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Zimbabwe military must not subvert democratic institutions

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Zimbabwe’s military should not take a prominent role in any political dialogue that seeks to break the country’s socio-economic impasse as lobbying for talks intensifies, a leading scholar has said.

BERNARD MPOFU

The southern African nation is battling rising inflation, political intolerance and high cases of human rights violations targeting activists opposing President Emmerson Mnangawa’s government.

To address the deep-seated issues, the opposition, the clergy and civil society organisations are now pushing for dialogue, among several other political and economic actors.

Nic Cheeseman, a professor of democracy and international development at Birmingham University and a former director of the African Studies Centre at Oxford University, told The NewsHawks that the militarisation of democratic institutions is unhelpful.

“My sense is and if you look across Africa, I think this is borne out that military governments and military influence in government is usually bad not only for civil liberties and human rights but also
for economic development,” Cheeseman said.

“And therefore what we need to fight against and resist if we want to promote democracy is the militarisation of politics. And for all those reasons, I would say that the military in general should be kept out of dialogues.”

However, he said the men in uniform may be engaged in managing a transition if the incumbent leader is voted out of office. In 2008, the military became kingmakers after long-time leader Robert Mugabe lost to his arch-rival Morgan Tsvangirai during the general elections.

Before Mugabe’s fall from grace, the army played a role in ensuring his iron-clad gripn on power, despite several calls for security sector reform by the opposition.

Zimbabwe has had two post-independence internal settlements — the Unity Accord of 1987 and the Government of National Unity of 2008 — which critics say have failed to resolve structural governance issues.

“There might be one exception to that, which is that maybe if you are managing a transition. For example, it looks pretty clear that the opposition has won an election and you need to get a grip of
all parties on how the transition is going to happen. It might be in that context to talk to senior military officials to reassure them, to perhaps make sure that they are going to allow the transition to happen and also just make sure that there isn’t a coup,” Cheeseman said.

“And, in so doing, to preserve and maintain a democratic transition that is underway. So under those conditions I think it makes sense to bring the military in, otherwise they could be spoilers and prevent the transition.

“But other than that, I think it is very dangerous to officially give the military a seat at the table and in so doing institutionalise and recognise and legitimate their direct influence over Zimbabwe. They are not political actors, they have not been elected, and they have not been selected to represent people so
they shouldn’t have a seat on the table that’s prominent.”

Attempts by the ruling party to push for national talks via the Political Actors’ Dialogue platform are considered futile by the main opposition MDC Alliance, the party that came second to Zanu PF in
the disputed 31 July 2018 general elections.

Early this month, the Zimbabwe Council of Churches said the military should be involved in any effort to initiate dialogue in the country.

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