by Paul Sorenson
In the second of a two part series, Southern Africa defence analyst Paul Sorenson concludes that rather than overseeing an evolution toward democracy, Tsvangirai and his party may be elongating Zanu-PF's disastrous rule - and losing touch with a young and impatient generation that has until now been its core constituency.
THESE conclusions are reinforced by the views of respondents on the implications of the political deadlock that occurred following the elections of 2008Asked about the possibility of a repeat after the next elections, most expressed a strong preference for mass violence.
It was felt that Zimbabweans should: "Strategise well before it happens,
mobilise the people and resources and fight back . demonstrate, fighting
together as one. The main problem with Zimbabweans (is that) they're
civilized - sometimes maximum force is needed.
"Speak with one voice and do the unthinkable, rioting and demonstrations
around the country. Because there will be no further solution for (the
generals) to understand that they are no longer wanted . call for a massive
strike so as to raise the eyebrows of the international community.
"Or unite and fight for our rights. Revisit the Defence Act and be united
and remove the generals violently if any . will not leave the system. (React
by) killing those generals . and do the same to their relatives and
To the extent that divisions within the security forces are thought to have
any relevance to the possibility of a popular uprising, observers often
point to widespread disenchantment and suggest that a large proportion of
servicemen would be content to take a passive role.
It is less often suggested that the junior strata of the service - or even
ex-servicemen - might take an active, aggressive and potentially leading
part in any popular challenge to the established order.
The African nationalist struggle against colonialism not only created
enduring links between those who went on to become political leaders in
different countries, it forged strong international relations between people
(and institutions) directly involved in the physical conflict with
white-ruled states. Nowadays, these bonds are regularly reinforced through
official regional and bilateral exchanges and meetings, and through
unofficial social contact.
But after thirty years of Zimbabwean independence, how close is the ideology
of senior regional security officials to Mugabe's men? And what are their
specific views on the future of Zimbabwe's security forces?
When asked about the validity of Zanu- PF's conspiracist outlook - and its
deeply held belief that MDC is essentially a tool of the West - interviewees
were sharply divided.
The deputy commander of one of the region's national armies ridiculed the
idea as 'rubbish' and said it was 'bound to come from a retrogressive clique
which has run out of excuses to cling to power'.
Likewise, a former deputy director-general of intelligence remarked that the
claim was 'nonsense' and that Zanu-PF 'would grope at any excuse to maintain
and remain in power'.
A serving director-general of a neighbouring intelligence service noted that
the opposition 'enjoys a lot of support and sympathy from the Zimbabweans of
Western descent internally, and directly from the West', but added that
'mobilisation for change is by educated locals supported and to some extent
funded by "whites" . who are active members of the opposition'.
However, others insisted that Zanu-PF was merely stating the obvious: But of
course (MDC is a party of the West]) All you need to do is look at how many
whites are in the opposition as against those in the ruling party.
The same person - a national police commissioner - commented that the
refusal of Zimbabwean service chiefs to accept a non-liberation president
was to be expected, though he pointed not to ideology but to a utilitarian
rationale: "Their resistance is understandable because Mugabe has taken very
good care of his senior defence and security chiefs by empowering them with
businesses. (Our country) and Africa at large should emulate Mugabe if they
want to consolidate their reign."
These sentiments were echoed by an army commander: "The problems in Zimbabwe
revolve around how well the military top brass have been looked after by
their Commander-in-Chief. It is . scratch my back and I'll scratch yours.
"The opposition can scream all it can but nothing will happen as long as
Mugabe looks after his own well."
Another explained that the demand for a liberation figure as head of state
was 'common' in 'armed forces across Africa . because of senior defence and
security officials' fear of being retired once the presidency changes hands',
yet he asserted that '29 years after independence is rather too late to
expect a freedom fighter to contest the presidency'.
Those critical of Zanu-PF's racial stereotypes and anti-imperialist rhetoric
developed this theme further.
The director-general of intelligence said that dogmatic calls for a
liberation president: could hold water only in the first two terms of a
post-independence administration for understandable reasons that the freedom
fighters who ultimately emerge as liberation heroes at independence should
naturally be expected to constitute government including the Presidency.
To insist (that) a President should be a former freedom fighter thirty years
down the line is being static . If at independence the average age for the
freedom fighters turned liberators was say 40 years old, going by this
condition, only those in their 70s would be eligible to contest the
Presidency! It's simply unworkable.
He also averred that nationalists were usually 'denied the opportunity to
advance their education as they were . always on the run internally or in
It follows that the first post-independence politicians 'are of humble
academic credentials' and, though 'Mugabe is a rare exception', it is
'suicidal' in the modern world to 'allow semi-literates to occupy the
Presidency' given the need for heads of state to engage counterparts
In terms of the future, regional security officials were (like the
ex-servicemen) asked how a replay of Zimbabwe's political crisis of 2008
could be averted or navigated.
The air force deputy felt that the best preventative measure was for the
opposition to 'exert constant pressure' on the government to 'strictly
observe retirement age for security personnel long before elections'.
The intelligence chief shared this view, feeling that Zimbabweans needed to:
Depoliticise the armed forces by strictly adhering to the statutory
This in turn would gradually usher into the command structure younger,
energetic and educated officers who understand global political trends and
respect human rights and do not constantly remind their juniors how the
country owes them for the immense suffering they endured in the liberation
A crop of young educated officers appreciate and interpret democracy better.
A command that belongs to the old school operates in constant fear of being
replaced and displaced by any political leadership that may emerge as a
result of a transparent democratic process. So they will perpetuate a
dictatorship at all cost.
The retired deputy director-general of intelligence differed somewhat,
believing that incentives are required.
Resistance within security forces is because the top brass are former
freedom fighters who are threatened with a bleak future outside active
The answer lies in ensuring an attractive retirement package for command
staff that would lure them into retirement thereby paving way for younger
blood who would embrace democracy.
Another opined that: "neither laws, conventions nor inducements would
suffice as another 'stalemate can only be resolved by the UN on condition
that the sitting government is receptive to foreign intervention, which in
the case of Zimbabwe is unlikely".
On the other hand - and reflecting his very different ideology - the police
commissioner did not see the problem as particularly complex: Zanu-PF should
'campaign hard or rig convincingly so that the margins do not call for a
In a situation where measures to prevent a post-election paralysis fail, one
security official suggested the opposition should 'negotiate but never join
hands in a unity government which allows crime to go unpunished'.
Others were more radical, offering solutions remarkably similar to those of
lower-ranking Zimbabwean servicemen.
The deputy air commander thought Zimbabweans should "incite mutiny if
opposition is strong in (the) defence and security forces", while the
intelligence director general said that: "In the case of resistance (by
security chiefs), international political pressure is not a dependable
option as has been demonstrated.
"Civil disobedience is the best option though depending on the level of the
sitting administration's brutality, this may come at great cost to the
populace in terms of loss of life and human rights abuses".
The limited scope of the regional survey means that any conclusions must be
At the same time, it is apposite to note the marked differences in the
philosophies of respondents - especially the apparent lack of a middle
ground between advocates of liberal democracy and proponents of a more
traditional liberation-style authoritarianism.
Ostensibly, background does not seem to have played a strong part: in fact,
the contrasts in outlook are all the more striking in view of the solid
liberation credentials of all the individuals and/or institutions from which
Equally, generational factors are not palpable, as the age range is
Instead, it is possible that many senior security officials in regional
countries have responded in contrary ways to the spread of multi-party
politics in Africa over the last twenty years.
Plainly, a simple dichotomy does not exist, but the notion of divergent
trends is worth further study and points to levels of complexity in regional
affairs that are not accounted for by popular labels.
Such trends, if real, may also presage increasing conflict within the
civil-military elite of some regional countries.
As far as Zimbabwe is concerned, it is clear that Zanu-PF does not invoke
virtually unanimous support in the region; the concept of undisputed backing
for Mugabe minus Botswana is a caricature.
Nevertheless, there is no consensus on what should be done to move Zimbabwe
toward stability or to normalise interaction between the community and the
Neither is there any suggestion that regional countries should become deeply
involved in the crisis.
The region has little desire to grapple with the crux of the problem - the
disabling effect wrought by the collision between Zanu-PF's physical
dominance and its political illegitimacy.
Even those well-disposed to the opposition and partial to revolutionary
solutions repeat the familiar mantra: this is a Zimbabwean problem that must
be settled by Zimbabweans.
Placed alongside the Western approach - that Zimbabwe is a regional
catastrophe requiring regional intervention - it appears probable that
internal dynamics will be the key determinants of the country's future.
To the extent that this proves true, there can be no question that the role
of the security services will be a vital part of the equation.
The testimony of ex-servicemen shows conclusively that Zanu-PF is more than
a one-man band.
The death or removal of Mugabe will not, in itself, resolve the Zimbabwean
The country's military and political veterans are too ideologically and
materially committed to the status quo to step aside without a fight - a
fight they could take to each other, to MDC supporters, or to both.
Should they manage to suppress internal divisions - an open question, but
one that is incentivised by an angry populace and an equally agitated junior
corps - there is no indication that they will permit genuine change.
Neither will the ageing process provide an early salvation.
Unlike Zanu's politicians, many war veterans were in their early twenties or
younger at independence. This means they can continue their co-ordinating
role for many years to come.
Certainly, this is the way ex-servicemen - and sympathetic regional
officials - view the situation.
It is for this reason that they advocate mass mobilisation as a solution.
If they read Zanu-PF and its war veterans correctly, the 'inclusive'
government is a chimera: it will exist only as long as it fails to deliver
This is a hard reality with which MDC has failed to come to terms.
To be sure, its willingness to enter government with Zanu-PF and persist in
spite of the abortion of the reform agenda appears to be a deliberate
attempt to ignore the unpalatable reality.
Rather than overseeing an evolution toward democracy, Tsvangirai and his
party may be elongating Zanu-PF's disastrous rule - and losing touch with a
young and impatient generation that has until now been its core
It remains to be seen if and when that generation takes matters into its own
This is an abridged version of the article published in the August/September
2010 edition of the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) Journal.
|Information alert no.22|
Violence continues after the 27 June
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|LONDON, 16 January 2008 (IRIN) - The British|