Playing politics with military history

As Zimbabwe heads towards elections in 2013, ZANU-PF is once again looking to the country’s highly partisan securocrats to dash the people’s democratic desires and keep the party – and President Mugabe – in power.

Richard Lee's picture


Strategic communications for WWF

November 11th, 2012

As Zimbabwe heads towards elections in 2013, ZANU-PF is once again looking to the country’s highly partisan securocrats to dash the people’s democratic desires and keep the party – and President Mugabe – in power.

It is hardly a secret that Zimbabwean military and intelligence services have always practised an authoritarian, nationalist and totally pro-ZANU brand of politics. It is also common knowledge that the command structures of all the country’s security services are controlled by men who were part of ZANLA – ZANU’s military wing – during Zimbabwe’s liberation struggle. Men who have not been professionalised and whose thinking is still dominated by liberation politics – and by unwavering, undying support for Mugabe.

After the security forces brutal campaign helped to prevent Morgan Tsvangirai and his MDC party from taking power when they won the 2008 elections, there was always concern that an unreformed (and unpunished) security sector would ensure that the next polls would also be marred by violence and intimidation – and that the democratic will of the people of Zimbabwe would again be thwarted.

The question was always – how would they do it. The first necessity was cash. With the MDC controlling the state’s purse strings, the security sector bosses needed to find funds that it could use. They found the answer in the Marange diamond fields and in shady joint ventures with Chinese companies, which funnelled illicit diamond revenues into their empty coffers.

But still it was not clear what they would spend all the money in their now overflowing war chests on. That became clear on November 1st with the launch of the so-called military history documentation project – a project that is clearly designed to allow the army to campaign for ZANU-PF and that will not document military history but instead will write another terrible chapter in the military’s increasingly bloody and anti-democratic history.

As part of the project, the Zimbabwean security forces are going to deploy more than 30,000 members, including serving and retired officers and ZANU-PF mobilisation officers, across the country to build ‘support’ for Mugabe and the party through a combination of terrifying ‘sticks’ and a few tempting ‘carrots’.

The Zimbabwe Independent Newspaper estimated on November 2nd that the military has bought 1,500 Isuzu trucks – worth around US$45million – for use in the operation, which will target every village and street in the country. This is in addition to the 550 cars that ZANU-PF has already gratefully accepted and will use as part of its election campaign and which were a ‘donation’ from one of the dodgy diamond mining companies that are plundering Marange.
It is critical that the Southern African Development Community (SADC), which is the guarantor of the Global Political Agreement, and the African Union – along with the broader international community – act now in order to prevent any further bloodshed before and after the coming elections and to ensure that the elections result in a genuine transition to a more open and democratic society.

But this will not happen if Mugabe and his henchmen are allowed to get away with using the security services to intimidate their way across the country. Already the security chiefs have made it clear that they will never accept a civilian president (i.e. a person with no liberation struggle credentials) and will certainly never salute Morgan Tsvangirai.

SADC has to step in before it is too late. The longer they wait to denounce the rising tide of intimidation and illegal arrests of MDC politicians and civil society activists, the greater the chance of a repeat of 2008 – and another victory for the securocrats and their friends in ZANU-PF. SADC also needs to tell ZANU-PF to send the soldiers back to their barracks.

Because let’s be clear. Despite ZANU-PF’s protestations that the military history project is just a ‘military history project’, everyone knows that it is a carefully thought-out and well-orchestrated election ploy.
Why else would so many security service personnel be deployed in such a hurry to villages across the country – just six months before elections? Independence was 32 years ago so there clearly is no rush to complete a history of the military. The only answer is that they are not going to ask questions about the army’s past but rather ‘tell’ people how to vote to secure the securocrats future – and the future of its allies in ZANU-PF. And they’re going to do it by ensuring there are more army vehicles than ambulances in Zimbabwean villages – and more security force personnel than high school teachers.

It is all part of a grandiose but actually very simple plan. Rig the election, intimidate the voters and install a friendly ‘civilian’ government that will protect the securocrats’ lucrative diamond, gold, platinum and agricultural interests. It is a classic silent coup.

And it can’t be allowed to happen. SADC and the AU cannot afford another coup – another bloody mess in Zimbabwe. And nor can the people of Zimbabwe.

SADC and the AU must stop this dangerous ‘military history project’ in its tracks, instructing the government that it can only take place after the 2013 elections. Then they must put their own ‘boots on the ground’ by immediately deploying observers in all ten provinces of Zimbabwe. And lastly they must demand that the political parties implement the critical GPA reforms to the media landscape and electoral institutions that they agreed to back in September 2008 – to provide a chance for Zimbabweans to cast their vote in free and fair elections.

And to finally enjoy the government of their choice.


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