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Kuda Bhejana: Zimbabwe is a military oligarchy, not a democracy

By Kuda Bhejana

Ask this. Why did Robert Mugabe rule Zimbabwe for 37 years? How did Morgan Tsvangirai end up a powerless Prime Minister after defeating Robert Mugabe in the presidential elections of 2008 with at least 72 percent of the vote?

General Constantino Chiwenga and President Emmerson Mnangagwa
General Constantino Chiwenga and President Emmerson Mnangagwa

A hard look at the political events and power dynamics in Zimbabwe suggest that Zimbabwe is not a democracy. 

On face value Zimbabwe’s system of government appears to be a “constitutional democracy” where regular elections are held, and people vote for their leaders of choice. But if Mugabe stayed for 37 years, what do “elections” in Zimbabwe mean? What about the very idea that a “constitutional democracy” is governed according to the constitution?

Here is the truth. Zimbabwe is an oligarchy – a country ruled by a permanent unelected political elite. Few very powerful people make decisions for the masses of Zimbabwe, without constitutional representative mandate.

When an oligarchy is disguised as a democracy and it presides over the three arms of government; judiciary, legislature and executive – they are nuetralised, if not rendered useless completely.

The concept of “separation of powers” is nullified altogether because power is centralized by the oligarchy itself. “Democracy” becomes only but a tool to disguise the oligarchy’s monopoly on political power.

“Oligarchy” is a word derived from two Greek words; “oligos” meaning “few”, and “arkho” meaning “to rule or to command.” The rule of a few is what oligarchy means, as opposed to democracy, the rule of the masses.

Liberation Struggle

How did we get here, the reader might ask? Well, we were always here. That’s the frightening and depressing part. We have not moved.

Context is important. Zimbabwe’s political power was acquired through a war against the Rhodesian government.  

Creating “Zimbabwe”

Zanu-PF used the war of liberation to turn Zimbabwe into a military oligarchy. The fighters that fought in the war of liberation feel entitled to Zimbabwe as I will prove here. 

“Zimbabwe” is an idea that emerged in the 60s. When the white man came to the land we call Zimbabwe today, it was a collection of tribes. 

Zanu-PF war-era politicians regard Zimbabwe as their creation. 

They believe that they created a “Zimbabwean” out of an oppressed, stateless person under Rhodesian rule.

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Whilst some Zanu-PF leaders went into government in 1980, its military fighters went into the army.

The military is an institution. It’s a well-oiled organization built on strict hierarchy, protocols and rules. The military owns a lot of real estate in the form of army barracks. It’s also an institution with a lot of resources including tremendous weaponry, guns, tankers, aircrafts, etcetera. The military has various departments, all which are manned by very educated leaders within the military ranks.

A democrat’s prayer should always for these people to never thirst for political power. But Zimbabwe’s original sin is that it was created by military men and some of these men became politicians and bureaucrats.

Those that remained soldiers knew that real power rested inside their guns more than anywhere else. Power was not with the masses. The masses could not give power to politicians when they had no power. Only the military could give that power.

This is why Morgan Tsvangirai never became the president of Zimbabwe even though he was elected with more than 72 percent of the vote in 2008.

This is also why the army easily beat people when they fail to “toe the revolutionary line,” to quote Emmerson Mnangagwa. They feel like they are disciplining the citizen they created in the first place and has now become renegade.

Political violence is justified as a political reawakening exercise to reorient the citizen who is getting carried away and has started believing democracy in Zimbabwe is real when “democracy” only for the military oligarchy to achieve international credibility.

November 2017 coup

Mugabe was the force that successfully defined the lines between military and civilian aspects of the state. The problem was that he, at his will, or maybe bidding to their invisible pressure, would sometimes blur the line between soldiers and politicians. 

When it became clear that Mugabe would soon graduate from political life and would pass on the baton to a younger generation of politicians, retiring together with the “revolutionary” elements in both Zanu-PF and the military, they struck! They felt Mugabe was forgetting them and was becoming arrogant by refusing to anoint one of their own as his successor.

If you think by “Operation Restore Legacy” they meant Mugabe’s legacy you are mistaken. They meant their own legacy – that of a military oligarchy which shall rule forever.

With the ascendancy of Emmerson Mnangagwa to the presidency, the military-oligarchy has come out of the woods right into the forefront of Zimbabwean politics.

Army generals such as Constantino Chiwenga, Perrence Shiri, and Sibusiso Moyo were retired and given top government posts.

These are the men that toppled Mugabe.

They toppled Mugabe not so much because they knew he was unpopular. These are not democrats, they don’t care about popularity at all. They toppled him because he was becoming a danger to their interest.

You think they toppled Mugabe because they care for people? If they do, why did they force him from not resigning after he lost to Tsvangirai in 2008. Why did they steal an election for him in 2013?

So, you think they only realized Mugabe was a bad “dictator” after the 2013 elections?

All that glitters is not gold. Think about this.

Kuda Bhejana is a political analyst based in Washington DC. Follow him on Twitter @realbhejana.