Throwing the cat among the pigeons

….military role in dialogue divides opinion


Opposition leader Nelson Chamisa appears to have thrown the cat among the pigeons following his proposal to include the military in the much-anticipated dialogue with President Emmerson Mnangagwa.

The proposed dialogue seeks to end Zimbabwe’s socio-political impasse. Zimbabwe’s economy has since the 2018 elections been on a free fall due to a devastating drought, policy inconsistency and growing political tensions.

At home and home abroad, critics contend that Mnangagwa whose election victory has been contested by the opposition should open bilateral dialogue with the leader of the country’s main opposition party, Chamisa.

But hawkish ruling party stalwarts say Chamisa should first recognise Mnangagwa’s legitimacy for him to participate in any high level dialogue involving the country’s political protagonists.

Last year Mnangagwa established the Political Actors Dialogue (Polad), a platform for the country’s political parties but critics say the absence of the MDC led by Chamisa would deem Polad’s efforts ineffective.

Chamisa on the other hand wants any dialogue to be chaired by an external mediator and not by Mnangagwa.

Now there are calls within the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) region to broker talks between Mnangagwa and Chamisa.

Former South African President Thabo Mbeki is expected to play a mediatory role in the dialogue which has taken a new dimension with Chamisa calling for the inclusion of the military in the talks.

Last month Chamisa presented his petition to Mbeki in Pretoria and raised the issue that the military had to be involved in the dialogue.

The suggested involvement of the military in the political dialogue has divided opinion with some analysts and commentators saying this could be a masterstroke to unlock the political logjam in the country.

Others, however, differ saying the military should not play a role in a civilian process.

Martin Rupiya, University of South Africa political science professor and an expert in military and security affairs on the continent, said the call by Chamisa to involve the military in the proposed dialogue with Zanu PF was likely to produce positive results as the military had a key role in the politics of the country.

“The involvement of the military in the dialogue can be helpful as they are one of key players in the politics of the country. Considering that the background of Zanu PF is made of military forces from Zanla and Zipra forces of the liberation struggle and it will be important to recognise them as an important component in solving the problems in the country,” Rupiya said.

“This has also happened in the continent for example in Sudan and Egypt, the military agreed to come to the table with the civilians and this has helped to move the political dialogue forward.

In Zimbabwe it is important to recognise the military and considering their roles they played in the independence of the country in 1980 and also on 17 November 2017 march against former President Robert Mugabe.”

Political analyst and political science lecturer from University of the Western Cape, Brian Raftopoulos argued that the growing entrenchment of the military economic elite in Zimbabwe’s social, political and economic systems was the main reason why Chamisa was asking for the military to be involved in the dialogue.

Raftopoulos said the MDC has also been pushed into the calling for the inclusiont of the military as a result of a combination of state repression and violence against its structures and the inability of the opposition to translate their electoral victory in 2008 into state power in the face of Zanu -PF’s control of the arms of the state.

“The military has never supported MDC since its formation two decades ago. There is the fear that the Zimbabwean military and security sectors would not accept an elected MDC government and a statement to that effect was made on the eve of the 2002 election,” Raftopoulos said.

Raftopoulos said the MDC has serious concerns around the military after they said they were not going to salute anyone in the country without liberation war credentials.

“There is also concern from South African government and SADC region governments that the MDC would not have the capacity to run a state because it had not received the full support from the military and that this would very quickly lead to a weak, unstable state in the region,” Raftopoulos said.

He said the security sector reform was one of the main outstanding agenda that remained to be fully implemented from the Global Political Agreement signed in 2008.

“Zanu -PF used its continued monopoly over the state’s forces to limit the implementation of those aspects of the GPA that could potentially open up democratic spaces in the Zimbabwean polity.

In particular, former President Robert Mugabe refused to consider any security sector reform for fear of unravelling the centre of the party, which is the military, ’’ Raftopoulos said.

He added: “During the GPA tenure the security reform was not fully implemented and resulting in the military remaining in support of the ruling party.

This is the challenge that the MDC still faces today and the reason for Chamisa wanting to involve them in the dialogue.”

However, University of Zimbabwe lecturer and political analyst, Lawrence Mhandara, said the call by Chamisa was not democratic and unconstitutional.

Section 211(3) of the country’s bill of rights. states that “the Defence Forces must respect the fundamental rights and freedom of all persons and be non-partisan, national in character, patriotic, professional and subordinate to the civilan authority as enshrined by the Consbtitution.”

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