IT has now been officially confirmed — Zimbabwe will deploy troops to the DRC as part of a Sadc peacekeeping mission supported by the regional grouping, the African Union and the United Nations following the eruption again of the protracted conflict in the country and the capture of the main eastern town of Goma by M23 rebels fighting President Joseph Kabila’s government.
Foreign Affairs secretary Joey Bimha confirmed the deployment of Zimbabwean forces, saying it followed approval by regional leaders at a Sadc extraordinary summit in Tanzania last Friday.
While there is no problem with Zimbabwe helping out a fellow Sadc member state through a peacekeeping intervention, the question arises: was the Zimbabwean deployment of troops approved by cabinet and parliament?
Did President Robert Mugabe consult Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai on the issue? Or is this yet another arbitrary deployment similar to the one in 1998 in violation of the constitution and the law?
Finance minister Tendai Biti says there was no cabinet or parliamentary approval. He also says Tsvangirai was not consulted. Deploying troops abroad is one of the most significant policy decisions a state or government can make because it requires consideration of the constitution, legal and ethical issues.
That is why deployments are usually guided by national interests and must be made through consultative processes. They must not be at the whim of an individual who might be guided by narrow interests, including personal ambition and adventure.
In 1998, Angola, Namibia and Zimbabwe fought the DRC war after an onslaught on the country’s government then led by the late Laurent Kabila, the incumbent’s father, triggered a regional conflict.
Mugabe arbitrarily intervened there under a Sadc cover, but without necessary approval at home.
The war had disastrous consequences for the country’s economy and well-being. In fact, it ruined Zimbabwe’s economy.
Besides, many soldiers were killed and their families destroyed, while resources were squandered in a war whose national interest could not be defined.
Now Zimbabwe and the DRC are behind the scenes fighting over compensation. Harare is demanding about US$1 billion for its war effort, but Kinshasa is resisting paying. While the executive exercises authority over the military and plays a role in influencing events on the ground, the president must consult cabinet and parliament before deployment.
Zimbabwe must make it a practice, guided by the constitution and law, that parliament must give authorisation and approval to all troop deployments. The president’s deployment powers must be checked.
It is preferable to have prior parliamentary approval because once troops are sent out or abroad it is difficult for parliament to undo the government’s decision, since their withdrawal could endanger the ongoing mission and damage government’s credibility.
Arbitrary deployments of troops must stop whatever the circumstances.