The unrest in Zimbabwe must have rattled Robert Mugabe this week. He has called on one of his few friends in Africa to send shock troops to frighten Zimbabweans back into submission:
About 2,500 Angolan paramilitary police, feared in their own country for their brutality, are to be deployed in Zimbabwe, raising concerns of an escalation in violence against those opposed to President Mugabe.
Kembo Mohadi, Zimbabwe’s Home Affairs Minister, confirmed their imminent arrival, with 1,000 Angolans expected on April 1 and the rest in batches of 500. Angola is regarded as the most powerful military nation in Africa, after South Africa.
The deployment comes amid reports of concern in President Mugabe’s Government over the capability of the country’s own police force to suppress outbreaks of unrest, which are mostly in Harare’s volatile townships.
The townships have been under curfew for about three weeks; one man has been shot dead and hundreds of civilians injured. Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, and about 30 opposition activists are still recovering from beatings they received when police suppressed an attempted rally on March 11.
Mr Mohadi said that he had signed an agreement for the deployment of the Angolan paramilitaries with General Roberto Monteiro, the Interior Minister of Angola, last week.
The current round of trouble started when Mugabe sent his own forces after Tsvangirai, the leader of Zimbabwe’s opposition. The MDC held a rally to fire up support for regime change, and Mugabe reacted in character — with brutality. Many of the MDC leadership were arrested, and some beaten. When foreign diplomats objected to the treatment Tsvangirai and others received, Mugabe warned them to keep their mouths shut or face ejection.
Power appears to be slipping from Mugabe’s grasp, a development even Mugabe sees. The act of contracting Angola’s so-called “Ninjas” — they wear all-black uniforms — shows that Mugabe cannot rely entirely on his own security forces. Part of the reason is that so many of the native police have quit recently, disgusted over low pay and poor conditions, which would certainly include assisting in the tyranny of Mugabe.
The regime has weakened significantly, and one wonders why Angola bothers to assist Mugabe. It cannot win Angola much, since Zimbabwe has become so poor under Mugabe’s iron-fisted rule. They belong to the Southern African Development Community, which provides for common defense, among other issues, but the SADC as an organization has rejected calls for assistance from Mugabe. The president of Zambia, another SADC member, referred to Zimbabwe as a “sinking Titanic”, and the SADC’s security protocols only come into effect for external attack, not for internal dissent.
The Ninjas will not save Mugabe for long. Zimbabweans appear to be ready to give Mugabe the heave-ho, and the contract for Angolan mercenary police might be the last straw. The Angolans will need ten days to send the first contingent and more than a month to send them all. We’ll see if they arrive in time to save Mugabe.