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The ghost of Mao-Tse Tung and the nightmare of military ethnocracy
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
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.
J. Ndlovu-Gatsheni is a concerned African scholar and writes from
Johannesburg in South Africa.
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