AS the European Union (EU) and Zimbabwe prepare to resume formal re-engagement talks, with Brussels insisting on sweeping reforms, including security sector overhaul, President Emmerson Mnangagwa is between a rock and hard place.
By Owen Gagare
Security sector reform is one of the key demands from Western countries, which have imposed sanctions, including arms embargoes, on Harare, before Zimbabwe could be accepted back into the international community fold and receive new funding.
Diplomats say Mnangagwa is under pressure to reform the military, which brought him to power, but government and army insiders say he fears rocking the boat and is in any case unable to overhaul the edifice which forms his administration’s bedrock.
Acting ambassador EU ambassador to Harare Thomas von Handel told the Zimbabwe Independent in an interview this week reforms were critical to dialogue and bilateral issues between Harare and Brussels
Mnangagwa has below the radar been making a series of changes within the security sector, which insiders say are designed to consolidate power rather ensure security sector reform aborted before the November coup 2017 due to former president Robert Mugabe’s reliance on the army for political survival and his succession battle.
Purges of targeted commanders and senior security officers have angered some military bosses and their political allies, army insiders say.
In a revealing article published in the state media on April 28, which reflected government’s position, Information permanent secretary Nick Mangwana said some of the retired commanders were seen as characters who “perpetuated toxic politics of yesteryear”.
Mangwana claimed the purges were part of Mnangagwa’s security sector reform agenda, an assertion disputed by army insiders who insist those are merely political eliminations to realign politics, not reform the military institution, its guiding policies and the command element.
Security sector reform is about ensuring the security forces operate within the parameters of the constitution and in terms of the law in an apolitical and professional manner.
In a daring manoeuvre, Mnangagwa in February retired some influential military commanders — who thrust him into power — pending diplomatic postings. He also changed critical personnel and commanders in strategic military units such as the Presidential Guard and Mechanised Brigade in a major shake-up among troops that staged the coup which ousted Mugabe and facilitated his dramatic rise to power.
Military sources told the Independent that the retired commanders are reluctant to serve abroad as diplomats as they see their redeployment as an agenda to exile them into political Siberia and isolate them.
Senior military commanders retired pending diplomatic assignments include Major-General Anselem Sanyatwe, who was commander of the Presidential Guard; former Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA) chief-of-staff (administration) Douglas Nyikayaramba, chief-of-staff responsible for service personnel and logistics, Major-General Martin Chedondo, and Air Vice-Marshal Sheba Shumbayawonda.
Informed security sources told the Independent the retirements were designed to contain Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga, who was the commander of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF) during the coup, as he has presidential ambitions.
Mangwana said the changes were part of the security sector reform process.
“President Mnangagwa has redeployed those members of the security services who have served their country with distinction to other areas of the establishment to strengthen Zimbabwe’s democracy,” Mangwana wrote.
“These include General Constantino Chiwenga (Rtd), who is now Vice President, Major-General Sibusiso Moyo (Rtd), who is now Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, and a host of other eminent sons who have been redeployed to the party and diplomatic service.
“He has also permanently retired those members who perpetuated toxic politics of yesteryear, and appointed and elevated other patriotic cadres to replace them.”
Officials say Mangwana’s remarks — seen as a reflection of Mnangagwa’s thinking — have set tongues wagging in military circles.
In briefings with the Independent, military bosses, however, insisted that there was no realistic prospect for genuine security sector reform designed to ensure that the military goes back to the barracks given the army’s role in Mnangagwa’s rise to power, his controversial election with a wafer-thin margin — hence lack of popular support — and its dominance of the political scene.
“It is an implausible scenario to say Mnangagwa is undertaking security sector reform as Mangwana claims. What Mnangagwa is doing is changing faces within the command element to consolidate power and protect himself from possible removal by the same military.
“In the first place, Mnangagwa and his military allies, before the new splits, thwarted security sector reform under Mugabe because of militarised politics and the succession battle. So they won’t embrace it now because the military is the foundation of his administration; overhauling it means he will be left exposed and won’t survive politically,” a retired army commander said.
“Remember he has no popular electoral support and this was demonstrated during last year’s general elections. He relied on the military to assume power, he depended on it to controversially win the election and still relies on it to remain in power.
“What he has done and is still doing is merely replacing commanders he doesn’t want or those he doesn’t trust with those who are loyal to him. The military infrastructure remains the same because he is aware that he can’t institute genuine security sector reforms without collapsing his rule.
“At the same he knows it would be good for him to reform the security establishment and assert his civilian rule. That’s an ideal position. So he is in a quandary. He is dammed if he does; damned if he doesn’t. If he engages in genuine reform, he will rock the boat and collapse his springboard to power, and the very security edifice that supports his administration. If he doesn’t, the military will remain deeply involved in politics and will continue sinking its roots deeper in political affairs to consolidate its dominance of the political arena.
“As a result, Mnangagwa has basically gone for consolidation based on maintaining the institutional fabric and security architecture as it is, while simply replacing commanders and other security officers that he does not want or trust. This is what is actually going on, not what Mangwana is saying.”
Military insiders say the chance for genuine security sector reform was lost during the Government of National Unity era (2009-13) when it was on the formal agenda and Mugabe was under pressure to change things.
After the 2013 elections, deepening of Zanu PF factional fights also contributed to derailing the security sector reform agenda.
Mnangagwa and Chiwenga were allies before the coup, but did not take long to fall out resulting in the unfolding power struggle between the two.
Although Chiwenga is ailing, insiders say he is vowing to fight back at some point.
Before the recent military shakeup, Mnangagwa had made changes at the Zimbabwe Republic Police and Central Intelligence Organisation, removing senior officers deemed close to Mugabe, while elevating those loyal to him.
He is also reportedly planning more changes in the ZRP command structure by retiring Commissioner-General Godwin Matanga and replacing him with one of the senior officers.
Sources say some security officers were worried that Mnangagwa was making regional and ethnic appointments as part of his power consolidation strategy.
“There are no genuine security sector reforms taking place. What we are seeing is power consolidation by Mnangagwa. Of course, his backers are telling diplomats that the shake-up in the security sector is part of the reform agenda, but it’s clear that this is a power consolidation strategy,” a source said.
“He is removing Chiwenga’s supporters and replacing them with his allies, particularly from Midlands and Masvingo provinces. During Mugabe’s presidency, most commanders were Zezurus. Mnangagwa has removed the Zezurus at the top and appointed Karangas. You can’t call that security sector reform.”
Most Karanga speaking people hail from Mnangagwa’s Midlands home province or neighbouring Masvingo.
The commander of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces General Phillip Valerio Sibanda, Airforce of Zimbabwe commander Elson Moyo, Central Intelligence Organisation Director-General Isaac Moyo and Defence secretary Mark Grey Marongwe are from the Midlands province.
Zimbabwe National Army commander Lieutenant-General Edzai Chimonyo is Masvingo province. One of the senior police officers, who is expected to become the new police boss, is from Masvingo.
The Mnangagwa administration has been under pressure from the international community to institute political, economic and security sector reforms.
The calls grew even louder following the August 1, 2018 fatal shooting of six people by the military in Harare, which resulted in a commission of inquiry chaired by former South African president Kgalema Motlanthe.
The commission blamed the military for the killings and recommended use of police in crowd control during public protests.
The killing of 17 people by security forces during the civil unrest in January, which resulted in widespread global condemnation, also piled more pressure on government to institute security sector reform.