General Democracy

By Andrew Field – Follow on Twitter
Flickr_Andrew_XIConcerns have been rising in Zimbabwe about the predominance of the military in running the affairs of the country. Naturally, there is nothing wrong with former military officers taking the stage in politics or commerce, if they have the substance to do so, but there is clearly a move to saturate both the civil service and strategic, government-owned corporations with these strongmen. One would be forgiven for asking, ‘for what purpose?’ They would seem rather naive if they did. What we are seeing in Zimbabwe is the smart coup d’état, a gradual non-violent, but extremely intimidating infiltration of the military into power.

Coup d’état are not uniquely African, nor are they new. The earliest know coup d’état was in 509 BC when members of the Tarquin dynasty led by Lucius Brutus overthrew the King of Rome to establish the Roman Republic. It has been going on ever since. Africa has a recorded 114 coup d’état, the first being in Ethiopia in 1910 when Empress Taytu, regent of the incapacitated Emperor Menelik II was overthrown. Egypt will be remembered for one of the earlier coup d’état in Africa where, in 1952, Muhammad Naguib and Gamal Nasser overthrew King Farouk, later resulting in the Suez Crisis.

The predominance of coup d’état in Africa have mostly followed the colonial withdrawal with the winds of change that swept through most of Africa in the 1960s. Prolific in suffering putsches are Ethiopia, Mauritania, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, and Uganda, each of which suffered six military or violent takeovers. This is nothing like Haiti, with its 26 coup d’état, which, reflecting on the current state and health of Haiti, should surely be a signal to those attempting to impose military power elsewhere. There are disturbing correlations between military rule and oppression, freedom denial, human rights abuse and poverty.

Some might suggest that Zimbabwe’s situation is a little more unique in accepting some form of military rule. Zimbabwe’s birth was through the barrel of a gun, following a vigorous liberation struggle. Guerrillas who served the revolution during the liberation era, over thirty years ago, were de facto party faithful, political soldiers or militia, and so it seems the current crop of generals remain. Did anyone expect a different outcome after a Maoist styled insurgency? The concept of the apolitical soldier, and in Zimbabwe’s case apolitical policeman, thus has just never been muted, so long as their loyal support was in favour of the single incumbent liberation party or regime.

Zimbabwe has moved on and things have changed, conceivably for the better, as its people strive for greater democracy and freedom, away from the autocracy and pseudo-democracy offered by the liberation party. A couple of opposition parties have evolved in the last thirty years, providing the prospect for democratic, party political choice by the people. The hegemony of power, theoretically, should not be retained by a narrow mind set hanging onto its liberation bona fides. This brooks no choice.

The liberation party, and supposed architect of Zimbabwean freedom, is the benefactor of the generals’ unwavering loyalty and support, albeit given the patronage which has swayed that process in the last ten years. These same generals will deny Zimbabweans any legitimate choice, by suggesting, openly as they have, that only a party with liberation credentials can rule Zimbabwe. They have intimated, shamelessly, that if they do not get their political way, they will take over, pfuti dzinorira (we will go to war). With whom?

This is crass political folly. The problem with this thinking is that there is only one surviving party with liberation credentials, the other party with such qualification having been crushed and forced into a unity arrangement during the mid 1980s. Eventually those who took part in the liberation war will die out, besides such liberators do not have a God given right to rule eternally. So where does this leave the people’s democratic rights and choice and is this not, potentially, a malicious denial of their freedom and a perversion of the liberation struggle? Zimbabweans should take heed and forthrightly reject these sinister overtones, before allowing their nation to descend into a reign of deep subjugation.

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Alas there are no Ayatollahs in Zimbabwe

By Andrew Field – Follow on Twitter
Flickr_Andrew_XIEgypt is gushing with euphoria following the fall of Hosni Mubarak. We have seen this elation elsewhere before; it will be short lived, but nevertheless joyful for the masses triumphant. Some, outside Egypt, may envy this sudden release of jubilant hysteria, from beneath the umbrella of their concurrent oppression. Others may be reflecting inwardly, scheming, perhaps wondering who has the audacity to encourage their first freedom forgathering.

Many, like the author, will be making a few comparisons between Egypt and Zimbabwe. Clearly, there is none, that is, between the politics of Maburak’s Egypt and that of Mugabe’s Zimbabwe. One was an iron fist dictatorship evolved from, and supported by, the military and the other is a pseudo democracy where true freedoms are yet to be realized, a transition between tired, single party, absolute power and apparent political polarity.

The common territory between the, now disassembled, Egyptian regime and the power base of Zimbabwe lies with the insatiable need of an individual to retain power. Some say at whatever cost. Many will draw the comparison between a hugely transparent military involvement that uplifted the Mubarak regime and the more opaque involvement, and power influence, of an elitist military within Zimbabwe’s political circle.

The hypothesis presently kicking around is that the people’s revolution in Egypt will erupt in other Middle Eastern countries. A few hopefuls speculate its eruption in other parts of Africa, and Zimbabwe is no exception. The question is, do Zimbabweans, in comparison with their Egyptian brothers, have the passion to perpetrate something similar to the Nile Revolution? Indeed, is there actually a need to do so?

One may envisage such revolution in Zimbabwe and ask if a peaceful atmosphere with mass demonstration could actually be achieved. Mubarak’s army turned its back on their erstwhile leader and lowered their barrels. Many doubt Zimbabwe’s generals would do the same. Mubarak’s army refused to fire upon the surging masses and one wonders if Zimbabwe’s finest would imitate that lead.

Ignore the potential response of otherwise noble military officers, in the face of popular uprising, and consider the history of mass protest in Zimbabwe. Has this ever been truly peaceful? Has not mass protest been marred by death, injury and malicious damage; bullets, teargas, water cannons, and fire? Violent response may not bloody the hands of the generals, but rather soil the mitts of an unruly coterie of ignorant lackeys, blinded by their own propaganda. This is the most perilous, potential danger of ‘peaceful’ protest in Zimbabwe.

Another danger lurks with yet further comparisons in the unlikely scenario which could evolve. The Egyptian protests have created a political power vacuum. There is no organized politics to fill the void, save a fringe fundamentalist movement already dribbling in anticipation. The ayatollahs must be gleeful and the military have been forced to take control. Zimbabwe has its opposition, which presumably would fill the void, but people are beginning to ask if indeed it will.

It seems, to the casual observer, that the opposition appears to have retreated into its shell, like a timid tortoise. It has lost its bottle. The parties are not awfully vocal, nor protesting about much these days. Tsvangirai’s MDC seems to be enjoying the trappings of its sham leadership, while the key political focus is on their apparently more dominant foe.

The Ncube or Mutumbara MDC, or whoever is running that seeming shamble of a party, appears to be concentrated on their rather divisive, petty, internal squabbles. No one is hungry or dribbling in anticipation, and certainly no military transition could allow such disingenuous opposition to take control. And therein lays the real threat, the insatiable retention of power.