Itai Mushekwe/Nancy Mabaya

VANCOUVER– Hawkish Vice President, Constantino Chiwenga, is all but now a heatbeat away from being Zimbabwe’s next president, amid claims in international diplomatic circles that China’s president, Xi Jinping, is understood to have thrown his weight behind Chiwenga taking over from troubled incumbent, President Emmerson Mnangagwa, Spotlight Zimbabwe can exclusively report.

According to an Asian diplomat based in Ottawa, who spoke to us this week, it is now not a question of if, but when Chiwenga is going to take the political reigns in Harare.

Spotlight Zimbabwe, reported last week that Mnangagwa is facing the boot in a mooted subtle army campaign, code-named “Operation Restore Economy”, which is expected to be in motion at anytime, to rescue the country from worsening socio-political conditions and threats of a near apocalyptic economic collapse. The army operation is said to be reminiscent of the November 2017 Operation Restore Legacy, which triggered the demise of former leader Robert Mugabe.

Disclosures of another possible military putsch in changing government, have caused trepidation and panic in Mnangagwa’s camp, with one of his loyalist faction players and former deputy finance minister, Terence Mukupe, warning on his twitter handle last week, that “daydreamers” he accused of trying to use the same Mugabe coup strategy to topple Mnangagwa, would be met by a ready response without giving elucidation.

“There is a fierce foreign policy war between the U.S and China in Zimbabwe,” said the envoy during a confidential briefing where they spoke on condition of anonymity. “The Chinese president has thrown his weight behind your vice president who headed the Zimbabwean army previously. It is a complex issue at play. The current vice president is the one who flew to Beijing shortly before president Mugabe was removed from office in November 2017 to assure Jinping that China’s massive business interests and companies will be secure and protected in Zimbabwe under whatever new leadership, through the army’s oversight. It is now not a question of if, but when he’s going to be president of the country, and it entirely depends on him and his health.”

Chiwenga is currently out of the country for medical treatment at an Indian military hospital, although there is speculation that he might have left India last week for “undisclosed business” in Dubai.

The diplomat said Chiwenga has won favour with China and Jinping because of his efforts to restore and maintain Zimbabwe’s Look East Policy, which is biased towards Beijing launched by Mugabe after facing international isolation and targted sanctions, which is now increasingly under threat from the West, as the so called new dispensation by Mnangagwa’s economic policy team is bent on re-engagment with Washington and Brussels.

Mugabe’s “Look East” policy, was aimed to expand bilateral and trade relations and offer priority to investors from not just China but Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam, Japan, South Korea, India, and Russia.

“Vice President Chiwenga is pro-China on economic policy, where as Mnangagwa has fallen with China in recent times over his government’s attempts to renew ties with America and the EU. He (Chiwenga) has been promised billions of dollars to revive the economy, that will be extended to Zimbabwe by China through BRICS.”

BRICS is the acronym coined for the association of five major emerging national economies: Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, founded in June 2006. Originally the first four were grouped as “BRIC”, before the induction of South Africa in 2010.

“China has a big economic fund for Zimbabwe believed to be in the range of up to US$50 billion, which they intend to release in tranches over the coming years. Chiwenga has been tasked with fixing the Mnangagwa succession issue, and that it is welcome for him to take power until 2023, where your military leadership will choose either another military leader or civilian leader to contest the next elections in consultation with the Chinese military and government. A lot will depend on the vice president’s health status, but either way he will make contigency plans and measures to ensure that the Zimbabwe military remains in charge of the current and future presidency.”

Chiwenga is said to be considering former reserve bank governor, Gideon Gono, as Mnangagwa’s replacement or alternatively other army insiders, such as foreign affairs minister, SB Moyo and his counterpart in cabinet lands and agriculture minister, Air Marshal Perence Shiri.

Other contenders for the highest office in the land include: former defence minister, Sydney Sekeramayi; current defence minister Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri; former Zanu PF political commissar and local government minister, Saviour Kasukuwere.

In early May, this publication reported that Mnangagwa’s presidency is about to come to a crashing halt, following reports that China had dropped him as their political point man in Zimbabwe. High level officials close to the Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC) citing a plethora of reasons, said Beijing had reportedly resorted to silently deal directly with the country’s top military brass and leadership instead, while preparing for an aftermath administration in Harare.

Jinping made his first state visit to Zimbabwe in December 2015, making him the most prominent global leader in many years to visit the country.

Chiwenga in China

Chiwenga then visited China shortly before Mugabe’s ouster in November 2017. The trip was initially reported to be a medical check-up that had coincided with a “normal military exchange mutually agreed upon by China and Zimbabwe” and has to this day remained shrouded in mystery.

The VP also met with General Li Zuocheng, a member of China’s Central Military Commission, which is the highest decision-making body for China’s armed forces, together with that country’s former defense minister General Chang Wanquan. Wanquan was succeeded by General Wei Fenghe, who was appointed to head China’s defense ministry in March 2018.

A Zimbabwe online publication recently reported that the Chinese military was concerned about Chiwenga’s alleged alcohol and drug abuse. The newspaper said it was in possession of an exclusive cable by an American diplomat in Harare revealing that some staffers at the American Embassy met with Chinese Embassy staffers and discussed the nature of Chiwenga.

Military intelligence sources say despite his personal issues, Chiwenga has nonetheless received Jinping’s endorsement, and was focusing on mastering statecraft, from a military doctrine perspective.

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