One of the greatest failures of mankind is to fail to connect the dots. So let’s connect them. And while at that, want to know the crafters of Operation Murambatsvina?
Read On…. But then the trouble with a rat race is that even if you win, remain a rat. It all amounts to chasing the wind.
Its winter time in Zimbabwe and, unless you have a short memory, that’s got to ring some bells in your head. It’s the anniversary season marking the suffering of hundreds of thousands of families. It’s the sad anniversary of Operation Murambatsvina. Add to that two other seemingly disconnected events that took place in the first half of 2016. One of the greatest failures of mankind is to fail to connect the dots. So let’s connect them. And while at that, want to know the crafters of Operation Murambatsvina? Read On.
Connecting the dots
The first dot: On or about the 16th of June 2016, Saviour Kasukuwere, a minister in Mugabe’s government, and a leading member of one of the factions in the ruling party was in Bulawayo where he announced to a group pf Zanu PF supporters that he was starting a project to build houses that will accommodate at least seven thousand youths, working with the Urban Development Corporation (UDCORP). “The process of expanding the housing delivery project starts next week and there is no going back”, he reportedly said.
The purported residential project is on the outskirts of Bulawayo – and thus a settlement that undermines the city’s current masterplan. It was also recently reported by the Sunday Mail, a state paper, that UDCORP whose “mandate” is to oversee project management of housing cooperatives had actually stolen funds from those cooperatives by misrepresenting to banks such as CBZ Bank that it was now in charge of cooperative bank accounts. Call it organized crime or fraud if you like.
The second dot: While commissioning an incomplete airport road late last year, President Robert Mugabe, a frequent user of that road, suddenly made a huge discovery. It was a eureka moment – there was an illegal settlement near the airport! This settlement, however, was aided and abated by Mugabe’s party since 2000. The airport road itself is a hallmark of sleaze, looting and project failure. Started around 2007, the short stretch is incomplete ten years later. It was a vehicle for looting of local authority land by Ignatious Chombo – a cabinet minister and Mugabe’s relative.Advertisement
At the photo-op, Mugabe demanded that Kasukuwere remove the settlers. In January this year, Kasukuwere saw to it that the settlers were evicted – unlawfully however. Images of houses, some of them significant investments – being reduced to rubble by bulldozers filtered into public space. Most of the victims had paid money over the decades to ruling party-aligned so-called ‘land barons’ who have never been arrested.
In February, the High Court of Zimbabwe ruled that the demolition of the houses was illegal because it was not in line with the constitution – which requires court orders for any demolitions. What takes the biscuit though is that the demolitions were carried out not by city council personnel – but by military personnel wearing municipal police uniforms – to carry out a President’s order.
The third dot: Last month, eleven years ago, on 18 May 2005, “the Government of Zimbabwe” on the onset of winter, carried out a ruthless clean-up exercise, dubbed “Operation Murambatsvina”. It’s a typical example of what third world politicians do – create a problem, then blame and harass the victims for it. The governments impoverish the governed through their hare-brained policies and then use the might of state to harass the victims. Given the state of Zimbabwe’s economy, few families have recovered from the effects of this callous act.
Referred to by locals as “tsunami” to emphasize its high levels of destruction, it was only officially announced as over on 27 July, 2005 at the end of winter following a highly critical report by a UN Special Envoy – which castigated the Zimbabwe Government for a highly inappropriate program. Earning a rare UN rebuke, then Secretary-General of the UN described the ‘operation’ as a “catastrophic injustice carried out indiscriminately and with disquieting indifference to human suffering”.
A UN envoy who carried out on-the-ground assessments described it as an “indiscriminate, unjustified programme inflicted on the poorest and most vulnerable sections of Zimbabwe” at the peak of winter purportedly to reduce inappropriate urban agricultural practices, disorderly urbanisation and stopping illegal foreign currency dealings (which the Reserve Bank subsequently perpetuated with unprecedented abandon, culminating in the death of the Zimbabwe dollar in 2008. The terrible aftermath of this ruthlessly executed operation still endures to this day.
The impact of the ‘tsunami’ was staggering. According to the Human Rights Forum, it was “carried out in a military fashion by armed police and the Army with minimal notification from the authorities and in contravention of the Constitution of Zimbabwe and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, to which Zimbabwe is a signatory.”
Calling it a “disastrous venture”, the UN special envoy who did an assessment in the midst of the operation estimated that some 700,000 were left either homeless or jobless or both while a further 2.4 million (roughly a fifth of Zimbabwe’s population at the time) had been negatively affected countrywide, creating a humanitarian crisis of huge proportions. With such widespread impact, it is persuasive to theorise that this disastrous venture fueled the rapid decline of Zimbabwe’s economy from 2005 to 2008, consigning the Zimbabwe dollar to the cemetery of currencies.
So who dunnit?
The UN report makes it very clear that slums were not really the problem in Zimbabwe. As a matter of fact, the UN Special Envoy noted that, before Operation Murambatsvina was executed, Zimbabwe was not regarded as country in which slums were a problem. UN-HABITAT argued that the percentage of Zimbabweans living in ‘slum-conditions’ at only 3.4% of the urban population was far much lower than even many industrialised countries. So what motivated the disastrous venture?
Every election year, Zimbabwe’s ruling party pretty much has to come up with an election gimmick to keep power – that’s not a revelation. The forced removal of citizens was as much driven by the need to forestall potential uprisings as to gerrymander the voting map of urban areas.
Operation Murambatsvina was meticulously planned, not by urban planners, but by a security intelligence team. There were five high level security meetings conducted where decisions were made and an execution plan resolved after which instructions were issued, first to the City of Harare in order to give the ruthless act a human face.
At the beginning of the operation, one Leslie Gwindi, then spokesperson of the City of Harare was the human face to the operation. So was Jameson Kurasha, who chaired the commission that was heading the city of Harare at the time. Yet, just like John Mangudya in the case bond notes case at the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe, Gwindi and Kurasha were just fencepost tortoises.
Here are some snippets of how one such meeting went*. In early 2005, a security team working directly under then deputy-director of the Central Intelligence Organization – Maynard Muzariri, dropped off a number of officials at Defence House in Harare. One of them, a frail-looking Mr X, had been picked up from a state-owned mansion in Gunhill, north of Harare. The security team was directed to pick up SUVs from the Zimbabwe government’s central vehicle pool known as the CMED. Passing through Edgars stores, where one of them – Innocent Bosha – was employed as a manager, they collected fresh clothes, before driving off at high speed to the city of Bulawayo – the host of ‘Political Intelligence Retreat’.
At the Llewellyn Military base (Ntabayezinduna) near Bulawayo, the security team picked up a coterie of men, many of them with delusions of grandeur, who had been flown there by helicopter. It was by design that the security team working under Muzariri was to pick them up, instead of the security details in Bulawayo. The coterie comprised what is often referred as the joint-operations command (JOC) plus many others. There were people like Maynard Muzariri himself, Saviour Kasukuwere, Constantine Chiwenga, Augustine Chihuri, Valerio Sibanda, Bevan Murahwa, Paradzai Zimondi, Andrew Muzonzini, Nicholas Goche, Sidney Sekeremayi, Emmerson Mnangagwa, Didymus Mutasa, Mr X and Mr Y.
Whizzing through military police manned roadblocks, the team drove to Sauerstown, a place with a state-owned presidential residence in the town of Bulawayo. It was at this place where the plan to “drive-out trash” was resolved. Just after four in the afternoon, the meeting kicked off. Over drinks such as whiskey and a mini-feast comprising snacks, smoked turkey, beef steaks and other delicacies supplied by Holiday Inn, the men were having a nice time while discussing the fate of over ten million Zimbabweans. One of their number, the frail-looking Mr X who spoke with an accent stuck to ice-tea.
Throughout the ensuing engagement, Mr X and Mr Y posited very strongly that while the urban dwellers and vendors help by selling cheap commodities to rural folk who travel to the city to shop, it was important to remove them and scatter them. Mr X insisted that youths were very disgruntled and were no doubt supporting and abetting the opposition MDC agenda – labelling the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) a terrorist group. They both spiritedly argued that based on their experience, the settlements in Harare were fertile ground for insurgency and mass action. There was consensus that Harare was a breeding ground of an MDC militia, thieves and illegal traders that could threaten the Zanu PF government.
More importantly, it was agreed that if the opposition promised decent houses to entice the youths, they would vote for the opposition in future elections. Interestingly, two years earlier, Zimbabwe’s ruling party had engineered the removal of the first opposition mayor – Elias Mudzuri – locking him out of his office and appointing his deputy, a fencepost tortoise, in his stead.
Even more fascinating, Zimbabwe’s opposition, which has never mastered the art of populist politics in African electioneering, did not promise radical urban housing to the millions of potential urban voters as was feared by this team eating sandwiches and Indian samosas in Bulawayo. If you connect the dots, you will see that it is this gimmick that is the basis of Zanu PF’s election campaign over the next couple of years ahead of the forthcoming 2018 elections.
As Mr X went on dispensing advice, he insisted that “if we push them out, we will create reserves for them. There, they will be lucky to even vote but we will use their names on the voters roll to our advantage,” a remark that earned him a pat on the shoulder from Constantine Chiwenga – who called him a genius. On Mr X’s advice, seconded very strongly by Mr Y and Saviour Kasukuwere, the meeting eventually, resolved that the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people, starting with Harare must be executed.
In his book – 48 laws of power – Robert Greene suggests that to weaken powerful enemy groups, one must “strike the shepherd and the sheep will scatter”. To the contrary, the meeting concluded that the operation must scatter the voters to neutralize the opposition in future. It further concluded that the operation was to be implemented after the March 31 election of 2005.
The whole team agreed, and so it was, that the fate of hundreds of thousands of families was sealed at the intelligence retreat, led by spooks and securocrats, with concurrence from cabinet ministers, including two foreigners and a rather ambitious deputy minister Saviour Kasukuwere who was way too keen to establish his hardline credentials in the political pecking order.
“We will remove them in no time in the greatest clean up this country has ever seen,” Chiwenga pointed out. To that conclusion, the team drank till the wee hours of the morning when they were taken back to the military barrack from where they helicoptered their way back to Harare.
A Tale of Two Ruthless Foreign Fugitives
So who is Mr. X? Mr. X leaves a far more comfortable life than most wealthy Zimbabweans. Ensconced in a state-owned villa in the suburb of Gunhill north of Harare, Mengistu Haile Mariam is an Ethiopian fugitive who fled to Zimbabwe in 1991. A former leader of the military junta (Derg) that led Ethiopia for fourteen years, he later became President of Ethiopia between 1987 and 1991. As part of the Derg, a grouping of low-ranking military officers, Mengistu is believed to have choked to death Emperor Haile Selassie using a pillow bringing an end to the emperor-led ruling order and ushering in Mengistu’s dictatorship.
Like Robert Mugabe, Mengistu was accused of genocide. He was charged by the successor government of Meles Zenawi with the killing of nearly 2,000 Ethiopians. In a trial that ran for more than ten years, Mengistu was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment in absentia in 2007. On the basis of a subsequent appeal, Mengistu was given a death sentence in absentia by Ethiopia’s High Court in May 2008.
In short, Zimbabwe is harboring a foreign convicted genocide criminal at taxpayer’s expense. But is he such a waste to the politicians in power? The answer is no. He is a trusted advisor to the securocrats. His ideas were instrumental in the cruelest winter punishment ever meted out to hundreds of thousands of families displaced in urban Zimbabwe. His experience as a ruthless dictator was and is useful to his Zimbabwean peers.
Mengistu has for decades been a national security advisor to Robert Mugabe. He has made significant contributions to the electoral manipulation process in Zimbabwe over the years. He is credited with having suggested the bringing in of Nikuv Projects, a shadowy Israeli company that helped rig a number of elections in Zimbabwe.
And who is Mr Y? He happens to be a fugitive too. A former commander in the Rwandan Armed Forces, Protais Mpiranya headed the Presidential Guard in pre-Kagame Rwanda. He is accused of being one of the top brains that led the army and Interahamwe militia groups in committing the Rwandan genocide – which led to the mass slaughter of close to a million people in a short 100 days.
As a top military and intelligence commander, Mpiranya, an ethnic Hutu, is accused of several crimes including rape, murder and abuse before and during the genocide. Working and coordinating at the national level with then defence minister Augustin Bizimana and Aloys Ntabakuze, a paratroopers’ commander, Mpiranya’s presidential guard assisted by the Interahamwe and Impuzamugambi led the genocide in Kigali, setting up road blocks throughout the capital demanding national identity card. Since the cards showed hutu/tutsi ethnicity, Tutsis were slaughtered immediately.
Following the victory by Kagame’s Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) army, Protais Mpiranya fled and sought shelter in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Millions of Hutus had fled into UN managed refugee camps in the DRC – fearing revenge by Kagame’s RPF. Fugitives like Mpiranya effectively remained influential in these refugee camps, setting up militia, rearming them and making incursions into Rwanda. It was these incursions that led Kagame to work with Uganda to sponsor the Banyamulenge militia that worked with Laurent Kabila to remove Mobutu Sese Seko from power. Because Kabila failed to deal with the Hutu militia menace, he quickly fell out with Kagame and this was how Protais Mpiranya found his relevance.
In 1998 a major war affecting the Great Lakes region broke out pitting the DRC military on one side and militias sponsored by Rwanda and Uganda on the other side. Mugabe, who had delusions of grandeur of his own, single-handedly inserted Zimbabwe into the conflict with dire consequences to the Zimbabwean economy which the country has not recovered from even today.
It was this Mugabe decision that gave Protais Mpiranya his mojo back. The Zimbabwean government had no clue how to wage a war in the vast equatorial DRC rainforest. Thus, Mpiranya, who had coordinated the Hutu refugee militia in the Kivu provinces became an intelligence advisor to the Zimbabwe National Army. By the time the DRC war ended in 2003, Mpiranya had already been indicted by the U.N.’s International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda for a range of genocidal crimes.
But he had found a new home in Zimbabwe where he still lives to this day. He was heavily involved in the DRC war, leading even smuggling operations though companies Zimbabwe ran under the banner they called OSLEG (Operation Sovereign Legitimacy). It was in this context that he was one of the masterminds of Operation Murambatsvina, which is why he was present at the “Political Intelligence Retreat” at State House in Bulawayo. This is why the English say that birds of a feather flock together.
Kasukuwere – A continuous thread
If you connect the dots of the three events above, you will see the same characters involved in not only directing government activities, but are directly responsible for cooking up hare-brained policies that have pauperized Zimbabweans. One of them, who is very tied up to each of these events is Saviour Kasukuwere, a failed businessman. A very shallow but ambitious man known for having more brawn than brains, Kasukuwere is today very much at the centre of what is wrong with Zimbabwe. He is also very much wired into the DNA of factions in Zimbabwe’s ruling party.
Starting off as a mere driver in Zimbabwe’s intelligence service, more precisely a driver for one Gwaradzimba who was a provincial intelligence head of the Manicaland province between 1992 and 1995, Kasukuwere did little to conceal the fact that he was employed by Zimbabwe’s central intelligence organization because he intended to profit from it – and profit he did.
A boisterous character way too keen on establishing a reputation as a tough thug, he found currency in a ruling party that has been so fraught with factionalism for decades that he found his way up the ladder aligning himself with both tribal and security-aligned factions. Specifically, Kasukuwere found currency by strategically aligning himself to the intelligence system at a time when Mugabe feared both the emergence of the MDC and a Solomon Mujuru effort to get him out of power. But that’s a matter for another day.
The pertinent question is – if Kasukuwere was one of the masterminds of the mindless and callous uprooting of urban dwellers leaving millions homeless and jobless in an act described by the UN as a “catastrophic injustice carried out indiscriminately and with disquieting indifference to human suffering” how is it that ten years later, and a few months after uprooting more families near the airport, he is suddenly trying to be a knight in shining armour setting up unplanned settlements around Zimbabwe’s cities and towns?
Professor Ken Mufuka in a recent article queried as follows;
“…I surmise that Coltart has introduced an argument first brought to our attention by our white Sister Judy Todd. To what purpose was the violence (un)leashed by Murambatsvina? Neither the 150,000 families nor the oppressors benefitted anything.
The answer is found in the scorched earth politics of third world countries. The politicians can barely think beyond their noses. There is no long term planning whatsoever! There is no people-inspired calculation beyond election cycles. It’s a perpetual power game until everyone is consumed by the fire of the power games.
More specifically, the politics of Zimbabwe’s ruling party is about creating a crisis through stupid power-retention policies and then pretend to solve it. They blame everyone else for it while pretending to solve the problem and earn votes in the process. That pretense to solving the problem creates a new crisis and unintended consequences and the country becomes a vicious cycle of crises. This way, Zimbabwe’s economy fades away like an old soldier – leaving citizens in a perpetual state of hopelessness. If you can connect these dots, you are getting it. And if you do, don’t ever get fooled again.
But then the trouble with a rat race is that even if you win, you remain a rat. It all amounts to chasing the wind. Edgar Dean Mitchell was a NASA astronaut, pilot of Apollo 14 and the sixth person to walk on the moon. He spent about 9 hours walking on the moon – the longest walk ever on the lunar surface. This gave him a much broader perspective about the universe and had this to say:
“You develop an instant global consciousness, a people orientation, an intense dissatisfaction with the state of the world, and a compulsion to do something about it. From out there on the moon, … politics look so petty. You want to grab a politician by the scruff of the neck and drag him a quarter of a million miles out and say, ‘Look at that, you son-of-a-bitch.”
If you don’t feel the same about Saviour Kasukuwere and his ‘musketeers’, please revisit your conscience.
*Account is based on triangulated interviews and accounts of security details and planners that attended the political intelligent retreat meetings.
Ken Yamamoto is a research fellow on Africa at an Institute in Tokyo. He researches and travels frequently between Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda and Zimbabwe. Email your views about this oped to email@example.com