Army must not meddle in elections: US
THE United States says it has asked Zimbabwe to stop military involvement in democratic processes such as elections as men and women in boots remain key power brokers in the country’s political space, The NewsHawks has learnt.
Diplomatic relations between Harare and Washington hit rock bottom after the southern African nation brutalised citizens and presided over defective elections. The US then slapped Zimbabwe with sanctions, citing Harare’s poor record of upholding fundamental human rights and accusations of electoral fraud.
Zimbabwe dismisses the charges. The US deputy assistant secretary for Africa, Robert Scott, told journalists during a digital media roundtable that he held meetings with the authorities in Harare on military participation in elections.
The Press briefing came after the US diplomat concluded visits to Zimbabwe and Eswatini. Zimbabwe is later this year expected to hold watershed elections at a time political tolerance has been deteriorating.
“I think what Zidera looks for and I think what the African Development Bank process looks for as well is the very basic concept of civilian control of the military,” Scott said.
“When I had the conversation (on Zimbabwe) which included the PS from the Ministry of Defence, our point was very consistent as it is: that the military should not appear in this process by any sense; that the military is leaving its barracks to be involved in this process or is appearing on the streets: it has an incredibly chilling effect on this kind of exercise on democracy. That is our message, we join many others in delivering that and I think it’s very consistent with international standards and the aspirations of any country to hold peaceful, transparent and inclusive elections.”
Military-civilian relations in Zimbabwe have been a contentious issue since Independence in 1980.
Soon after Independence the North Korean-trained 5 Brigade was deployed in parts of Matabeleland and the Midlands provinces to carry out an operation code-named Gukurahundi which according to independent statistics claimed the lives of 20 000 lives.
In 2017, the military played a role in the ouster of long-time leader Robert Mugabe who threw in the towel after popular protests were backed by the army. In the aftermath of the 2018 polls, the army was deployed to brutally quell protests which were triggered by delays in the announcement of election results.
The role of the military has been on the agenda of far-reaching political governance reforms which the opposition and the international community are calling for in order to help normalise relations with the family of nations.
Early this month, Scott, a career member of the senior foreign service with the rank of minister counsellor who currently serves as a deputy assistant secretary in the Bureau of African Affairs covering peace and security affairs and southern Africa, told a Press briefing that Zimbabwe’s ongoing dialogue with multilateral and bilateral creditors, which is currently being facilitated by the African Development Bank (AfDB) and former Mozambican president Joaquim Chisano, provides a window of opportunity to help normalise relations between Washington and Harare.
The US diplomat, who previously served as the deputy chief of mission in Zimbabwe and Tanzania, said he met Zimbabwe’s Foreign Affairs minister Frederick Shava and expressed Washington’s concerns over the Public Voluntary Organisations Bill which is currently awaiting presidential assent.
Civil society organisations and some Western governments have warned that if signed into law, the Bill will narrow Zimbabwe’s democratic space and water down the country’s political reform agenda.