Zimbabweans seem to agree that there is a need for some form of dialogue to solve the challenges we are currently facing as a country; however, there seems to be some divergence over the genesis of the crisis. This crisis has persistently manifested itself through a malfunctioning economy, absence of basic service delivery, eroded incomes of workers and an unhappy, despondent and hapless citizenry.
The Movement for Democratic Change Alliance (MDC-A) led by Nelson Chamisa, believes that the basis for dialogue should be the issue of legitimacy emanating from a stolen July 30, 2018, presidential election. On the other hand, the Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic-Front (Zanu-PF) and its supporters believe political polarisation is stalling economic growth hence the need for dialogue to thaw political tensions among political parties. However, the question that begs for the MDC-A, as well as ZANU-PF, is whether the causal reasons they advance assist Zimbabweans in hitting the nail on the head. I beg to differ!
The above arguments do not get at the nub of the problem; thus, do not address the structural nature of the crisis. They do not provide explanations as to why a few individuals associated with Zanu-PF and the military enjoy the status quo and are fighting to maintain an extractive political institution which concentrates power in the hands of a narrow political elite.
It is my submission here that the crisis in the country emanates from an absolutist political institution that the army created, outside the dictates of the constitution. This institution functions as a de jure dictatorship wielding power in the hands of the army and a few Zanu-PF elites who have, in turn, set up extractive economic institutions to enrich themselves and augment their power at the expense of the society. The barring of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Mines from inspecting the Chiadzwa diamonds fields on the pretext that it was a security zone betrays this military cum political class. Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson in their 2013 book, “Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty,” argue that there is a strong synergy between economic and political institutions. In this case, Zimbabwe’s economic and political institutions cannot be read outside the political and economic interests of this military cum political class, despite the constitution barring the involvement of the military in civilian affairs in Section 208.
Acemoglu and Robinson further argue that extractive political institutions, like the one set up by the army in Zimbabwe under the guise of a Zanu-PF government, give rise to extractive economic institutions that are often structured to extract resources for the benefit of the elite and at the expense and impoverishment of the general citizenry. This has been the problem in Zimbabwe where the army has taken over everything, from the control of the governing party, Zanu-PF, government and the State to key economic institutions. The involvement of the army in the mining of the Chiadzwa diamonds, command agriculture and now mining of platinum on the Great Dyke in claimed partnerships with Russians, all point to the pervasive footprint of the military in what would normally be civilian affairs. At the heart of the Zimbabwean crisis is that the military has become both a political and economic oligarchy that stands to lose if there is a change of government that does not include them in the governing matrix. Dr Jabusile Shumba’s book, “Zimbabwe’s Predatory State: Party, Military and Business” articulates how the man in uniform have also become enmeshed within the economy like an octopus. As a result, to maintain their privilege, the army has therefore been using its access to the armoury to maintain the status quo.
While, at times, the military’s control of the country’s politics has been subtle, when its grip on power is threatened by change that seeks to destroy its structural hold on the state, government and key economic institutions, for example, when its proxy political party [Zanu-PF] is on the verge of losing elections, the army has not shied away from using brute force. This explains the military coup on November 15, 2017, and the barbaric daylight murder of political opponents and civilians on 1 August 2018 to prevent creative destructive change.
The November 2017 coup left us an overt military rule unlike in the past; thus, a de facto military state although some key state actors insist that we are de jure, a constitutional state. However, what should not be oblivious to the ordinary citizen is that we now have is a façade of democracy hyped by tired dictums and slogans like “Zimbabwe is open for business.”
Notwithstanding the rhetoric of the authorities about Zimbabwe being open for business under an alleged new dispensation that is supposedly built on the rule of law and values of transparency and anti-corruption, the living reality on the ground is that the country has become a military state run by a Zanu-PF-Military Junta.
The ruling party and the army have functionally and operationally become the same thing and this has brought about a de facto military rule. Anyone who used to doubt this should take note of the reasons for the coup that are captured in the coup minutes that I extensively quote below and the confession by the Spokesperson to the President, who himself was the secretary to the army during the coup, when he recently wrote in the Herald of 06 February 2019.
George Charamba, in an article titled “Using the past as a political blackmail in the present”, told Herald readers on the 6th of February 2019 that “Carriers of Operation Restore Legacy [a euphemism for the coup] are all Zanu-PF cadres to the bone” who were “largely motivated by the need to checkmate the alien G40 element in order to rescue the PARTY [Zanu-PF] and its government.”
At the core of the coup, which fundamentally muddied the electoral environment and created a constitutional crisis, was the motivation by the army to “rescue Zanu-PF” and avoid the party experiencing an “imminent electoral defeat.”
The coup minutes, make it clear that the army, fronted by now Vice President Constatino Chiwenga and Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, Sibusiso Moyo, staged the coup for political, economic and electoral reasons. They reveal that the army observed that “more worrisome were the divisive, manipulative and vindictive acts by the same cabal (G40) which threatened the electability of Zanu-PF in the impending 2018 harmonised elections thus raising the spectre of an electoral defeat which harkened to the 2008 electoral crisis and more broadly, to a similar fate suffered by Zambia’s founding UNIP in the early 1990s”.
In light of the above observation, the army used the coup to ensure it took over Zanu-PF and used any means necessary, including the subversion of the constitution, to avoid a Zanu-PF “electoral defeat” in the 2018 elections.
The same coup minutes also exposed that more than “2000 commissars comprising ‘retired’ senior officers from the army” were already “embedded in the communities across the country” and these were the ones that alerted their army commanders of the impending Zanu-PF electoral loss which gave compelling reasons for the November 2017 coup. A cursory estimation points to the presence of at least one of these so-called “retired senior officers from the army” in each one of the 1958 administrative wards in the country.
The coup minutes also justify the military takeover of government on the understanding that “unfulfilled promises made in the 2013 harmonised general elections” made “the Command Element” afraid “that Zanu-PF faced another election without evidence of real economic recovery by way of completion of flagship projects, or pointers to the general amelioration of the socio-economic conditions of an expectant voting populace.”
With benefit of having lived the period between the military takeover of government, the state and Zanu-PF and the 2018 elections, it is clear that there was no economic reform that was introduced post the coup, thus, one would ask, how the military managed to turnaround an “imminent electoral defeat” into a thumping victory for the Zanu-PF- Military Junta in the 2018 elections.
One does not need rocket science to understand how this was achieved, they just need to listen, or read closely, statements that came out of senior Zanu-PF officials who campaigned for the party and its presidential candidate, President Emmerson Mnangagwa. The various statements by these very senior Zanu-PF officials promising the electorate that the army will not let any other person take over power after the 2018 elections except their appointee feed into the coup narrative which sought to avoid “imminent Zanu-PF electoral defeat.”
Then Deputy Minister of Finance, Terence Mukupe, was quoted by the Newsday, a local daily newspaper, saying that the “Army won’t let Chamisa rule”. A day later, a regional paper, Masvingo Mirror, quoted one of President Mnangagwa’s key allies, then Provincial Minister for Masvingo Province, Josiah Hungwe, alleging that “Mnangagwa will shoot [use the army] to stay in power”.
These statements came on the back of similar statements from senior government and Zanu-PF officials who didn’t make it a secret that they were going to use the army to intimidate, coerce and ‘mobilise’ the electorate to vote for Zanu-PF. The then Zanu-PF National Political Commissar, Engelbert Rugeje, a soldier who ‘retired’ after the November 15, 2017, coup to takeover Zanu-PF structures, was also quoted by the local media promising to use the army to perpetrate political violence on opponents of the regime.
The above evidence of military involvement in our politics gives rise to my submission that the current crisis in the country is not economic but constitutional and structural. The economic decay is a symptom of a constitutional rot that has allowed the army to run an extractive, absolutist dictatorship which has been inimical to inclusive economic growth.
It is my argument, therefore, that the fundamental issue at hand should be finding how citizens can embark on a transformative and destabilising process that can yield creative destruction capable of ending the military hegemony that is rooted in impoverishing, extractive political and economic institutions obtaining currently.
I believe if Zimbabweans settle for dialogue, the dialogue should be aimed at confronting the military factor in our politics, governance and economy. Such a dialogue, I am convinced, should be inclusive of the army, the general citizenry, political parties, religious groupings and civil society so that a sustainable transformative agenda is set in motion.
While we all yearn for economic growth, peace and prosperity in our country, it is trite to remember that this prosperity is not just a process of more and better machines, in our industries or more and better-educated people finding employment and living happily ever after, it is a transformative and destabilising process associated with widespread creative destruction aimed at removing extractive and exclusive institutions replacing them with inclusive political and economic ones.
As we are today, the single biggest problem we face is an extractive army participating in our elections, governance and economy under the guise of a ‘civilian’ institution called Zanu-PF. President Mnangagwa, in one of his addresses during his 2018 election campaigns, sums up this unfortunate situation when he says, “We [Zanu-PF] are the army, we are the air force, we are the police, we are everything you can think of. We determine who can do mining in Zimbabwe, we determine who can construct a railway line in Zimbabwe, we determine who can build a road in Zimbabwe, no other party can do so.”
This is the problem, the very genesis of the crisis that is now manifesting in stalled economic growth, poor or non-existent service delivery among other problems. The army is Zanu-PF and Zanu-PF is the army, thus any dialogue that we can have should be aimed at ending this political party- security sector conflation; hence, my thesis that sustainable peace and economic growth can only be achieved after the army is brought into talks to map a way forward to end its extractive and destructive participation in our politics, governance and economic structures. Therefore, any dialogue without the military is tantamount to kids play.
Jealousy Mbizvo Mawarire is the Spokesperson for the National Patriotic Front.