Africa in the News: Mugabe Purges Zimbabwean Cabinet, Nigeria Selects 2015 Presidential Candidates, and Kabila Forms DRC Unity Government

Mugabe Replaces Vice President and Cabinet with Political Allies

This week, President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe fired Vice President Joice Mujuru along with eight cabinet members on Tuesday to seemingly purge his party of political adversaries. Last week, Mugabe relieved Mujuru from her leadership of the ruling party’s central committee while accusing her of conspiring to assassinate him at a congress of the Zimbabwe African National Union—Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF). Mugabe also named his wife, Grace Mugabe, head of the ZANU-PF Women’s Department—a powerful branch of the party.

 In recent weeks, Grace Mugabe and state-owned media outlets have accused Mujuru of an assassination plot, but Mujuru has vehemently denied those accusations. Some political analysts consider Mugabe’s recent firings steps toward consolidating power among family and political allies in the hopes of elevating potential successors such as Grace Mugabe or Justice Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa to the presidency in the event of his death.

On Wednesday, Mugabe replaced Mujuru with two deputy vice presidents. He appointed Mnangagwa first deputy vice president and career diplomat Phekezela Mhpoko second deputy vice president. Mnangagwa has served under Mugabe in various capacities, most notably as his chief of intelligence in the 1980s when Mugabe sent the military to crush rebel movements in Matabeleland and the Midlands—an offensive that killed an estimated 20,000 civilians or more.

Mugabe also claimed on Wednesday that assassins already attempted to poison Mnangagwa on Tuesday evening, but that he survived the incident and would still assume his role as deputy vice president.

Nigeria Picks Presidential Candidates for 2015

On Wednesday, the main political parties in Nigeria held conventions to identify their candidates for the February 2015 presidential elections. The ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) officially confirmed President Goodluck Jonathan for the ballot, while the opposing All Progressives Congress (APC) party identified Muhammadu Buhari, a former military leader, as their candidate. Buhari led the country briefly in 1983 after rising to power through a coup, but was also deposed by a coup in 1985. These two candidates have faced one another before, in the 2011 presidential polls, in which Jonathan garnered 59 percent of the vote and Buhari, 32 percent. Following the 2011 election, a wave of violence broke out in Nigeria’s northern states, which predominantly backed Buhari, killing nearly 800 people and displacing tens of thousands.

In other news, Boko Haram has continued its attacks on Nigeria’s northern states this past week. On Wednesday, two female suicide bombers killed four people in Kano, and, on Thursday, two bombs exploded in the crowded city center of Jos, killing at least 40 people.

Kabila Includes Opposition Members in Unity Government in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Fourteen months after pledging to establish a government of “national cohesion,” President Joseph Kabila of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) appointed several members of the two main opposition parties to key government positions on Sunday, December 7. The second-largest opposition party, the Movement for the Liberation of Congo, reacted to his announcement by expelling members Secretary-General Thomas Luhaka, Germain Kambinga and Omer Egwake, who were appointed to the new government’s positions of deputy prime minister and ministers of industry and urban-planning, respectively. Many close observers of the DRC consider Kabila’s new unity government a ploy to weaken the country’s opposition parties, delay elections scheduled for 2016, and broaden his political base in order to remove constitutional term limits—enabling him to run for office again in 2016 and extend his two-term mandate.