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Zimbabwe's Leader Under House Arrest After Military Seized Control Of Country


Zimbabwe's president, Robert Mugabe, has held power for nearly four decades. We may be witnessing the end of that era now. The military says it's holding Mugabe and his wife under house arrest. That's after armored tanks moved into the capital city and troops seized the state broadcaster. Military leaders insist this is not a coup.

To explain what's going on right now in the southern African nation, we're joined by NPR Africa correspondent Ofeibea Quist-Arcton. Ofeibea, the military says this isn't a coup. It sure looks like one. So what else could it be called now with the military in control of the country?

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: How much time have you got?

HU: (Laughter).

QUIST-ARCTON: Military constitutionalism is one. The military will absolutely not use the word coup. Why - because coups are taboo. Coups are retro. Coups are absolutely no-no. The African Union won't accept it. The Southern African Development Community won't accept it. But it is a palace coup.

HU: So what's behind this takeover?

QUIST-ARCTON: Because President Mugabe is 93 years old and there has been a political battle to succeed him that has now been open and flagrant for many months, one of the people who wanted to take over as vice president - one of two vice presidents in Zimbabwe is the first lady, Grace Mugabe. And with vitriol and absolutely dragging the erstwhile vice president's name through the mud, she managed to get her husband to fire him a week ago.

But Emmerson Mnangagwa is a stalwart of Zimbabwe's war of independence, and the army simply would not put up with that. And this week, the army commander said that they may intervene militarily to bring order back to Zimbabwe. That is exactly what we saw 24 hours later.

HU: How are Zimbabweans reacting to all this? Is the situation chaotic at the moment?

QUIST-ARCTON: It is not. We're told that the capital, Harare, despite the fact that there are armored military vehicles and troops on the streets, that things have been pretty calm. President Mugabe, as we've heard, is under house arrest. He has spoken to the president of neighboring South Africa, who's head of the regional bloc and said he's all right, though he's under house arrest. We're not quite clear where Mrs. Mugabe is, and many people see her as being the villain of this piece.

But let me just say, Elise, that Emmerson Mnangagwa is no street angel. He is no savior. He's cut from the same cloth, the cloth that has seen Zimbabwe's economy tumble. This was the breadbasket of southern Africa. He's also seen as having been absolutely brutal in the '80s in Matabeleland when there was a massacre. So people shouldn't think of Emmerson Mnangagwa, who may come back and head an interim government, as being a savior for Zimbabwe - certainly not.

HU: Quickly, Ofeibea, can you tell us if there have been any international efforts to mediate the situation?

QUIST-ARCTON: The region's Southern African Development Community which is headed by South Africa has immediately sent two ministers, the defense minister and the state security minister, to try and mediate. So everybody wants a peaceful resolution to this. The African Union is not happy and says it seems like a coup, but because people want peace in Zimbabwe, a critical country in the region, they want to see what they can do diplomatically whilst telling the military, you cannot stay.

HU: That's NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton in Dakar, Senegal. Ofeibea, thanks.

QUIST-ARCTON: Always a pleasure, Elise. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ofeibea Quist-Arcton is an award-winning broadcaster from Ghana and is NPR's Africa Correspondent. She describes herself as a "jobbing journalist"—who's often on the hoof, reporting from somewhere.