The making of a securocrat state in Zim

THIS is the third instalment in a series of articles which constitute an introduction to a book to be published this month under the tittle Zimbabwe: The Challenges of Democratisation and Economic Recovery, edited by Dr Mandaza.



Ibbo Mandaza,Academic

Security briefing ... The heads of the military-security complex are individually beholden to President Robert Mugabe (right).

Security briefing … The heads of the military-security complex are individually beholden to President Robert Mugabe (right).

The securocrat state

Therefore, securocracy is the very antithesis of democracy; ruling without or despite the popular will. A securocratic state is one in which the military-security apparatus is a dominant factor in the power complex that is the state. In Zimbabwe, this revolves around (but symbolic in that herein lies the centre of power) the President, Head of State and Governemnt and Commander-in-Chief of the Defence Forces.

As will be outlined shortly, Zimbabwe’s securocracy has its origins in the liberation struggle — in both Zapu and in particular Zanu — in which the military-security factor reigned supreme over civil and political relations. Of special significance in contemporary Zimbabwe is the extent to which, under the direction of the president himself, the military-security factor has, since 2000 in particular, sought to pervade social and political relations, compromise or contradict public policy issues, subvert the electoral system and purge political rivals to the incumbent “Big Man”. Of course, it can be as fascinating as the James Bond-type spy (or the cloak-and-dagger) narratives to have to single out and detail the operations of the arm of one military-security complex in such analyses of the security sector in African states, as Blessing Miles-Tendi has sought to do recently, but this can be both a distraction from political economy and, more seriously, a misreading of the history and development of the Zimbabwean state.

For example, if it is significant, as Miles-Tendi seeks to demonstrate, that military intelligence was the agency through which former vice-president Joice Mujuru in particular was purged in 2014, how would he explain why, a year later, the same agency is itself under siege, as Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa and his allies that include the commander of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces (under whom military intelligence operates), General Constantine Chiwenga, and a significant section of war veterans, led by Christopher Mutsvangwa, are being systematically purged and neutralised under the same military-security complex which includes the army, and its military intelligence wing and Presidential Guard, Air Force, police, prisons and Central Intelligence Organisation?

The point here is that the dynamics at play within the Zanu PF party/state are best understood in the context of a securocrat state in which the “Big Man” himself, and in the current situation, “State House” itself, has so far been its epicentre and the constant factor. This is because, as in all such dictatorships, each of the heads of the military-security chiefs are individually beholden to the “Big Man” who, as has been explained, has discretion to renew or terminate the annual extension to their respective contracts, and are beneficiaries of a patronage (and state-sponsored corruption) system in which, inter alia, he has personally facilitated the participation of the military, police and intelligence in the extractive industries, including diamonds and platinum.

Reports of fierce rivalry (and competition for access to resources attendant to the growing train) between some of the chiefs of the military-security establishment are not surprising since, as part of the machinations of the securocrat state, these individuals operate less in concert than each in relation to the “Big Man”, as will be illustrated shortly. This is “divide-and-rule” par excellence as is characteristic of dictatorships; as illustrated in Miles-Tendi’s account with respect to the role of the military intelligence in the purging of Mujuru and her allies in 2014. This means one arm of the military-security complex can be used expediently to execute a given political programme, at the expense of other arms of the complex; and, a year later, the order reversed, as military intelligence itself is being purged of yet another political project. This is the process of self-immolation of the securocrat state, but it is too early to predict how it will unravel nor the ramifications thereof.

Of course, it can be as fascinating as the James Bond-type spy narratives to have to single out and detail the operations of the arm of one military-security complex in such analyses of the security sector in African states, as Miles-Tendi has sought to do recently. In retrospect, the rise of the securocratic state can therefore be traced to at least three main features that have characterised the Zimbabwean social formation over the last 36 years. These are the very factors around which the possible trajectory of political and economic reform has to be identified, as the securocratic state itself is thawing under its own contradictions and the inexorable forces of change and development.

Rise and rise of the ‘Big Man’

This has taken place on the back of a process whereby the constitution was variously amended over the years to create an all-powerful executive, while correspondingly blurring the separation of powers, subverting and eroding national institutions and the gradual conflation thereby of ruling party and the state.

Notwithstanding the shortcomings of a document designed specifically for the transition from Rhodesia to Zimbabwe, the Lancaster House Constitution did lay down the foundations for the separation of powers between the executive, legislature and the judiciary, at least until the advent of the executive presidency in 1987. Thereafter, the executive president became increasingly the very centre and symbol of power in the Zimbabwean state. As explained elsewhere, the Mugabe story is one that requires its own attention and space. But it is already an informative lesson on the exercise of power in a post-colonial setting, in the careful interplay of state and party, and with the conflation of both around him; and how this provides the “Big Man” with the framework for enhancing his power and control over the entire polity. Like the cabinet under him, the Zanu PF politburo and central committee — including the women’s and youth wings — become instruments through which to institutionalise the control system, pre-empt or manage dissent, while the patronage that necessarily accompanies post and privilege also keeps the entire state as well greased as possible.

In recent years, and as the years and vagaries of the state have taken their toll on the “Big Man”, First Lady Grace Mugabe has taken centre stage in propping him up in a purported “life presidency” that also borders on dynastic politics. However, driven equally by fear and a palpable paranoia over the inevitable closure of the Mugabe era, she has inadvertently accelerated the implosion of both party and state. So, in the meantime, the current situation has all the hallmarks of a conventional dictatorship in the political economy definition of the term: a decisive and thorough purge of anyone — or anything — that purports to be opposed to the First Family and its party/state; an amazing disdain for, and apparent obliviousness to the political and economic realities that constitute the Zimbabwe crisis; and a relentless determination to rule ad nauseam, regardless of the consequences.

Against the background of this political pathology, national institutions — for example parliament itself, the Public Services Commission and the defence and security forces — have lost the relative autonomy and non-partisanship so clearly demanded under the constitution. The state, not to mention incorrigible incumbency itself, has consequently relegated and subverted the meritocracy, professionalism and non-partisanship that was commendable in Zimbabwe’s national institutions in those days of contagious patriotism.

Today, for example, the provisions that the heads of such national institutions as the defence forces should serve two terms of five years each, exist only on paper, having been abandoned since 2000 and replaced by annual renewals at the discretion of the President, Head of State and Government and Commander-in-Chief of the Defence Forces. Not, surprisingly, the term “retirement” has virtually disappeared out of the vocabulary and practice of Zimbabwe’s subverted national institutions, no doubt in keeping with incorrigible incumbency at the top of the edifice.

Primacy of ‘national security’ axis

As has already been intimated, the primacy of the military-security factor over civil and political relations has its origins in Zimbabwe’s liberation struggle, in particular the structure of Zanla. Traditionally, the Chief of Defence, such as were Josiah Tongogara and Rex Nhongo (Solomon Mujuru) after him, was also the apex of the entire military-security system that undergirded Zanu during the last phase (1977-79) of the struggle. As such, Tongogara was the centre of power in both Zanu and Zanla, with the political and civilian part of the latter virtually subservient to the military-security factor, even though the official line was to the contrary, namely, the doctrine that “politics controls the gun”!

The advent of political independence in 1980 and the subsequent development of the (post-colonial) state instituted a new power matrix for the emergent defence and security forces: selected Zanla units, some of the Zipa elements and the former Rhodesian Forces, were integrated into the Zimbabwean National Army, under the close supervision of the British Military Advisory and Technical Team (BMATT), initially (up to early 1981) under the command of the Rhodesian General Peter Walls and, later, the former Zanla commander, Solomon Mujuru; and selected elements of the former members of Zanla’s seguranca (or security-military intelligence) were integrated into the (former) Rhodesian Special Branch, which was then subsumed under the CIO under the leadership of the British-Rhodesian Ken Flower and deputised by Mnangagwa, hitherto Mugabe’s special assistant since 1978.

Other former combatants from both Zanla and Zipra found their place in the police force, the British South Africa Police, also under a former Rhodesian commander but later renamed, in July 1980, the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP).

Subsequently, its command was also “Africanised” with Wiridzayi Rodwell Nguruve, a former member of the BSAP, taking command, to be succeeded by another former BSAP member, Henry Mukurazhizha, before Augustine Chihuri, a former Zanla combatant, took over in 1993. Similarly, the Rhodesian Prison Services, into which a number of ex-combatants were recruited, before it was also renamed the Zimbabwe Prison Services: “Africanised” accordingly in 1980, to be headed subsequently by a former Zanla commander (who became a senior member of the Zimbabwe National Army), Paradzai Zimondi in 1994.

Finally, the former Rhodesian Air Force, which remained almost autonomous as largely a white outpost, even though it was also baptised the Zimbabwe Air Force in 1980, until much later in 1986 when Josiah Tungamirai, a former member of the Zanla High Command (virtually third in line after Tongogara and Mujuru), was appointed its commander. It has to be recalled that in the early years of Independence, that also witnessed the internecine conflict between Zanla and Zipra forces at Entumbane and, subsequently, the Gukurahundi episode, this white-manned and/or former Rhodesian Air Force was a key instrument in the defeat of Zapu and its military wing as the Zimbabwean state under Robert Mugabe, exorcised itself of any rivals to him .

It was against this background, in addition to the various constitutional and institutional arrangements that constituted the Zimbabwean state at Independence in 1980, that Mugabe ascended to the “throne” on which he would remain for 36 years, at first as the prime minister and then (executive) president in 1987. The foregoing section has outlined in some detail the trajectory of power that produced the “Big Man”. However, in explaining how Mugabe became the centre of a state power matrix in which the “national security” factor was increasingly writ large, there is need to highlight two issues that are also attendant to the origins and development of the securocrat state.

First, the inherited Rhodesian state apparatus and how this provided a level of continuity through which Mugabe was able to establish and develop his power base, in a transition that simultaneously reduced the threat of a white military backlash and deconstructed the former guerilla armies — especially the hitherto dominant security-military factors within both Zanla and Zipra — into a national institution, the defence and security forces, under the command and control of the President, the Head of State and Government and Commander-in-Chief of the Defence Forces.

This was the process through which the state — composed of the old and new — also dispensed with any would-be rivals to Mugabe; and herein the origins of the “national security” axis that developed with the virtual destruction of Joshua Nkomo’s Zapu and Zipra through the bloody Gukurahundi episode of 1984 to 1987, and became synonymous with the self-preservation of Mugabe’s incumbency and the securocrat state itself.

Also significant in this regard, is how the Zimbabwean state inherited an apparatus so central to the doctrine and command structure of the Rhodesian military-security state: the Joint Operations Command (Joc) which was chaired by Walls and became virtually parallel, in terms of its power and influence during the last years of the Rhodesian regime, to the political civilian leadership of Ian Smith and, from 1978 to 1979, with Bishop Abel Muzorewa in the aborted Rhodesian-Zimbabwean episode.

In post-Independent Zimbabwe, Joc became a central feature of the state’s military-security complex, prominent as ever during such “war-time” periods as Gukurahundi, anti-Renamo war in Mozambique (1977-1992), the Democratic Republic of Congo escapade (1998), and during the elections from 2000 onwards, as the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) also became, at least operationally and functionally, an extension of the military-security establishment and election periods degenerated increasingly into virtual “war zones”. As others have pointed out with respect to the laws and legislation that the Zimbabwean state inherited — and perfected — from Rhodesia, continuity has been a central feature of the securocrat state

Dr Mandaza is a Zimbabwean academic, author and publisher. He is currently the convener of the Sapes Trust’s Policy Dialogue Forum.

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