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Zimbabwe’s Military Seen as Influential in Shaping Its Future

Zimbabwe’s Military Seen as Influential in Shaping Its Future

Political scientist John Makumbe says talks between the government and opposition should include reforming the military and security services

In Zimbabwe, talks between the two parties in the Government of National Unity are set to resume in about two weeks. The parties are ZANU-PF, led by President Robert Mugabe, and two formations of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), the largest is led by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.

The talks are being mediated by South Africa. The goal is to settle a number of issues not resolved by last year’s Global Political Agreement, which was reached after disputed national elections that led to the current power-sharing agreement. Among the issues to be settled are the number of governors the government will appoint from the MDC and who should fill the positions of central bank governor and attorney general.

Military influence

But one important element has been left out of the talks, says political science professor John Mukumbe of the University of Zimbabwe: the control of the military and security services. The military has been accused of orchestating much of the political violence which marred the 2008 presidential election in a bid to intimidate voters to support President Mugabe in a second round. The National Security Council, made up of high level security officials, remains a potent political factor, observers say.

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai
Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai

Army troops were recently deployed around the country to enforce the takeover of the few hundred remaining white commercial farms after a decade of land reform.

“Last week, the army was deployed in [the region of] Manicaland to force remaining white commercial farmers off the land. They have only relented somewhat in terms of perpetrating violence, but they are still a very serious force to be reckoned with,” says Makumbe.

The ruling party has filled state-owned enterprises and institutions with retired military supporters loyal to President Mugabe, he says.

A question of allegiance

On the other hand, Makumbe and other observers say there may splits between different factions in the military, but he says none of them would be strong enough to weaken its influence.

“There is dissention in the army – it is not homogenous and not uniform in its thinking in terms of allegiance. It is the middle and lower ranks that say, 'We have to put the nation first and the ruling party and Mugabe second,’” according to Makumbe.

Civil society is weak, says the political scientist, and one-party rule has undermined the independence of state institutions. He says the military – and ruling party – could be influenced by outside pressure from the African Union and the Southern African Development Community. But so far, he says, they have been slow to condemn the government.