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Why the army is important to Zanu PF survival
Zimbabwe Democracy Institute
December 20, 2012
political transition to a possible democratic dispensation has so
far shown that no institution matters the most to the Zanu PF regime’s
survival than the military and therefore the democratisation process
cannot succeed without a positive role played by the security establishment.
This is not to blindly
suggest the military’s role alone is sufficient to make a
successful transition to democracy in Zimbabwe because there are
social, economic and political factors and unforeseen events that
can influence how a democratic shift unravels.
However, the decisive
involvement of the military in Zimbabwe’s political and electoral
affairs in the past elections in 2000, 2002 and 2008 makes cogent
the role of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces and other security institutions,
including the police, intelligence services and prison service,
is critical in the process leading to democratic transition and
The recent annual
Zanu PF conference
in Gweru shows the party’s membership has declined in Masvingo
and Matabeleland provinces, while in regions like Mashonaland Central
province, the party is disorganised. This suggests that without
the support of the security apparatus it is not possible for Zanu
PF to retain power.
Given this apparent decline
in Zanu PF support across the country, by its own admission, it
is imperative to closely and critically scrutinise, as well as interrogate
what determines the support of the military for President Robert
Mugabe’s regime and why the soldiers are propping up Zanu
PF’s political elite.
Like any other huge organisation,
the military has institutional interests to protect and advance.
In this regard,
the military’s move to back Zanu PF in electoral and political
administration of the state or not, support for the democratic contingent
or decision to stay neutral and respect the will of the people will
depend on several issues that should be diagnosed, while putting
proper solutions in place ahead
of crucial elections next year.
As has been witnessed
in the Arab spring upheavals, a number of internal and external
factors shape and determine the military’s response to the
democratic aspirations of the population. Questions such as how
legitimate are the regimes in the eyes of the soldiers and top military
commanders as well as those of the general populace?
How does the military
relate to the state and civil society?
Is there consensus within
the rank and file of the military to support the regime and do the
military and the security services have blood on their hands?
Answering these questions
will give some ideas on why the military in Zimbabwe side with Mugabe’s
regime, not the people. In general, the stronger a regime’s
record of satisfying political and socio-economic demands, the more
likely the armed forces will prop up the system. This is a critical
aspect of the relationship between the top military brass with the
political elite in Zimbabwe.
Through an elaborate
patronage system established to reward partisan senior military
commanders and keep them loyal to Zanu PF and Mugabe, the military
has increasingly played a central role in directing production and
controlling ownership of the means of production.
The military, through
political patronage, has also become a significant part of the domestic
bourgeoisie and many top commanders have teamed up with politicians
and businesspeople to form political and economic interest groups
venturing into lucrative businesses such as farming, platinum, diamond
and gold mining as well as running a number state-owned enterprises.
A state that pays its
senior army officers generously, as Zanu PF has done through the
involvement of the military in economic affairs, will be better
placed to receive their enthusiastic protection.
Top army commanders from
2000, when Zanu PF lost its grassroots support to the Movement for
Democratic Change (MDC), have been openly campaigning for Mugabe
and his party, in many instances abusing human rights in the process.
The soldiers have on
several occasions pronounced they will not respect any victory other
than that of Mugabe, thereby pre-determining electoral outcomes
in flagrant violation of domestic and international conduct expected
of professional armies; besides breaching the constitution and the
There is clear cohesion
between top army officers and regime elites based on their economic
interests which they protect by maintaining and promoting the status
has been accused of human rights violations as they prop up the
Zanu PF regime in past elections as was seen during the sham
June 2008 presidential election run-off when the army was part
of the election campaign for Mugabe which ultimately became a political
onslaught on civil and political liberties of opponents.
An army that has a record
of extensive human rights violations is more likely to shamelessly
stick with a norm-violating regime than support the democratic contingent.
These are the issues that should necessitate behind-the-scenes negotiations
with the military to persuade them to remain professional.
A clear fear of possible
prosecution in a new democratic dispensation will make some military
elements continue to abuse human rights in the next elections in
order to maintain the status quo that will guarantee them immunity.
Like in any situation
where the military sides with a political dictatorship, the key
external variables are the threats of foreign intervention, the
impact of widespread democratic diffusion that can lead to a revolution
and the type and degree of education or training that military officers
may have received abroad.
If the army in Zimbabwe
realises a real possibility there will be both regional and international
intervention in the event they blatantly subvert the sovereign democratic
will of the people either through a violent electoral process or
a blockade of a democratic transition, it will soften its stance
and abandon the political cabal clinging to power through illegitimate
As the country prepares
for elections in 2013, partisan military generals’ decision
to support continued violation of human rights and subversion of
the democratic process on behalf of their political handler, Zanu
PF, will be largely affected by their calculations on whether foreign
powers might intervene to back the democratic contingent or not.
It is therefore
critical to continue advocacy work among Sadc and AU-member states,
showing empirical evidence of the interference of the military in
the electoral and political affairs of Zimbabwe ahead of elections
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