Militarisation of state institutions and the November military coup

THE overthrow of former president Robert Mugabe, after 37 years in power, cannot be adequately explained by the combined military intervention and public protests of November 18 2017.

Pedzisai Ruhanya
political analyst

This article traces and analyses the distinct and organised militarisation of key state institutions from 2002-2017 that facilitated Mugabe’s fall on November 21 2017.

It is argued that the distinct military role and its liberation connection to the ruling elites, not the disparate voices and interests that included Zanu PF, the opposition, ordinary citizens, churches and civil society groups were responsible for Mugabe’s fall.

The military and its elite connections in Zanu PF planned the toppling of Mugabe for years. They were interested in authoritarian consolidation rather than authoritarian erosion, possible authoritarian disintegration and ultimate democratic breakthrough as envisaged by the opposition and its allied forces who marched alongside military tanks and personnel armoured carriers in the streets.

That is why authoritarian consolidation as fronted by the military and Zanu PF elites prevailed as the disparate forces disintegrated after the success of the coup. There is now increasingly less difference between Mugabe’s rule and President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s governance architecture which remains fundamentally competitive authoritarian.

The opposition forces and their allies in civil society have gone back to their original cause of fighting against undemocratic practices in the same manner as they did during the Mugabe era. Nothing at the structural and institutional level of the state and its agencies has changed; a year after the fall of Mugabe.

It is therefore important to state that, ironically, the politicisation of the military that served Mugabe well from 1980 until November 2017 is the same infrastructure that devoured him. Mugabe unwittingly constructed a de facto military state led by a de jure civilian authority under his authoritarian tutelage.

Mnangagwa is using the same military elites to remain in power. This analysis reveals a complex relationship between the military and Zanu PF elites that deflected public attention and characterisation of Mugabe’s fall as a coup.

Authoritarian system

Scholars define competitive authoritarian regimes as civilian regimes in which formal democratic institutions exist and are widely viewed as the primary means of gaining power, but in which incumbents’ abuse of the state places them at a significant advantage vis-`a-vis their opponents.

Such regimes are competitive in that opposition parties use democratic institutions to seriously contest for power, but the elections in which they participate in are not sufficiently democratic because the playing field is heavily skewed in favour of incumbents.

Competition is thus real, but lopsided. It is largely the electoral aspect that has left many authoritarian states endorsed as largely democratic. This view is supported by Howard and Roessler, who posit that “these regimes feature regular, competitive elections between a government and an opposition, but the incumbent leader or party typically resorts to coercion, intimidation, and fraud to attempt to ensure electoral victory”.

In Zimbabwe, this hybrid system was more visible in the events leading to the coup that pressured Mugabe to resign. Critical state institutions were infiltrated and captured over a very long but complex process.

Public media

The media is always a target of a competitive authoritarian regime because it is a double-edged sword; on one hand it can be its possible way-out of power while on the other hand a tool for maintaining power through publicity and propaganda, and undermining the opposition’s political appeal to the electorate.

Apart from reliance on repressive legislation such as the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act), Broadcasting Services Act, Interception of Communications Act and Public Order and Security Act, among others, the Zanu PF government has maintained military presence in the leadership positions of the national broadcaster — the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC), regulatory bodies such as Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (Baz), Zimpapers and other institutions. These placements are never meant to transform military actors into civilians, to the contrary they are designed to militarise state institutions.

The capture of the state media and other state institutions infrastructure helped the military in the lead up to the coup to control the narrative driven and to have a degree of influence in how the private or alternative media also reported.

A cursory look of the military architecture within the state media shows that in 2009, eight senior security sector members were appointed by the then Information Ministry into media-related boards.

Among retired security sector officials appointed were to the state media were: Brigadier-General Epmarcus Kanhanga (Zimpapers), Retired Colonel Rueben Mqwayi, Brig-General Elasto Madzingira (both Baz), Brig-General Benjamin Mabenge, Major-General Gibson Mashingaidze (both ZBC), Brig-Gen Livingstone Chineka (Transmedia), Brig-General Collin Moyo (Kingstons) and Colonel Claudius Makova (New Ziana).

The message appears clear; military interests need to be protected in all key areas of state power and the media is one of them. This was part of the military’s state capture process which culminated in the coup last November.

The military was also deployed to parastatals and the bureaucracy. Its presence was pervasive and this made it easy for it to capture the state and eventually oust Mugabe who, of course, at the time of his removal has lost control.

Military in Zanu PF

When looking at Zimbabwe’s military coup, we also have to factor in how intra-party electoral and succession dynamics were mediated. The capture of Zanu PF electoral system by securocrats’ interests has seen the outcome being manipulated through actions and inactions taken by the security sector before, during and after the coup.

Whereas, broadly, Zanu PF was capturing national electoral processes, that very nature assisted the military.

The strategy for capturing the electoral process has been executed through:

*Use of the security sector as a key part of campaign teams;

*Deployment of retired securocrats and war veterans to create an environment of fear and intimidation to help Zanu PF win;

*Pre-election military terror campaigns or operations meant to tweak voting patterns and choices;

*Issuing of televised press statements by army generals during the run-up to elections with the intention of reminding the electorate that voting Zanu PF is better that assured punitive consequences of voting the opposition; and

*Populating state institutions responsible for administering elections with securocrats and their loyalists capable of sacrificing professionalism for loyalty to Zanu PF.

The retired security sector content and war veterans have been a cardinal agent used to enhance capture of the electoral process and ensure continuity of the securocratic state.

They have helped to pursue and enhance military capture of the electoral process in following ways:

*Use of violence, threats and placing a sellout tag on opposition members and supporters in their door-to-door Zanu PF campaigns;

*They are scattered across the country’s communities to indoctrinate, monitor and spy on citizens at household levels;

*They are used to make grassroots to perceive them as Zanu PF creators, kingmakers and kingpins of the army;

*Their capture and use of public resources (schools, government aid and projects, local government infrastructure) to further Zanu PF political interests;

*They preside over Zanu PF capture of government food handouts and using them in “food-for-a-vote” campaigns in hunger-stricken villages and;

*They undermine and frog-march traditional leaders at headman level to vote for Zanu PF.

Under such circumstances, the election outcome becomes predetermined.

The electoral process is thus captured.

Militarising the electoral environment ensures election results do not reflect people’s democratic choice, but rather become an expression of the people’s choice of life over death; it becomes the margin of terror.

No matter how independent the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission might try to be, if the context of the electoral process is not liberated from military capture, elections will remain neither free nor fair. Election-based transition that is contrary to military interests is made difficult if not impossible.

Militarised judiciary

Capture of the state judiciary intensified simultaneously with the emergence of the main opposition MDC as a serious threat to Zanu PF’s political hegemony. The Zanu PF military-driven land reform programme, especially the fast-track exercise, that targeted white commercial farmers, whom government believed to have been aiding and abetting the MDC financially and electorally, led to the infiltration and capture of the judiciary by Zanu PF and its military allies.

This led to the forced resignation of then Chief Justice Anthony Gubbay and several other judges, particularly white, who were seen as a stumbling block to Zanu PF hegemony. This was after law enforcement agents and the security sector allowed war veterans to enter and dance on top of Supreme Court benches in a brazen act of intimidation.

Commenting on the same issue and displaying disregard of the courts, Mugabe said: “The courts can do whatever they want, but no judicial decision will stand in our way. They are not courts for our people and we shall not even be defending ourselves in these courts.”

From 2000 onwards, Mugabe used his militarised party’s patronage network to pack the judiciary benches. It was through the work of these judges with the help of Constitutional Amendment Number 17 Act (2005) introducing section 16B that the farm seizures and violation of property rights were legalised despite a Sadc Tribunal ruling declaring those actions illegal (Mike Campbell (Pvt) Ltd et al. v. Republic of Zimbabwe).

The late Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku (former Zanu MP and deputy minister) and other judges, who had military backgrounds, were war veterans or beneficiaries of land reform and were among those who replaced the judges that Mugabe and Zanu PF did not want.

So, in the end, the military captured the state and its institutions, as well as Zanu PF process, making it easier for Mugabe to be overthrown in November last year as his Frankenstein monster turned against him.

Conclusion

Whereas most hybrid regimes are led by civilian authorities with an undoubted control on state institutions, civilian authority in Zimbabwe is arguably de jure but in practice the military runs the affairs of the state.

The clash between Mugabe’s interests and that of the military elites in resolving his succession which led to the fall shows that the army had control over key civilian institutions that administer state affairs. The military has a ubiquitous role in the political, economic and public affairs of the state.

So the forces that converged in November last year to march to force Mugabe to quit were basically in a marriage of convenience which unsurprisingly started unravelling soon after as they were driven by different interests and agendas. The military was the critical factor, although it needed the marches as a camouflage for the coup.

Ruhanya is a postdoctoral research fellow with the University of Johannesburg’s Faculty of Humanities. He is the director of the Harare-based Zimbabwe Democracy Institute (ZDI). He studied journalism, political science, sociology and human rights law with the Universities of Zimbabwe, Essex (UK) and Westminster (UK). He is a former Hubert Humphrey fellow on international human rights law with the Universities of Minnesota and New York (United States).

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