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Army must stay in barracks

FROM time to time, this subject matter — the role of the military in Zimbabwean politics — resurfaces in local discourse and debate. It often re-emerges with renewed intensity and passion.

Editor’s Memo,Dumisani Muleya

Security sector reform is a controversial issue in Zimbabwe.
Security sector reform is a controversial issue in Zimbabwe.

This time around it was triggered by remarks made by Zimbabwe’s most senior military commanders, Zimbabwe Defence Forces commander General Constantino Chiwenga and Zimbabwe National Army commander Lieutenant-General Philip Valerio Sibanda. The two security service chiefs are apparently very sociable and pleasant human beings in other spheres of life outside their call of duty or out of the barracks. But that is entirely another issue.

Chiwenga’s remarks in interviews with state media covered a wide range of issues, including the history of the liberation war and the sacrifices made; war veterans, war deserters, cleaners or domestic-like workers during the war, Fifth Columnists; the army’s loyalty to President Robert Mugabe; security forces’ constitutional and legal mandate and their role in politics; civil disobedience; fears of Arab Spring-style uprisings; threats against the opposition; and Zanu PF subversives.

However, the scary bit was that Chiwenga “warned opposition elements bent on fomenting turmoil and Zanu PF infiltrators seeking to destroy the party from within that the country’s security services will not sit and watch as they plot chaos”.

Sibanda was quoted as saying the army was training its officers in cyber-warfare to prepare for new types of threats against the country in the digital age. While it’s comforting to know that the army has embraced technology through the adoption of cyber-warfare training and strategies to shape the country’s security policy, it is worrying that the target seems to be civilians.

One would have thought the military would be more worried about combating actions of other countries designed to penetrate the country’s information security systems and networks to cause damage or disruption, not legitimate protestors.

Chiwenga and Sibanda’s remarks suggest military encroachment into civilian democratic space, in some cases in violation of the constitution and the law. This is as worrying as it is undesirable.

Militarisation of state institutions and civilian politics is wrong. Militocracy is unacceptable. We need a civilised and progressive military establishment, not an old-fashioned coercive state apparatus reminiscent of colonial security systems.

The constitution is very clear on these issues. Section 208 of the constitution says “neither the security services nor any of their members may in the exercise of their functions act in a partisan manner, further the interests of any political party or cause or violate the fundamental rights or freedoms of any person”.

It adds: “Members of the security services must not be active members or office bearers of any political party or organisations.”

While Sibanda’s remarks were milder by comparison, they had a chilling effect on citizens’ democratic right to express themselves freely through social media.

But Chiwenga’s comments were more nerve-racking. His narrative and anecdotes were terrifying in some cases as they exuded and radiated raw militocracy.

Zimbabwe simply does not need that sort of strong-arm military philosophy and politics. It badly needs a professional and progressive ethos in its security policy.

Let’s not forget that with the advent of independence in different African countries in the late 1950s and early 1960s, euphoria, new dreams, hopes and expectations swept across the continent as colonial masters packed their bags and handed over the reins of power to victorious liberation movements and their nationalist leaders.

To most Africans, this marked the end of slavery, oppression and exploitation. However, the people’s dreams — from Ghana, Nigeria to Libya, Egypt, Uganda and Burundi, among other countries — were soon shattered as governments fell victim to a series of coups by military juntas for different reasons. Other countries also suffered gravely under civilian dictatorships.

Zimbabwe must never go the military route. To prevent that, the army must stay in the barracks. People have already suffered enough due to Mugabe’s misrule.

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