Zimbabwe is grappling with a similar situation after three decades of a Stalinist-type dictatorship in which the military, the police and spy agencies have been meddling in the electoral and political affairs of the country, working hand-in- glove with Zanu PF.
It is important for Zimbabwe to learn about the toxic role of the army in political and electoral affairs elsewhere, and how such regimes became unacceptable. For instance, military dictatorships in Argentina and Chile were once formidable but with the fall of their communist allies in eastern Europe, democracy is slowly being restored in Latin America.
The fall of the Soviet Union in 1990 also saw a wave of struggles that saw the birth of newly independent and democratic states, while in Africa once autocratic states like apartheid SA gave way to democratic rule and dictatorships like Kenya under President Daniel Arap Moi finally crumbled.
In Zimbabwe, from the Gukurahundi massacres in the 1980s, the 2000 violent elections, 2002 disputed presidential poll to the bloody 2008 presidential poll run-off, people have been enduring and resisting the military’s involvment in politics in a bid to rescue of President Robert Mugabe and Zanu PF.
Most of the critical players in this well-defined culture of violence and the military’s involvement in the electoral and political affairs of Zimbabwe still remain in civilian and military employment. They have not been brought to account and they seem to believe nothing will happen.
The military in Zimbabwe has taken the role of political game- changer, violating their constitutional obligations with impunity by involving themselves in partisan politics and human rights violations.
Army generals and other securocrats have made partisan statements blatantly threatening Zimbabweans, that their vote would not count if it goes against Mugabe and Zanu PF. They have gone beyond mere statements to campaign publicly for Zanu PF while in military uniforms, a role that cannot be associated with a professional army.
Past elections have shown that the military, the secret agents and the police have always come to the rescue of Zanu PF when everything else had failed. They are the vanguard of the ruling elite’s continued stay in power.
The violence that has marred previous elections was partly unleashed by the security apparatus. The failure to arrest and prosecute the culprits of violence confirms this unholy alliance of the security apparatus and Zanu PF.
The late Masipula Sithole described this as the “margin of terror” when he accounted for Zanu PF’s narrow victory in the 2000 elections that were marked by abductions, arson, enforced disappearances and assaults against MDC supporters and sympathisers.
The struggle of democratic forces against the partisan role of the military in the country’s political and electoral affairs got a huge boost from the preliminary findings of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navanethem Pillay when she made robust observations during her five-day mission in Zimbabwe.
Pillay’s pronouncements are common cause to the majority of people in Zimbabwe who live under this de facto military state with its civilian Zanu PF de jure leadership. What is critical, however, is the meaning of her preliminary observations.
Pillay is a representative of the UN and its organs such as the Security Council and General Assembly, two critical bodies that can make far reaching decisions against both member and non-member states in situations where both international human rights law and international humanitarian law are violated. Her findings will influence how the international community treats Zimbabwe, especially relative to the conduct of elections.
Second, in her preliminary pronouncements before she left Zimbabwe, Pillay said concern is rising both inside and outside the country that unless the parties agree quickly on some key reforms and there is a distinct shift in attitude, the next polls could turn into a repeat of the 2008 elections which resulted in rampant politically motivated human rights abuses including killings, torture, rape, beatings, arbitrary detention, displacements and other violations.
What this means is that any form of extra-judicial and extra-legal activities like the partisan role of the security apparatus will lead to a disputed poll whose results would not be acceptable. This warning should send a serious message to Mugabe and his political strategists that the world is watching and like in the Srebrenica massacres in the former Yugoslavia, the culprits will be called to justice in international courts of justice no matter how long they hide and survive with impunity. Pillay in fact has grave reservations about Zimbabwe’s election preparedness.
Although Pillay was diplomatic, it should be clear to Mugabe and partisan members of the security forces that the world is aware of what they are doing.
Pillay said: “I have heard much concern expressed about the role of the military, including a recent statement by one of the country’s most senior army officers suggesting the army should throw its weight behind one political party — when for any country to be called a democracy, its army must observe strict political neutrality”.
She went on to quote the GPA which clearly says: “State organs and institutions do not belong to any political party and should be impartial in the discharge of their duties”. The likes of Major Generals Martin Chedondo and Douglas Nyikayaramba and their blind military followers should take heed.
Chedondo and his colleagues should know that when they order soldiers at passout parades to support Zanu PF and to be involved in political and electoral affairs, they are acting illegally.
The world is watching.
Mugabe has an opportunity to stop this rot. The UN and the rest of the world are waiting to take action against violations of international human rights and humanitarian law by those who purport to work for Mugabe. The signs are all there.
lRuhanya is a PhD Candidate on Media and Democracy studies at the University of Westminster, London.