Power centralisation dominates Zim politics

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President Robert Mugabe and his wife arrive to address party supporters who had gathered for the million-man march on May 25 in the capital.

This is the second in a series of articles extracted from a report done by the Research and Advocacy Unit (RAU) tittled Conflict or Collapse? Zimbabwe in 2016.

3.3 Who dunnit?

A major issue is on how to precisely characterise the Zimbabwean polity: is it a failed, fragile, frail, or predatory state (Bratton, 2014; Bratton & Gyimah-Boadi, 2015; Bavister-Gould, 2011; Bratton & Masunungure, 2011).

Probably the last is the most appropriate, and, even though the economy continues to deteriorate, state institutions remain strong and completely under the control of the regime. As pointed out above, the role that state agencies and proxy militia play in the control of coercive power is crucial (see Table 3). However, there is also the question about whether the coercive power of the state will persist in the face of the current faction fighting in Zanu PF, and, here, it is instructive to note that a comprehensive analysis of the causes of instability, both globally and for Sub-Saharan Africa, concludes that instability may be reliably predicted from a crucial state configuration: partial democracy, or “anocracy”, and factionalism (Goldstone et al, 2010). Zimbabwe, as the predatory state label suggests, would be fairly described as a partial democracy, but, until 2013, the only factionalism of any consequence that could be identified was the (weak) parliamentary opposition from the MDC. The current splitting that is accompanying the vicious succession struggle within Zanu PF suggests that there should considerable concern for marked instability, with a high probability of state collapse and possible violence (see also section 2.3.1 following).

3.3.11 Political parties

As indicated above, the Zimbabwe polity is variously characterised, but the best fit is with the notion of Zimbabwe as a predatory state, fitting almost exactly the description given by Bavister-Gould (2011), and contextualised for Zimbabwe by Bratton and Musunungure (2011). The state is dominated by the immense power centralised in the presidency and Robert Mugabe, but this seems to be eroding currently in the face of an increasingly vicious battle within Zanu PF over succession (Matyszak, 2015a; 2015b).

The expulsion of the so-called “Gamatox” faction in 2013 has led to a new political configuration in the form of ZPF, headed by former Vice-President, Joice Mujuru. While it is too early to estimate the popular base of ZPF, indications are that it has an unknown degree of support both inside and outside Zanu PF, which is leading to further defections and expulsions within the latter. There are also numerous calls for a coalition between opposition parties, but, despite the many reports of talks taking place, no real evidence that this will come to fruition. In electoral terms, and thinking ahead to the 2018 elections, a key question will be whether a coalition can unseat Zanu PF‘s power; whether the Mugabe social base can be eroded by changes in allegiance to ZPF; whether ZPF and MDC-T will split the vote between them to the detriment of both; and whether there will be serious pressure to ensure a genuinely level playing field for all (see Section 2.2.3).

There has been additionally the widespread speculation, despite endless denials, that Robert Mugabe intends to maintain his personal power through succession by his wife, Grace Mugabe. However, recent months have suggested rather that Grace’s emergence into the political arena has been more a factor in the faction fighting, and growth influence of the socalled Generation 40 (G40) group, with the corollary diminution in the power of Vice-President, Emmerson Mnangagwa, and the so-called Team Lacoste. Mugabe seems now unable to control this faction fighting as he was able to do in the past and at least one political commentator suggests that the continuing disunity within Zanu PF makes it unlikely that the party could legitimately win the 2018 elections (Mandaza, 2016).

A key issue in the problem of succession within Zanu PF will be the link between the national and the Zanu PF constitution (Matyszak, 2016).5 The manner in which both are inextricably linked can lead to considerable problems in the event of the death, capacity or resignation of the president.

It is evident that the faction fighting within Zanu PF, the emergence of ZPF, and the very recent demonstration of popular power by MDC-T, seems to be leading to new possibilities for opposition political parties. After the demoralising result of the 2013 election result, opposition parties seem moribund and mirroring Zanu PF in their own faction fighting.

However, the faction fighting with Zanu PF, the absence of any obvious government, and the severe economic decline may have created both increasing popular discontent with the government and new space for political action by opposition political parties.

In this chaos, a key factor will be the attitude of the security sector.

3.3.2 The role of the security sector

It has been continually alleged that the security sector, and primarily the Joint Operations Command (JOC) has had control of both all violence and intimidation (HRW. 2008), as well as a strong hand in election rigging. These allegations have been given strong affirmation by the President himself. In his address to the April 2016 meeting with the war veterans, Mugabe thanked the military and the war veterans explicitly for his election victories in 2008 and 2013.6 This directly confirms the importance of the security sector in the maintenance of Zanu PF‘s political power, and, has been pointed out, violates both the constitution and the laws governing the security sector (Matyszak, 2011).

Previous research has shown the involvement of the security forces in violence, and multiple reports by the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum and others have described the organisation of this violence around local bases (HRF, 2000; HRF, 2001; HRF, 2002). The reports show that there is consistently a variable core of Zanu PF officials (including Ministers, Members of Parliament and local councillors), policemen, soldiers, intelligence operatives, traditional leaders and Youth Officers. This system of repression was evident in 2012, but there is no current information about the system, and hence it is difficult to determine whether the internal conflicts in Zanu PF are having an effect here. The gap in understanding is important since the existence of the repressive system or its collapse can have a very direct effect upon citizen and civil society activities.

3.3.3 Proxy forces

Zimbabwe, in common with other SADC countries, is governed by a former liberation movement, and, as Clapham (2012) has indicated, this has important ramifications for the style of government in those countries (2012). It also points out the centrality of former freedom fighters in the affairs of the country, and, as indicated earlier, there is some evidence that countries governed by former liberation movements may be inherently violent (RAU, 2016). Zimbabwe is the most violent of these five SADC countries — Angola, Mozambique,
Namibia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe — especially around elections (see Table 1 above).

A key feature of the political violence in Zimbabwe has been the involvement of war veterans and other party-affiliated militia groups, such as Chipangano in Harare or Al Shabab in the Midlands.8 The latter may well be affected by the intra-party conflict in Zanu PF, but it is hard to predict whether this will result in intra-party violence or will cause the elimination of such groups. It is also difficult to ascertain whether these proxy groups represent factions within Zanu PF or are merely opportunistic players taking advantage of the confusion currently.

As for the war veterans, this has taken a complicated turn in recent months during 2016, with the war veterans entering the faction fighting, apparently in defence of Vice-President, Emmerson Mnangagwa. However, there are also reports that some war veterans are now hostile to the Vice President, some even calling for the resignation of the President. While there is little concrete evidence about the disposition of the war veterans, they seem to divide their support among the President, the President‘s wife, Grace Mugabe, Mnangagwa, and Joice Mujuru. At least one very senior former army officer and former freedom fighter, Brigadier Agrippa Mutambara, has publicly resigned from Zanu PF and joined ZPF. This may presage further splitting amongst the war veterans.

Of the various proxy militia groups supporting Zanu PF, the paramount group is the graduates of the National Youth Training scheme, known as the Green Bombers. Their visible presence waxes and wanes, but they have been consistently identified in human rights reports as serious offenders (CSVR, 2009). They may be an important vector in 2018 with the suggestion by the Minister of Youth, Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment to reintroduce the National Youth Service programme, which he claimed had previously trained 80 000 young persons.10 Given the history of their deployment, and the massive levels of youth unemployment, could be very worrying. In addition, there are frequent reports that a substantial number of the Green Bombers are already employed in various capacities in the civil service such as youth officers in rural areas.

3.3.4 Civil society

Civil society organisations had a good opportunity to develop new strategies during the Inclusive Government, but this opportunity was largely lost. Here too much attention was given to the constitutional process at the expense of pushing for the reform of state institutions as was mandated under the Global Political Agreement (RAU, 2010).

Additionally, civil society is undergoing considerable change, both as a consequence of the competition for greatly reduced donor funding and the changed political landscape. Formerly powerful agents, such as the National Constitutional Association (NCA) or the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), are severely weakened: a recent report suggests that the ZCTU is bankrupt, probably due to the enormous job losses in the past three years especially, while the NCA has become a very minor political party.

However, the changed political environment may well be creating new spaces for civic action.

In a Research and Advocacy Unit (RAU) statistical analysis of active citizenship, social capital, and political efficacy, the study identified four distinct citizen groupings: Zanu PF supporters, MDC-T supporters, active citizens and disconnected democrats. The fourth group seems to have neither political affiliation nor community connectedness, and is characterised as being urban, educated and employed. Civil society has been slow in recognising the active citizens group as primary target for its activities; however a handful are using the 2013 Constitution as a vehicle to stimulate community dialogue on its content and what it calls upon duty bearers to deliver in terms of their constitutional rights and freedoms. It remains to be seen whether this education process will engender greater democratic activity or inspire reconnection of citizens.

Civil society is not merely non-governmental organisations, but includes mass movements as well as survivalist groups – numerous small groups and organisations, mostly dealing with local problems around a charitable goal (Habib, 2013). Here the engagement of the churches with the transitional justice processes marks a change in the willingness of the large churches to get involved in matters related to governance, and it is probable that this will increase as the crisis in Zimbabwe deepens. The lack of leadership of the churches and the trade unions has been a serious impediment to effective civic action in the past decade, perhaps creating the space for the enormous growth of the so-called prophets and the prosperity churches.

To be continued next week.

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