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The ghost of Mao-Tse Tung and the nightmare of military ethnocracy in Zimbabwe
Dr. Sabelo J. Ndlovu-Gatsheni
August 30, 2010

One of the causes of post-colonial socio-economic and political crises is that of reign of people who control the means of violence and destruction rather than those who control the means of production and intellectualism. Zimbabwe has recently undergone a complex process of embourgeoisement of the top commanders of the security forces via amassing huge tracts of land, deployment to top echelons of companies and parastatals as well as looting of diamonds in the Marange Diamonds Fields. This process took place concurrently with heightened militarization of state structures in particular and practice of politics in general. This reality has created what one might call a 'silent military coup- within which civilian politicians found themselves hostage to the secrocrats. The implications of this development for politics and governance in Zimbabwe are far reaching. The immediate implication is that the military cannot be ignored in any political bargain in Zimbabwe. Security sector reform must top the agenda of any meeting and initiative aimed at resolving the 'Zimbabwe Crisis.- This short piece seeks to respond to two pertinent questions: When and how did the military displace politicians? How can this problem be solved?

One historical reality about the Southern African region is that it has not been terribly affected by the post-colonial problem of military regimes born out of violent military coup d-états. But other regions of West Africa, East Africa, North Africa, and Central Africa paid a huge price at the hands of military strong men, mainly in the late 1960s and 1970s. Nigeria and Ghana topped the list in terms of experience of military regimes. Those who want to know what a military regime can do to a country and a people must check the record of Idi Amin Dada in Uganda and Mobutu Seseko in Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), then they will take any threat by the military on the civilian forms of governance seriously. Those who decided to keep quiet when Zimbabwean military generals made a direct attack on civil politics in 2002 do not know the monster they are nurturing. Those with shallow minds within the then ruling ZANU-PF thought the threat was aimed at the then opposition MDC led by Morgan Tsvangirai. The reality is that the threat was aimed at any civil form of government. Is President Mugabe not today hostage to the same generals? Is the transitional politics not hostage to the hidden JOC? Was it not the same generals who master-minded the post-29 March 2008 violence? Should we blame the military or those who politicized, instrumentalised, and militiarised it?

What compounds the 'Zimbabwe Crisis- is the emergence of what Ali Mazrui termed 'lumpen-militariat.- This is a class of semi-organized, rugged, and semi-literate 'soldiery- with a claim to political power and influence in what would otherwise have become a modern meritocratic society dominated by those with modern secular education and technocrats. Here, I am referring to war-veterans, green bombers, ZANU-PF youth league, and lower ranks of the CIOs. These quasi-military structures who sometimes don military fatigue have contributed to further soiling and spoiling of the name of the regular members of the security forces.

How did Zimbabwe come to be where it is with its military forces? What are the roots of 'warrior tradition- to borrow Mazrui-s term? Is it not rooted in a combination of pre-colonial regimentalism; colonial militarism and conquest; and nationalist liberation-war-s embracement of violence as a legitimate tool of resolving political differences? I can-t do justice to all. But I must say that nationalist liberation struggles of the 1960s and 1970s were a terrain of militarism and violence. What had emerged as mass nationalist organizations in the mould of ANC, NDP, ZAPU and ZANU, were by the 1970s undergoning serious militarization justified as necessary to defeat an equally militaristic and violent Rhodesian settler state. ZAPU and ZANU competed in terms of which party was more active military wise than the other. The imbibing and adoption of Marxist-Leninist-Maoist philosophies of revolution did not help matters. Maoism in particular had a strange conception of power as coming from the barrel of the gun. It was this Maoist thought that led Mugabe to link votes and guns in his practice of politics with devastating consequences for democratic governance and human security. Worse still, the exigencies of fighting an armed guerrilla liberation war conflated militarism and politics. A guerrilla had to be a soldier and a politician at the same time. A guerrilla had to engage armed enemies militarily while at the same time mobilizing the masses to the cause of the war. This was particularly true of ZANLA forces with their indoctrination in Maoism. ZIPRA operated in quasi-conventional style. They tended to leave politics to ZAPU politicians and concentrated in engaging the enemy militarily.

But why have our military become a problem? Who constitute this military? The conventional view is that our military forces emerged from a merge of three outfits: ZANLA, ZIPRA and Rhodesian forces. This is only true to a very minor extent. A bulk of ZIPRA forces were intimidated, painted as dissident, hunted and forced to demobilize from the national army. Rhodesian forces also demobilized and retired in large numbers. This means that the core of the army became constituted by ZANLA elements with very clear ethnic bias leading me to write of a 'military ethnocracy.- To this was added the notorious Fifth Brigade that had been used to carry out a dirty tribal war in Matabeleland and the Midlands regions. Of course, since 1986, recruitment continued beginning with the Sixth Brigade that incorporated elements from other ethnic groups. The reality is that those who were recruited after independence have to serve under those with liberation war credentials that constitute the top brass of the security forces. So our army also suffers from a generational problem.

But to simply blame the security forces is to lose the gist of the problem. The security sector did not politicize, instrumentalise, and militiarise itself. The army and the police dance to the tune of politicians and their bad practice of politics. It is not too late for politicians to leave the security sector out of their political struggles. ZANU-PF is the main culprit here. Why did it create Fifth Brigade in the 1980s alongside ZNA? Was this not an instance of creating highly politicized, tribalised and partisan units? From that time, something dangerous was in the making. Just like a builder of a Frankenstein who finds himself failing to escape from the monster he created, those who politicize, instrumentalise and militiarise the security sector are bound to be consumed by it. Those who sang and clapped for notorious Fifth Brigade forces, motivating them to butcher innocent civilians forgot that their turn was coming. Something must be done to save ourselves from the monsters we created. The first step is for the Inclusive Government to talk with the same voice on the issue of security sector reform as they are beginning to do with the issue of sanctions. The second step is to 'de-ethnicise- and 'de-musculinise- the military sector. The military sector constitutes an important part of society and nation and must reflect its diverse ethnic and gender complexion. In a nutshell, the behaviour of our military sector is underwritten not only by the rampant partisanship, and regionalism, but also by the spirit of dodaism (indoda sibili) that enables violence in general and gender-violence in particular.

Womanhood is not respected hence the widespread use of rape to punish political opponents. Now that there is increasing talk about another election next year, the subject of the role of the military sector in politics needs to be thoroughly debated. Zimbabweans cannot afford to live in perpetual fear of their brothers serving in the military structures. Our army is called Zimbabwe National Army not ZANU-PF army. The nonsense of some elements of the army dabbling as politicians and army generals masquerading as king-makers must be a thing of the past. The nation and its people have already paid a high prize—remember Gukurahundi, Murambatsvina and other military-style operations that abuse the security sector to serve particular political interests. A new mindset must set in that departs from the worship of the gun as the fountain of power. Power comes from the people. Have we forgotten the old proverb: inkosi yinkosi ngabantu/king is a king because of the people? Even our pre-colonial progenitors never said a king is a king because of the spear. It-s really disturbing to hear modern politicians bragging about having degrees in violence. Violence is barbaric. It will never be a virtue. Lets us exorcise the marauding Ghost of Mao from the lands between the Limpopo and Zambezi Rivers. Indeed for Zimbabwe to live, violence must die! For democracy to take root, militarism must die. For the nation to live, the tribe must die. For the economy to function well, corruption must die.

For good governance to be practiced, those whose time to retire has come, must go peacefully.

*Dr. Sabelo J. Ndlovu-Gatsheni is a concerned African scholar and writes from Johannesburg in South Africa.

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