In the Sunday Mail of March 12 2017, Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa announced with celebration the “success” of “command agriculture” and announced intentions to expand that into “command mining”, “command health” and even “command education”.
The brief of that article was to signal the coming “command economy”. This has caught our eyes and in this piece we argue that “command economy” is a silent coup being orchestrated by a Zanu PF faction in alliance with sections of the securocrats as a strategy to circumvent their party’s constitution and our recently enacted embryonic constitution.
These manoeuvres from the securocratic elements in Zanu PF is after the realisation of shifting tides within the party and country from the narrative of “patriotic history” to a true and broader more collective liberation narrative. Command economy is Zimbabwe’s obscure Devil on the Cross and needs to be rejected. The backing of command economy by the boisterous chairperson of war veterans Chris Mutsvangwa, at a recent press conference, is ill-informed.
Statistics provided by the Agriculture ministry are in direct conflict with the vice-president’s pronunciamento.
Higher Education minister Jonathan Moyo has already had his field day exposing that “US$500 million was used to plant only 153 000 hectares out of the 400 000 hectare” targeted threshold, meaning that the programme achieved less than half of its targeted output. So goes another half-a-billion down the throats of these networked elites and as Moyo screamed in “civil matters command is an oxymoron, a non-starter”.
But we can leave them playing factional roulette, it is thick with human hecatombs once the palace goes comatose. Our concern is the implication of the logic of all things “command”. Our argument is very simple: the rush into things all “command” will trigger a descend into militarism and this poses grave consequences for our pernicious walk to a democratic polity.
Command economy will place into the hands of the security network such enormous political and economic power through bureaucratic usurpation and the net effect is to render irrelevant if not totally displace the constitutional republic. A country in which the security establishment is the centrepiece of economic production is nothing short of a military dictatorship with a civilian face. The question is: to whom and how will the men and few women in uniform with artillery and grenades account to? In the now emptied Chiadzwa diamond fields a parliamentary committee was barred entry under the guise of “national security”. This reveals the actual operation of how a command economy will be run.
Shadowy state and its Goliathan logic
Zimbabwe is already being run as a surveillance state in which the security apparatuses are embedded in the political processes. Recently the government appointed a former director in the Office of the President and Cabinet (meaning the intelligence, CIO) to run the Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority. The First Lady Grace Mugabe even boasted of having recordings of former vice-president Joice Mujuru semi-naked in her home and that former party bigwig Didymus Mutasa boasted that “we know who you slept with last night”.
The everyday evidence of this surveillance state is the number of rentseeking roadblocks littered all over the country where they pop up like mushroom in the rainy season.
Dr Martin Rupiya, a former army colonel and scholar, has pointed out how every facet of Zimbabwe’s political landscape was turned into an “operational military zone”. From the elections body, parastatals, educational institutions, industry and recently the institution of the chief justice, attempts have been made to stuff these state bodies with military and intelligence personnel.
Moyo criticised this militarism when he pointed to the worrying trend of “government by operations” like Operation Tsuro, Operation Murambatsvina, Operation Taguta/Sisuthi, Operation Garikai and Operation Dzikisai Madhishi and Operation Mavhotera Papi. Economic transformation cannot be achieved through sheer militarism and the Goliathan logic of force. And here we thought Stalin’s carcasses had lessons. It is just strategy, stupid! Even the biblical David knew this when confronted with Goliath.
History and priest in witch’s garb?
Zimbabwe’s nationalistic elite sound like the proverbial priest who goes around the village proudly preaching the evil of witchcraft to bemused villagers whilst clad in witch’s garb and riding a hyena in broad daylight. But to understand how this state of affairs evolved and how post-colonial Zimbabwe ended with a state apparatus designed for a gulag, we need to have a historical perspective.
History has very long shadows which often affect contemporary and future political contestations. The Zimbabwean state evolved from the Rhodesian settler state, and that settler-state was a “war state” meaning that the state apparatus was designed to defend and go on the offensive to preserve the white racist regime. The Rhodesian settler-state evolved from the colonial garrison of Rhodes’ British South Africa Company (BSAC), which basically meant the urban town emerged as a military laager: hence the names Fort Victoria, Fort Charter, Fort Salisbury and so on. That sense of the state as a military-intelligence gathering machinery spilled over into the post-colony and the so-called revolutionary nationalists have perfected it as claimed by Blessing-Miles Tendi, in his 2016 article on State Intelligence and Politics of Succession in Zimbabwe.
Anxious nationalist elites
The anxious nationalist elites have been keen to mobilise the security state to defend, not the republic, but their plundering orgies. For the so-called radical nationalists when they are caught with their hands pilfering sick people’s health insurance funds they scream “wolf”, pointing to “little boys” or students and “imperialists”, trying to hoodwink the citizen. These little boys or students are Zimbabwean citizens by birth (by blood too!) and as citizens they need answers from the rulers.
With his neck very plump and sinking in fat gathered from public health insurance premiums, from Psmas, “Big Brother George” reminds us of the rotund character Gitutu Wagataanguru in Ngugi Wa Thiongo’s book Devil On The Cross. The full Christian name, he boasted, was “Rottenbrough Groundflesh Shitland Narrow Isthmus Joint Stock Brown”.
Gitutu got very fat feeding on people’s produce and was unforgiving to those who mistook him for a small-time thief and he would fume in defence of his records in the art of thievery and robbery. For those who dared to ask where his belly came from Gitutu bellowed that the belly grew the moment he discovered that he could reap where he did not plant, eat without shedding a sweat and drink what others had fetched. In 2013, Zimbabweans voted overwhelmingly for a new constitution which establishes the rules of the game — we are a republic, a constitutional democracy. The people’s power rests in the National Assembly as elected by the citizens. Not in barracks.
The raucous over the appointment of a new chief justice betrays the heart of the matter, which is to usurp the constitution through dubious litigation and remove the citizen from the matrix of appointing the chief justice. The foundational principle in our constitution is such that the people’s power is exercised by elected individuals and the National Assembly is where such democratic deliberations happen.
Parliamentary debates are public and the reason is that the public can keep track of how they are being governed and this is crucial: in theory when citizens are not happy they can vote the government out in an election meaning the honour to govern is only in as far as the people have consented to the rule. Importantly, the National Assembly debates budgets, authorises the executive to appropriate and spent revenue and in theory any appropriation and expenditure not authorised by the National Assembly is unlawful.
The political convulsions which have intensified with the advent of a strong opposition has revealed this tendency by the ruling elite to rely on military might. Since 2000, some men and women in uniform have discovered that the political elites need them. In return, the ruling elites have promoted those officers into various high-profile government and state enterprises positions. The talk about everything being turned into “command logic” is an obscure “devil on the cross” meant to entrench a military state via a bureaucratic coup d’état.
Half a century ago, apprehensive about the encroaching power of what he called the “military-industrial complex”, US President Dwight Eisenhower (1961), sounded the fore-warning below: “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.”
Zimbabwe needs an agile, modern and well-equipped army. It is a constitutional obligation. However, there is a flip side which is that once the army is equipped and the soldier trained, the guns, the bayonets, the gunpowder and their holders must stay in the barracks because they are the defenders of the republic. The call to a command economy places the military and the security apparatus at the pinnacle of developmental policy and this perilously displaces the foundational statutes of this country which stipulate that the people must govern through elected representatives.
Big Brother Gitutu is just defending his racketeering turf looking for new tutelage and the early celebration of the command economy is a fatal descent into unconcealed militarism and the dangers to the republic are horrendous.
Chirimambowa and Chimedza are co-founders of the Institute of Public Affairs in Zimbabwe and they publish Gravitas, a bi-monthly journal of critical articles on public policy and governance in Zimbabwe — firstname.lastname@example.org