By Lawrence Paganga
A REPORT, recently released by the Democracy in Africa, has called for urgent civilian and military negotiations in Zimbabwe to avoid future disputed elections and the ongoing unrestrained plunder of the country’s resources.
Elections in Zimbabwe have for years been marred with allegations of serious vote-rigging and violence being raised and the military implicated.
The military is also reported to have business interests in various opaque companies ranging from diamond and gold mining, farming, tourism, and fuel industries.
However, the operations and revenue accrued from these enterprises remain clouded.
However, according to a report authored by Nic Cheeseman, a professor of democracy and international development at the University of Birmingham in the UK, the “civilian democratising forces” in Zimbabwe need to approach and have serious engagement with senior military brass to boost the country’s dwindling democratic, political and economic fortunes.
The report titled: “The Shadow State in Africa”, also looks at the involvement of the military and elite non-state actors close to senior government officials and are involved in influencing operations in government corridors.
According to Cheeseman, in league with Zanu PF and the military have used these connections to establish monopolies in key sectors of the economy, and exploit the public. In one case, this led to severe fuel shortages that artificially inflated prices
“The active involvement of military elites in the elections and in politics has led to undemocratic and disputed elections,” the report noted.
“This has undermined the legitimacy of successive regimes and led to an erosion of the social contract, national cohesion and stability. The illegal funding of Zanu PF by some of the international capital networks during elections has also contributed to undemocratic elections.”
According to Cheeseman, military elites have compromised democracy through their involvement in the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) and campaigns for Zanu PF, by orchestrating violence during elections and vetoing election results.
“Military elite involvement in battles for state power have also compromised the legitimacy of (President Emmerson) Mnangagwa. Factions within Zanu PF and the MDC consistently refuse to accept his authority because his power largely draws from the military rather than from the people,” the report adds.
The Democracy in Africa report then advocates for a civilian-military pact to defuse tensions between the two.
“Although the situation could go either way, peaceful mass action accompanied by a concrete offer for a civil-military pact might change the dynamics for the better. Democratising forces in Zimbabwe need a negotiating platform with the military. Given the bad civilian-military relations in Zimbabwe, however, the military could refuse to participate in negotiations.”
The report noted since 2000, the army had increased its decision-making role outside formal procedures with military elites broadening and deepening their power and influence over electoral politics, the mining sector, farmland, the fuel industry and the agriculture sector.
“The aim of this militarised shadow state is to ensure the continuity of Zanu PF as a governing party with actors who are compatible with their interests, protect their personal sources of wealth accumulation and contribute to broadening their political power and influence.
“These moves are disguised by the ideological persuasions of protecting national sovereignty. (However) the entrenchment of the military in numerous organs of state has had negative consequences for democratic politics and economic reconstruction.”
The report noted this necessitated for a comprehensive state-wide security reform programme before Zimbabwe degenerated into a perpetual political economy of conflict, inevitably leading to state failure and collapse.
“The solution is a mix of carrots and sticks—positive and negative incentives—big and small actions, short and long-term plans, as well as overt and covert means to address this situation.
“Sticks alone will only cause the military and the military elites who benefit from the shadow state to dig deeper— even if it means sinking with the nation—and resist any efforts at democratisation.
“Even if change were to happen through a general election, there would still be a present danger of the military reversing such democratic gains, given how fully entrenched it is in the polity.”
Cheeseman went on to urge the civil society, the MDC Alliance and other opposition parties, Zanu PF, churches, labour, academia, students and business leaders to converge and craft an all-inclusive national civilian pact on the need for demilitarisation of the polity and the re-installation of democracy.
“If all the critical civilian movements build consensus on the subject, the military might be willing to engage as they become increasingly isolated.
“To increase the cost of the military digging deeper, civilian democratising elites in the Southern African region, including progressive movements such as the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), must endorse the all-inclusive national pact in a show of people-to-people regional consensus.”
However, the report noted Zanu PF was likely to resist the pact because it is the major beneficiary of the shadow state.
“Nevertheless, it is important to note that consensus among Zanu PF elites has eroded significantly since the November 2017 coup and the party is now defined by inherent uncertainty and instability.
“Moreover, civilians in Zanu PF fear the recurrence of another military coup, as has happened in many other African countries. While civilians in Zanu PF might not play a direct role, there might be soft-liners who will offer support behind the scenes.
“This increases the chances of an all-inclusive civilian national pact on demilitarisation and the re-installation of democracy in Zimbabwe. Such a national consensus ratified by regional actors would be an important step towards efforts to seek democratic control of the military.”
The report adds: “The democratising forces in Zimbabwe should popularise the pact through peaceful and constitutional mass-based actions. A mass-based approach would either increase the financial cost of the use of military force or result in the military feeling under threat, prompting the use of live bullets on unarmed civilians, as on 1 August 2018 and 14 January 2019.”
The negotiations would include guarantees to the military such as impunity for past human rights violations or protection for a minimal number of properties acquired.
“Concessions might ease out key military elites in the shadow state, allowing national democratic processes to take root as has happened elsewhere in militarized polities.
“Concessions might speed up the democratisation process, halt the contemporary trend towards total military consolidation and shorten the lifespan of militarised authoritarian rule, reduce the likelihood of another military coup, which might happen even if the opposition wins the general elections, and save the unrestrained plunder of national resources.
“Waiting for a clean break with the military through a revolution from below is more popular but unforeseeable in years to come. Therefore, a civil-military pact is a possible cure in a deeply militarised context in which democratising elites are unarmed and advocate for change through civilian means. The interventions mentioned so far will require meticulous planning and therefore are long term and complex.”
The report also called on Mnangagwa to retire senior army officers with reasonable exit options, disband the Joint Operations Command (JOC), and remove the military from implementing command agriculture programmes.
“The government might be reluctant to do this on its own accord. The incentive for the government is to ensure the efficiency of these state institutions in line with its intention to rebuild the economy. There is a precedent for undertaking such an audit; namely, the government-ordered audit of ghost workers, who were mainly Zanu PF militia.
“The Executive must disband the JOC and operationalise the national security council as stipulated in section 209 of the constitution and in line with promoting civilian supremacy over military commanders.
“The government must also withdraw the military from command agriculture and allow the ministry of agriculture, the private sector and other professional associations to play a central role in the revival of food production.