Transition or succession? Zimbabwe’s future looks uncertain

The fall of Mugabe doesn't necessarily spell freedom for the people of Zimbabwe, writes Farai Maguwu

December 8, 2017 · 10 min read

The intervention by the Zimbabwe National Army to take over government on Wednesday 13 November 2017 was met with both anxiety and excitement by the generality of the Zimbabwean people. Some have mistakenly called the military take over a ‘transition’ when in reality it’s only a succession wrangle within ZANU PF. It has nothing to do with democracy or development in Zimbabwe.

We state the following from the onset

  • The military takeover is a succession battle within Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front (ZANU PF)
  • The statement by the Zimbabwe National Army clearly stated that the army was taking this action to deal with ‘instability in ZANU PF’ and reaffirmed that the Zimbabwe Defence Forces, not the people, remains the major stockholder in respect to the gains of the liberation struggle
  • The action by the military aimed at stopping the purging of ‘revolutionary elements’ within ZANU PF
  • The statement deplored ‘the shenanigans of people who do not share the liberation history of the ZANU PF party’.

The above clearly shows that the action by the military is to consolidate ZANU PF grip on power. Further it shows the strong hand of the military in civilian affairs as shown by the attempt to manage the succession within the party and government. Whilst the military has always played a major factor in Zimbabwean politics, it had never so brazenly demonstrated its force to the extent of taking over government.

Is it a transition or a succession?

A transition is simply a shift away from an authoritarian regime. According to web definitions a political transition is ‘the act and process of changing and evolving from one form of government to a radical form of government which focuses on human rights, the rule of law and empowerment of the people to ensure their choices, voice and will is heard.’ On the other hand political succession is defined as ‘the ascension to power by one ruler, official, or monarch after the death, resignation, or removal from office of another, usually in a clearly defined order.’

Whereas political transition aims at improving the human security of citizens through attainment of basic freedoms and rights, succession is simply replacing of one ruler by another. Succession is at the heart of the military takeover in Zimbabwe. The current upheaval is not motivated by any desire to return Zimbabwe to its people. If anything, this action by the military virtually makes democracy and human rights extremely impossible in the medium to long term. Should any opposition arise in the future and threaten to wrestle power from the military-backed ZANU PF government the army will step in ‘to preserve the gains of the liberation struggle’. The opposition Movement for Democratic Change twice came face to face with the reality. First it was in 2002 when the Generals declared that they will not salute or recognize any leader, even elected, who doesn’t have liberation war credentials. In 2008, after Morgan Tsvangirai had beaten President Mugabe, the military moved in and prevented him from taking power.

Transition to what?

There is virtually no room for a transitional authority at the moment. The broader purpose of the military action is not to ensure a transition to democracy but rather to preserve the narrow interests of the military chefs, war veterans and the ZANU PF faction led by axed ZANU PF Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa. The generality of the people of Zimbabwe are not part of the matrix. There is a huge possibility the Movement for Democratic Change will be roped in to form a coalition government with Tsvangirai assuming the position of Prime Minister. This will be a repetition of the 2009-2013 Inclusive government where the MDCT, after over 400 of its supporters were murdered following Tsvangirai’s shock victory over Mugabe in the March general election, was invited to play a subservient role to Mugabe and ZANU PF in the inclusive government. The life of the Inclusive Government coincided with the greatest plunder and theft of resources by the ruling party and security sector. The MDCT could not stop the looting of the $15 billion! Thus opposition parties shall be brought in to legitimize the new and otherwise illegitimate government.

The opposition parties that shall be invited to share the spoils of the coup will be very weak, much weaker than the MDCT during the Inclusive government. Unlike in 2008 where the MDCT joined government on the back of a powerful electoral performance, this time they are joining the Lacoste team in government as a weak, bankrupt and defeated opposition. Joyce Mujuru may be reinstated to her position of Vice President, not by the people but by the military. The same goes for Dumiso Dabengwa. The war veterans are waiting with glee – its our turn to eat!  All those who shall comprise this new government will join at the invitation of the military and not through the mandate of the people. Their capacity to demand reforms will be diminished. It is certainly salvation for the struggling opposition parties and a little financial windfall to the new government at a huge cost to democracy.

The international community will respond by opening the purse and bring the ‘much needed’ FDI. General Chiwenga’s visit to China before announcing the military take-over was very significant. Chinese are not friends but business people. It means they want a share of the spoils. More mines, possibly a quick return to Marange to continue plundering Zimbabwe’s diamonds, more mines elsewhere, land grabbing, displacements, human rights abuses and continued meddling of China in Zimbabwe’s internal affairs.

Rebellion and not a Revolution

Current developments in ZANU PF are a rebellion from Mugabe and not a revolution. According to Wikipedia ‘a revolution (from the Latin revolution, “a turn around”) is a fundamental change in political power or organizational structures that takes place in a relatively short period of time when the population rises up in revolt against the current authorities.’

Ironically a revolution has been suppressed in Zimbabwe since 2000 when the local population began a march towards a new democratic dispensation. It was the very same Generals who rose to prevent a revolution from taking place. Today the Generals have rebelled from their Commander in Chief because they feel their economic and political interests are no longer guaranteed given the unfolding developments in the ruling party.

A surrendered nation

The approval of the coup by the citizens must be put in the correct context. Zimbabweans have struggled to replace Mugabe with a popular democratically elected leader since 2000. These efforts have been dashed by the military and the entire security establishment. President Mugabe successfully transformed the security apparatus of the State into the ZANU PF security machinery. Thus the struggle between the opposition and the ruling party can also be described as the struggle between the people of Zimbabwe and the State. But the failure of the opposition MDCT to influence meaningful reforms during the life of the coalition government leading to its cataclysmic defeat in 2013 left the Zimbabwean people without hope. Some even believe the opposition has now been captured by the ruling party. The dismal performance of the MDCT in 2013 had 2 major effects. The first immediate effect was internal fights which resulted in its second major split when party Secretary General Tendai Biti and Elton Mangoma formed their own party. The second and more drastic effect was drying up of donor funds which crippled the operations of the party.

The demise of the opposition also had a double impact on civil society which toned down on its criticism of President Mugabe’s government. Beginning 2013 some donors imposed a requirement that civil society organizations must demonstrate a working relationship with government to obtain donor funds. This further weakened an already underfunded civil society which began to warm up to the ZANU PF government to be seen to be making an ‘impact’ by donors. The dwindling donor funds also heightened fights within civil society which diminished civil society impact on improving human rights and democracy. Some prominent civil society organizations demonstrated traits of cannibalism in order to enlarge their share of donor funds. All this played into the hands of ZANU PF which was left with no incentive to deliver social services to the nation.  It also diminished the demand for human rights and democracy within the wider Zimbabwean society. Thus the military take over of government has become the biggest moment in Zimbabwe since independence from Britain in 1980. Zimbabweans must be forgiven to think this take over marks the dawn of a new era. In reality this is a dawn of a new error!

What civil society, opposition parties and citizens must demand from the army.

Zimbabwe’s march towards democracy has been stifled by a partisan security establishment that pays allegiance to the party above the national constitution. The ongoing political activity is meant to cement the capture of the state by the military. Civil society, opposition parties and citizens must make democratic demands to the military and not merely seek relevance in the unfolding political drama. There is no shortcut to democracy and democracy can only be attained by democratic means.

Zimbabwe was scheduled to hold an election in 2018.  The military can still play a crucial role, by not campaigning for any politician, to ensure Zimbabwe holds a credible election that reflects the will of the people. The demands by civil society and the opposition must aim at achieving the following:

  • A quick return to constitutional order
  • For Mugabe to step down and allow for the holding of a free and fair election in the next 6 months
  • Place the transitional order under the care of the judiciary to facilitate the holding of a free, fair and democratic election
  • A call for the unconditional release of all ZANU PF officials in military detention. Their fate remain unknown
  • The withdrawal of the military and the entire security apparatus from campaigning for Mugabe and ZANU PF in the next elections
  • A call for ZANU PF to resolve its internal disputes according to the party constitution and with full respect for the laws of Zimbabwe
  • SADC has a role to negotiate a peaceful return to constitutional order and guarantee the security of both Mugabe and his allies and the Generals.
  • SADC conducts the next election in Zimbabwe with help from the African union and the United Nations.

Anything else will ensure Zimbabwe is sinking deeper into a protracted political crisis that shall affect generations to come.

This was originally published in Amandla Magazine. Reposted here with kind permission.

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