Comment: Army Should Confine Itself to Barracks

THE fight between Zanu PF and the two MDC formations over Reserve Bank Governor Gideon Gono’s fate will apparently be with us for a long time. For all practical purposes, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai indicated last week that Gono’s position remained as one the few outstanding issues in fulfilling the requirements of the Global Political Agreement (GPA).


A week earlier, the MDC-T national council decided that the issue of Gono and Attorney-General Johannes Tomana were taking too long to resolve and should therefore be referred to Sadc, as the guarantor of the GPA.

According to the GPA, a matter should be referred to the Sadc after the parties to the GPA declare a stalemate. Whether that was the case regarding the issue of Gono and Tomana has not been made public. What has however since emerged is that President Robert Mugabe has restated his rejection of the move to unseat Gono.

He told mourners at the burial of Gono’s brother at the weekend that Gono would not be leaving his post. Those calling for the governor’s removal, said Mugabe, “were wasting their time”.

That means that’s a closed chapter for Zanu PF. The MDC will now weigh its options.

Many however will be alarmed by the dramatic entry of the military into this political fray.

It all started with Justice minister Patrick Chinamasa telling the same gathering that those calling for Gono’s removal were in effect pushing a regime change agenda. They were calling for the removal of Zanu PF from power, declared Chinamasa, warning that would not happen. He said Gono had engaged in so-called quasi-fiscal activities with full cabinet authority.

Air Vice-Marshal Henry Muchena, representing service chiefs of the army, police, Prison Service and the Central Intelligence Organisation, immediately weighed in, saying Zimbabwe was at war against sanctions and Gono was part of the fighting machine. He said politicians, in trying to interfere in state institutions, were provoking a reaction from the army.

This is unsettling for Zimbabwe. We acknowledge there are numerous problems in the implementation of the full provisions of the GPA. Tsvangirai has in the past talked of “residual resistance” from certain quarters of the old establishment. But we did not expect the uniformed forces to be so brazen in their interference in political disputes.

In fact Muchena said those calling for Gono’s removal should expect open defiance. He said many Zimbabweans had benefited from Gono’s policies as part of the land reform programme.

This on its own suggests a security establishment which is less than neutral, let along professional, in its view of competing political interests in the country.

It suggests securocrats have taken a political position that certain changes are permissible while others are not. This must have a chilling effect on elected opposition leaders who might have thought they were free to propose changes to how things have been done in the past. How wrong they were!

What is most worrying about these military pronouncements is that they were made in the presence of President Mugabe himself. Nothing will stop any thinking person from speculating that President Mugabe either directly or tacitly supports this position.

If that were remotely true, it would represent a huge blot on Zimbabwe’s struggle for democracy. It is unheard of in most democracies, even when measured by very low African standards, for the security forces to make their opinions public on political disputes.

For all the erosion of our civil and political liberties over the past few years, Zimbabwe is still not a military junta. The army should be told in no uncertain terms to confine itself to the barracks and keep its political opinions to itself.

That is the least the MDC can plead for. We are not interested right now in the merits or lack thereof of the fight between Gono and Finance minister Tendai Biti. Whatever the case, it is not for the army to play arbiter.

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