While international actors use power-sharing to resolve a vast range of conflicts in Africa and view state security reform as critical to achieving durable peace, democratic scholars have argued that there is a distinct lack of studies that examine the relationship between power-sharing and security sector reform.
As the country prepares for a decisive election on July 31 to end the inclusive government that came as result of a disputed poll in 2008 where the security apparatus in Zimbabwe especially the military played the commissariat role for President Robert Mugabe, it is critical for Sadc and AU to critically examine the partisan and toxic role the uniformed forces in the electoral and political affairs of the State.
Citing the cases of Kenya and Zimbabwe, Alexander Noyes a development studies researcher postulated that two main factors have determined the divergent security reform outcomes of the respective power-sharing governments: the degree of political influence within the security sector and the strength of security reform content of the power-sharing agreement.
In Zimbabwe, the rise of “security politics” gave the security sector a high degree of political influence, which, combined with weak security reform content in the power-sharing deal agreed in September 2008 after a violent and disputed presidential election runoff in June 2008, resulted in the little movement on security reforms.
The semblance of peace with limited coercive power by Zanu PF vigilante groups and the security forces should not mislead observers and monitors to believe that the partisan repressive State apparatus have been tamed.
Their role in critical electoral bodies such as the Zimbabwe Election Commission (Zec) where they have deployed and invested heavily over the years should be scrutinised.
It is argued that the coalition government and the guarantors of the Global Political Agreement (GPA); Sadc and the AU have failed to make significant reforms in the security apparatus of Zimbabwe leaving the sector’s partisan politics intact during the life of the unity regime.
The undeniable reality which Sadc and AU observers should know is that the security apparatuses in Zimbabwe are fully in charge and have the capacity to control the use of violence, and they have done that consistently to influence the political and electoral direction of the country for past three decades and most significantly with the rise of organised and coordinated opposition and civic politics at the turn of the 21st Century.
It also important for the continental and regional bodies to know that the security forces were responsible for the administration of the chaotic Zanu PF primary elections in June, cementing publicly their undesirable lack of professionalism and disregard of democratic norms.
Noyes argues that in Kenya, the State’s loss over the control of violence gave rise to the practice of ‘militia politics’, leading to a low degree of political influence in the security sector, which when coupled with strong security reform content, facilitated considerable-albeit halting and not fully implemented progress on State security reforms.
In Zimbabwe militia politics exist with the acquiescence of the State and the security establishment.
My contention is that the failure to implement security sector reforms has the potential to block possible a democratic transition as the country prepares for the first election after the formation of the unity government.
Premium attention is therefore required to rein the repressive State apparatuses to subordinate them to democratic civilian leaders elected by the citizens in a democratic way in which they remain apolitical.
My critical postulation is that politics is not the security apparatuses’ area of competence.
In September 2008, the GPA was signed between Zanu PF and the two formations of the MDC, which made up the opposition then.
Article Two of the GPA (Declaration of Commitment) assured Zimbabweans that a “genuine, viable, permanent, sustainable and nationally acceptable solution to Zimbabwe” would be delivered by the parties in the coalition government.
Five years on, the failure to implement agreed reforms is more glaring in the security sector given the poisonous role played particularly by the military in the June 2008 presidential election run off that were condemned by regional and international actors leading to the formation of the coalition regime?
Since 2008, political players in the coalition regime have promised to have elections without putting a premium on the need to reform the security sector.
Going to the elections in two weeks time without concrete and practical security sector reforms gives an opportunity to the partisan forces to believe that they can subvert the democratic will of the people if citizens refuse to elect Mugabe.
It is for this reason that Sadc and the AU should remain awake to possible behind the scene activities that are meant to subvert the will of the people.
As it stands, through political and security leadership public pronouncements, Zanu PF retains full control of the security sector apparatus and this unquestionably increase justifiable fears that there can be a replicate of 2008 electoral disputes not because of political violence but other covet activities involving the security establishment and their surrogates in the Zec secretariat.
The 2008 bloodshed; something that people dread so much because they witnessed horrific, barbaric and extreme acts of brutality as Zanu PF used “harassment, torture and murder” against its opponents in a desperate bid to cling on to power at all cost could be achieved technically through manipulation of the voters’ roll, coordinated and organised voting delays in towns and cities where President Mugabe stand no chance against his opponents.
These will be logistical and technical military style methods to influence the poll outcome without bloodshed. There has been a shift in methodology of subverting the process by Mugabe and his security advisors. Sadc and AU should understand these shifts so that they are not misled into believing the absence of overt violence means the election will be free, fair and legitimate.
Article XIII of the GPA states that “State organs and institutions do not belong to any political party and should be impartial in the discharge of their duties”.
This aspect of the pact has not been realised and there are no political commitments from the country’s leaders showing a norm shift. It is therefore argued that like many other unfulfilled reforms outlined by the GPA, it is only in black and white; the viability of it is far from being realised.
Zanu PF has unwaveringly refused to divorce itself from this nationally and undemocratically undesirable marriage with the security apparatus especially with the top leadership of the security forces, thus what we have now is a military, police services, State intelligence and other critical arms of security sector that are so impartial in the manner that they carry out their legal and constitutional duties.
This has culminated in a security sector that is operating above the law without any transparency or accountability to anyone else but the State president.
This arrangement is an aberration of the envisaged democratic transition through elections as desired by the majority of citizens.
Zimbabwe’s security sector should monitored so that it remains professional in its conduct at all times especially during election times.
This is the key that can unlock free and fair elections because security sector institutions are largely involved in all phases of the electoral process from the period preceding elections, actual polling day and even in the post election era.
The security sector is systematically entrenched in the country’s political life and has previously exhibited its capacity to block the democratic political transition in the country.
During the past electoral processes especially in 2002 and 2008, military generals threatened the voting public and also give pre-emptive pronouncements of coups against anyone except for the current president Robert Mugabe and this compromises not only the election but the democratisation process at large.
The Defense Act stipulates that the minister of Defense may attach or second any member of the Regular Force to the Public Service and soldiers have been deployed to assist in public duties. It is the partisan activities of these military personnel that are questioned not the concept.
The Executive has since the 1990s militarised civilian posts, further knocking down the institutional inter-relationships that had hitherto evolved in the country.
This concentrates power in the executive since the military appointees to civilian posts are answerable to the Executive rather than to the institutions that they represent.
Inevitably, the military has become “heavily involved in law enforcement” and the repercussions are undesirable in a democratic society.
This poses a real threat to the conduct of a free and fair election as these soldiers will be deployed to safeguard and ensure that someone continues to cling on to power thereby frustrating the democratisation process.
Sadc and the AU teams to the July 31 election should observe the unprofessional conduct of senior leaders of the security forces among them the military, police, secret agents and prison.
While the use of coercion is under hibernation for the strategic quest of legitimacy, the infrastructure remains intact. It is critical in this election for the observer teams not to look for everyday forms of coercion but covet security activities that undermine the democratic process.
*Ruhanya is the director of the Zimbabwe Democracy Institute.