Zim transition:The Role of the military

OF late the military has been back in the spotlight for the wrong reasons.

Report by Gideon Chitanga

The historically evil-spell of partisan politicking cast its shadow on our search for lasting democracy.

This time it was Patrick Chinamasa, one of the negotiators playing a key role in the on-going Sadc-brokered political negotiations on behalf of Zanu PF, mimicking the military.

Coinciding with Chinamasa’s calculated and politically-motivated comments were remarks by Zanu PF spokesman Rugare Gumbo, echoing the same sentiments that even if Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai wins elections he would not be allowed by the military to take over.

This sort of political buffoonery would be comical if it did not concern the future of a nation, its people, constitutional order and national security, besides blatantly implying a military coup and consequential treason.

As we again ponder the role of the military in national politics, especially elections, the question is: have academics and civil society adequately interrogated the problématique with respect to the partisan military.

Chinamasa and Gumbo’s assertions the military will not accept an MDC victory is a rant oft-repeated ad nauseam by Zanu PF activists in the military and mimicked by its politicians.

But at the same it is not just a rant, it is a party security policy rooted in the logic of regime consolidation, modelled along a localised shock and awe strategy whose masterminds are key actors within the Joint Operations Command which brings together the army, police and intelligence chiefs.

Academics applying historical and institutional analysis have failed to recognise that there is a well-coordinated power-retention strategy operationalised through the involvement of deliberately selected categories of militarymen into the Zanu PF rank and file, imbedding some with its activists, foot soldiers and mid-level leadership. In other words, behind Chinamasa and Gumbo’s statements there is a think-tank and strategy, constituting the cornerstone of the Zanu PF regime’s survival plan.

It is not an accident that Zanu PF’s retention of state control was a result of a bloodless coup in 2008. The party has since combined coercive repression and patronage to regain full control of the state.

Without an evident notable shift in the domestic power dynamics with respect to state control, the Zanu PF regime will not recant this strategy nor show any sign of such.

There are overlapping interests protected by the contemporary military architecture in the country. While illicit resource accumulation and patronage provides a uniting thread, mutual manipulation and exploitation has conflated politics with security.

But President Robert Mugabe lost tight control of the military at the turn of the millennium in 2000.

While he still harbours delusions of being in charge, evidence on the ground demonstrates that his authority as the commander-in-chief has been eroded over the years.

It is important to note that before 2000, Mugabe had run an informal militia parallel to the formal national security institutions and system, most prominently the Fifth Brigade, accused of perpetrating grave human rights violations, which was solely composed of shock-troops recruited from Zanla fighters during the liberation war.

Members of Fifth Brigade were integrated into the army after it was disbanded.

Shifts in the patterns of political-military relations within the regime emanated from a providential need to provide new opportunities to military elites in order to keep them on the side of the regime in the face of waning legitimacy.

No doubt such military elites had come to see and know that power opened doors to massive wealth and more power.

It is these corrupted army commanders who are the brains behind military-political shock therapy ideationally rooted in a notion of securitised law and order and underlined by doctrinaire military supremacy.

Thus while the securitisation of the state is not necessarily new, it is the belief propagated within the Zanu PF regime and now widely etched in the national psyche and discourse that we are all chained subjects to our military liberators that is new and scary. Such a view withdraws our rights to citizenship while justifying all kinds of unaccountable authoritarian repressive practices.

It is the same logic that Zanu PF inherently reverts to in browbeating the masses while criminalising dissent. Actors within the military who now constitute the military-politico nucleus running Zanu PF and to a certain extent the state see their positions in terms of the power they wield and unlimited access to patronage, their source of immense wealth.

Their focus is not just to accumulate wealth but also get power to secure it. Their actions are based on their understanding of the instrumentality of power in patrimonial systems.

It is this power which shields them from accounting for their impunity, opened doors in the scramble for state resources and positions of privilege including massive political leverage within Zanu PF and the state.

If not in an explicit way, we are all culpable of unwittingly propagating the notion of military supremacy in our politics.

To revisit the major arguments that have been advanced to explain the politicisation of the military, social commentators, academics and journalists have referred to the coercive institutional legacy of patterns of organisation, mobilisation and military training within the liberation movement and its nemesis, the Rhodesian Front.

Mugabe recently referred to the same view in his discussions with the United Nations human rights commissioner Navi Pillay, arguing that violence is a feature of a national historical institutional legacy.

The military institution anywhere in the world evinces the highest threshold of national pride and sacrifice in any nation, yet those who plunge themselves into partisan politics fall into the basal if not contemptuous categories of national service.

In the strict logic of the military service, party politics is seen as a theatre of contempt where selfish agendas and mean egos thrive.

Unfortunately the descriptive narratives advanced in contemporary social commentaries have played into the hands of the Mugabe regime. In subtle ways they fail to challenge the regime orthodoxy, in fact they reinforce it, and therefore unwittingly spread fear amongst the public.

The public discourse is manipulated by the regime-aligned sections of the military and intelligence to centrally spread fear and intimidation within the country thereby emasculating the people.
Key players should be contesting Zanu PF authoritarian narratives, mainly claims of the supremacy of the military in our politics, which reinforce fear by parroting diversionary and intimidatory military-security propaganda.

We should to realise that at the core of such well-choreographed propaganda are calculated intentions to manipulate the political playing field by throwing the nation into a state of fear and anxiety, leaders of the democratic movement into doubt, despondence and to unhinge their campaigns for democracy.

Chitanga is a PhD candidate in politics and international studies at Rhodes University, South Africa.

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