HARARE — Zimbabwe's national census, due to begin next week, is up in the air after the government stopped preparations in order to remove army officials who had bulldozed their way into the process. Some analysts say the army wants to get involved in order to intimidate citizens ahead of the next elections.
Preparations for Zimbabwe’s census, which is scheduled to start next week, were thrown into disarray after the government halted the process this week. The move came after army officials got involved in the counting process. Traditionally the census in Zimbabwe is done by teachers.
“We shall not divert on that culture [of employing teachers to enumerate] because the results [of] that count of our census has had the credibility in the region, in the country and international results. We shall adhere to that ritual," said Zimbabwe’s acting finance minister, Gorden Moyo, speaking to reporters in Harare. Moyo. "That doesn’t mean the army doesn’t have a role to play, to protect our enumerators. And then they [have a] limited role in their own military cantons, in the barracks."
In Zimbabwe, many people associate the army with intimidating civilians. In the 1980s, President Robert Mugabe’s government used soldiers to intimidate and to commit violence against perceived dissidents in the southern part of Zimbabwe. In the disputed elections of 2008, the army was said to be involved in violence against supporters of the then-opposition MDC party.
Analyst Claris Madhuku, who heads Platform for Youth Development (PYD), said the involvement of the army in the census might be meant to appease them as the soldiers are poorly paid.
"Secondly, since we are close to the forthcoming elections, soldiers would want to interact with the community members," said Madhuku. "As they go through the process of counting, they want to provide some form of intimidation so that the community in the next election, they must vote for ZANU-PF [Robert Mugabe's party] or else."
Zimbabwean army officers have said the past they would not support anyone who is not from ZANU-PF, which fought the country’s liberation struggle from Great Britain.
Zimbabwe's last census was held in 2002. That census showed Zimbabwe had about 11.6 million people.