Why Zimbabwe’s Military Abandoned Mugabe

The Blood Brotherhood Sticks Together

Grace Mugabe at a church interface rally in Harare, November 2017. Philimon Bulawayo / Reuters

In 2016, when Zimbabwe was rocked by a summer of protests and a social movement gone viral, I argued in Foreign Affairs that the Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA) was unlikely to break ranks with President Robert Mugabe and his ruling party, the Zimbabwe African National Union–Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF). This prediction rested on two main observations: first, that the military shared strong ideological and social bonds with ZANU-PF party elites dating back to Zimbabwe’s liberation war; and second, that many military leaders were themselves deeply imbricated in ZANU-PF’s powerful patronage system.

In light of these facts, Zimbabwe’s recent military putsch is all the more remarkable. For the first time in the country’s 37 years of independence, the military has intervened directly in domestic politics against the wishes of the civilian head of state. The army’s seizure of power represents a break with the norm of civilian supremacy—

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