AS Zimbabwe’s multi-faceted crisis worsens with no solutions in sight, Chatham House, a leading think-tank close to the British establishment, has played up the role of the military in the much-needed re-engagement process to halt the nation’s downward spiral.
By Kudzai Kuwaza/Wongai Zhangazha
The security forces are widely seen as President Robert Mugabe’s last line of defence in the face of growing opposition and dissent. Experts say the involvement of the military in forging an internal political solution is critical.
Speaking at a Southern African Political Economy Series (Sapes) policy dialogue forum in Harare to discuss a report by Chatham House titled The Domestic and External Implications of Zimbabwe’s Economic Reform and Re-engagement Agenda, one of the co-authors of the document, Knox Chitiyo, said the military remains a key pillar in the country’s political matrix.
“I think the military will remain one of the key players in Zimbabwe politics whether we like it or not,” Chitiyo said last Wednesday. “Whether we think it is a good thing or not, the military will be one of the key players. We need to engage with the military in terms of trying to stabilise the economy and in trying to stabilise the policy areas.”
Specialist in African affairs at the US Congressional Research Service Nic Cook said that the military in Zimbabwe has unique political and economic roles and could be pivotal in ensuring an eventual peaceful transition of power both as a kingmaker and as guarantor of an orderly process.
Prominent lawyer and democracy activist, Brian Kagoro, argued that there is no individual enjoying unlimited influence over the military — not even Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa who is widely believed to have the backing of Zimbabwe’s military.
“So when I hear anyone saying that Emmerson (Mnangagwa) or some other creature has control of the army I get a sense of incomprehension because I know there is no single person who for factional and personal advancement reasons can claim to control even the liberation movement component of the army,” Kagoro said.
“So if you really want to be pedantic about it, go and make an analysis by region of origin of the top 100 military commanders. Then you will not come back again and suggest that anyone has control of one singular military force.”
He added that “talking to a few generals” does not constitute understanding the “soul and the heartbeat of the men and women in uniform”.
Kagoro pointed out that most of the senior army officials are well past retirement age and were only influential because of President Robert Mugabe’s benevolence of extending their terms of office which he described as “serving precariously at the pleasure of the emperor”.
“Every single man and woman in uniform has ambition, many of them educated themselves beyond master’s level to PhD levels,” Kagoro warned.
“Some of them fought hard battles in the Democratic Republic of Congo, they are real soldiers. They are not waiting to be ruled on the basis of history or age.”
He added: “The only constituency that the current leadership of the army has is not just that they fought in the war of liberation, but it is because RGM (Mugabe) has kept them on life support. A man on life support is unlikely to fight in a wrestling match.”
Kagoro said the report did not consider the section of the army that is still serving as possible “game-changers” in the political dynamics of the country.
“If those who we are talking too are now old and post-retirement age, who on earth are we calling the military that will be the game-changer?” he asked.
“We have not yet talked to those, the ones who are under the age of 50.”