normalcy.
To the civil servants: As you are aware, there is a plan by the same individuals to influence the current purging taking place in Zanu PF to the Civil service. We are against that act of injustice and we intend to protect everyone of you against it.
To the judiciary, the measures underway are intended to ensure that, as an independent arm of the state, you are able to exercise your independent authority without fear of being obstructed as has been the case with this group of individuals.
To our Members of Parliament: Your legislative role is of paramount importance for peace and stability in this country and it is our desire that a dispensation is created that allows you to serve your respective political constituencies according to democratic tenets.
To the generality of the people of Zimbabwe: We urge you to remain calm and limit unnecessary movement. However, we encourage those who are employed and those with essential business in the city to continue their normal activities as usual. Our wish is that you enjoy your rights and freedoms and that we return our country to a dispensation that allows for investment, development and prosperity that we all fought for and for which many of our citizens paid the supreme sacrifice.
To political Parties; We urge you to discourage your members from engaging in violent behaviour.
To the youth: We call upon you to realise that the future of this country is yours. Do not be enticed with dirty coins of silver, be disciplined and remain committed to the ethos and values of this great nation.
To all Churches and religious organisations in Zimbabwe: We call upon you and your congregations to pray for our country and preach the gospel of love, peace, unity and development.
To both our people and the world beyond our borders: We wish to make it abundantly clear that this is not a military takeover of Government. What the Zimbabwe Defence Forces is doing is to pacify a degenerating political, social and economic situation in our country which if not addressed may result in violent conflict.
We call upon all the war veterans to play a positive role in ensuring peace, stability and unity in the country.
To members of the Defence Forces: All leave is cancelled and you are all to return to your barracks with immediate effect.
To our respected Traditional leaders: You are the custodians of our culture, customs, traditions and heritage and we request you to provide leadership and direction to your communities for the sake of unity and development in our country.
To the other Security Services: We urge you to cooperate for the good of our country. Let it be clear that we intend to address the human security threats in our country. Therefore any provocation will be met with an appropriate response.
To the media; we urge you report fairly and responsibly.
Unusual acts of defiance against government demands led to protests last week in Eritrea’s capital, Asmara, according to experts who study the region.
The rare protests were the culmination of nearly two years of back-and-forth between the Ministry of Education and leaders of the Diaa Islamic School of Asmara, who defied government orders aimed at removing religion from their curricula. An elderly school board member, Hajji Muasa Mohamed Nur, voiced the school’s resistance in a widely shared video posted on YouTube. “We are not going to change anything,” Nur said as the crowd applauded.
Nur was arrested, and the government threatened to take over the school, sending officials to collect the keys, several opposition groups said. That’s when a crowd descended on the school grounds and marched toward the Ministry of Education to protest the closing, according to state-owned media shabait.com.
Vacuum of information
Videos of frightened crowds dispersing as gunshots ring out have circulated on social media since last week. But the time and place of the videos have not been verified, and no injuries or deaths are depicted.
The government says reports of deaths and violence are part of a pattern of sensationalized stories that dominate news coverage of Eritrea.
“Scoop-oriented media outlets keep churning out false ‘casualty figures’ peddled by Eritrea’s detractors without minimum verification,” Yemane Gebremeskel, the minister of information, posted on Twitter. He said a small demonstration by one school in Asmara dispersed without any casualties.
But press freedom in Eritrea ranks among the lowest in the world, and non-governmental organizations can’t operate independently in the country.
Felix Horne, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch who focuses on the Horn of Africa, said those restrictions prevent verification and block credible information. In this case, that information could support the government’s side of the story.
Instead, opposition groups have seized the moment to give their version of events, Horne said. “It’s a very self-defeating strategy in our view, if the government has nothing to hide.”
Social media has added to the confusion, but it’s also enabled some information to leak out, including the clip of Nur. “That the government can suppress, but not completely black out news, I think, emboldens people and encourages people to know that they’re not alone,” said Saleh Younis, the editor of Awate.com, an Eritrean news website that is opposed to the government and its policies.
Details of last week’s protests and the government reaction also remain murky because people are scared of reprisals, Younis said. “Even if you know information, you’re hesitant to disclose it because we have a police state in Eritrea,” he said.
Much of the government’s response happens out of the spotlight. According to Younis, police have rounded up hundreds of people at night, and entire areas have been cordoned off.
Years of pressure
The Diaa Islamic School of Asmara was founded in 1968. The school has taught students from kindergarten to high school, and according to Younis has been well regarded. Nearly 3,000 students attend Diaa.
But for nearly two years, the government has had a litany of requests: Girls in high school should not wear headscarves, the school should remain open on Fridays, secondary classes should no longer be segregated by gender and no classes should focus on Islamic teachings, according to an alum.
School leaders were willing to compromise on some points, for example, staying open on Fridays. The government pressed to implement all of the changes, but school leaders refused. “The whole core of the school is being undermined,” Younis said.
Other schools have changed their practices and curricula in the government drive to secularize education, and some have closed, but Diaa appears unique in its resistance.
The key difference, said Semhar Habtezion, a member of the Eritrean Diaspora, was Nur. “He was fearless, and he was, in effect, saying we cannot continue fearing this government. This is our school, and we will do whatever it takes to fight back.”
When the government attempted to take over the school it crossed a red line that caused people to rise up and say “No,” Younis said.
From the government’s perspective, intervening in the school’s affairs was necessary to protect its secular national curriculum. Writing on the Ministry of Information’s website, Mella Ghebremedhin said, “Similar… actions have recently been taken with both Catholic and Orthodox schools.”
Despite last week’s unrest, the Diaa school remains open. VOA’s stringer in Asmara visited the day after the protests and confirmed to VOA Tigrigna that classes had resumed and students were outside playing sports. He also said by phone on Friday that ninth and 11th-grade students at the Catholic Cathedral school had been ordered to begin attending public schools near their neighborhoods.
At least 28 people have been killed in rare protests in the capital of Eritrea, one of the world’s most reclusive nations, an official with the largest Eritrean opposition group said Wednesday.
Another more than 100 people were injured in the protests in Asmara that began on Monday and escalated on Tuesday, spokesman Nasredin Ali with the Red Sea Afar Democratic Organization told The Associated Press, citing sources on the ground in Eritrea. The group is based in neighboring Ethiopia.
The U.S. Embassy in Eritrea late Tuesday reported gunfire “at several locations in Asmara due to protests” and advised U.S. citizens to avoid the downtown area. The statement did not say why the protests occurred.
Nasredin’s claims of deaths and injuries could not be independently verified. He said the demand by Eritrea’s government to control a Muslim community school in Asmara led to the clashes.
“Following the refusal to hand over the school, some 40 people were arrested and this led to the massive protests,” he said, adding that Asmara was tense on Wednesday as a funeral ceremony took place. “The army is bringing forces from outside the capital.”
Eritrea’s Information Minister Yemane Meskel downplayed the reports of unrest, saying on Twitter that “small demonstration by one school in Asmara dispersed without any casualty hardly breaking news.”
Eritrean officials at the African Union mission in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, were not immediately available for comment.
The small East African nation is a major source of migrants arriving in Europe. Its government has long faced criticism by human rights advocates over its harsh military conscription laws. The government has denied allegations of abuses.
According to a State Department report in 2016 on international religious freedom, roughly half of Eritrea’s population is Sunni Muslim and the country’s government includes Sunni Islam as one of four officially registered religious groups. Other practices of Islam are banned. The report also says religious education is allowed in private schools but religious groups are prohibited from any involvement in politics.