Robert Mugabe, and the Military-Political Nexus

During the ZANU-PF congress in December 2009, Robert Mugabe stated categorically that there is no need for SSR in Zimbabwe.21 The strategic alliance between the President and the military remains intact and has been bolstered by the MDC’s inability to make any real inroads into the military’s territory. With the military ensuring ZANU-PF hold on key state organs and with the continuation of the covenant between Mugabe and the military, the security sector thus sees no need for SSR. Indeed they see SSR as a euphemism for regime change. Given its position of strength and with Presidential support, the military sees no reason to overhaul itself. Secondly despite problems of desertion and “minor” mutinies over the past decade, Zimbabwe’s military is still a relatively efficient force. The ZDF is also playing a major role in the establishment of the regional SADC Standby Force Brigade which is due to be operationalized in late 2010. But the fact that the ZDF plays an important part in SADC operations is also seen by the security sector as regional legitimization of both their capabilities and behavior. This in turn, increases their determination to resist reform despite local and regional civil society demands for SADC to make Zimbabwe’s military accountable for continuous human rights abuses. Many of the hardliners believe that a form of SSR has already occurred; the politicization and “patriotization” of the Zimbabwe’s security sector, which “weeded out” non —ZANU-PF elements, is seen from their perspective, as a reform process. However the security sector is not monolithic; many junior officers and some long-standing professionals resent the coercive and politicized culture which now operates . Given that the security sector cannot be coerced or legislated into SSR, it is clear that only internal dialogue on security (with regional/continental assistance) can break the deadlock. A variety of conversations have to take place; these include intra-sectoral discussions, talks between the security sector and all the political parties, and civil society-security sector discussions. Zimbabwe’s security dialogue has to be a locally owned, indigenous exercise. SSR in Zimbabwe, if it is to occur, needs to be put in the context of national reconstruction and as a partnership between military and civilians.

Until the psychological barriers are broken, the military stalemate will continue. Since the establishment of the GNU, the MDCs have found little support from ZANU-PF for “hard” SSR. Instead any headway which has been made, has been made in “soft” reforms, that is, reforming institutions such as the judiciary and media, which includes the military, but which is not their direct preserve. Meanwhile the MDC has continued to press for substantial SSR, including training on governance and human rights for military officers.22 (Ironically, democracy and human rights are a long established part of the curricula at the army and Police Staff Colleges.) But the SSR debate has been subsumed into wider disputes between ZANU-PF and the MDC-T over sanctions and the GPA. ZANU-PF has linked the two issues and refused to implement certain agreed-upon items within the GPA until the MDC is able to convince the West to lift the various travel bans and asset freezes against key ZANU-PF members.

There is, however, no guarantee that ZANU-PF Mugabe-ism will not continue after he has left the scene. Although the December 2009 congress confirmed Mugabe as party leader for the next five years, the tensions within were also plainly visible. The members did not agree on a number of matters related to the party’s constitution, which will have a bearing on the selection of Mugabe’s successor.23 The ZANU-PF is divided along factional lines between Emmerson Mnangagwa (defense minister), who controls the state bureaucracy, and Joice Mujuru (current vice president), who holds sway over the party’s grassroots following. While Mnangagwa is a presidential hopeful and has been nurturing ties to the security sector, Mujuru has taken the more pragmatic approach of establishing some lines of communication with the MDC-T.24

Therefore, the fundamental question we ought to be asking is whether SSR can really commence while Mugabe is still in power. The post-Mugabe discourse implies that no meaningful SSR can begin while he is still on the scene; but this argument for conditionality is deeply pessimistic and condemns SSR to an indeterminate future—its logical conclusion is that SSR is impossible in the foreseeable future.

The real challenge is not to begin SSR in a post-Mugabe Zimbabwe. Rather, the task is to lay the groundwork and begin the SSR process now, during this admittedly flawed power-sharing transition, and to consolidate the process in a post-Mugabe Zimbabwe. Although the military still retains enormous power and comprehensive SSR remains on Zimbabwe’s wish list, the ongoing reform of other sectors (including justice, the civil service, and the media) is important. The military is also embedded in these sectors, and the processes of depoliticization and re-professionalization is thus prying open the military’s grip from the outer rim of security sector influence. Over time, it may be possible to proceed in stages to the inner core of the security sector’s domain.

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