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David B. Moore: A future finely balanced between democracy and militarisation in Zimbabwe

By David B. Moore

Emmerson Mnangagwa’s inauguration as Zimbabwe’s second president and commander-in-chief consummated power for the main beneficiary of the November 2017 “soft” coup that forced Robert Mugabe’s long delayed retirement.

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

Zimbabwean scholar and activist Brian Raftopoulos’ remarks during a public meeting at the University of Cape Town five years ago come to mind.

As all were wondering what would happen in the weeks before the much-marred 2013 Zimbabwean election, Raftopoulos argued that Zimbabwe’s military-economic élite — a new capitalist class at an early stage — will not be removed just with elections.

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Mnangagwa’s next five years may see this prediction reach its endpoint. 

The classic dynamic in politics everywhere — the interplay between militarisation and democratisation — looms large.

The prospects for the next elections in 2023 (barring constitutional changes — possible because Zanu PF MPs make up more than the two-thirds in Parliament needed to change that hard-won document) could take stark contours.

It will be between increasing democratic participation — starting with the classic precepts of free and fair elections — or a securitisation process much less stealthy than before.

This is the most important point to consider about Zimbabwe’s medium-term prospects.

The others are moves within Zanu PF itself, dynamics within the MDC Alliance and what happens to the economy.

After the Constitutional Court’s ruling confirming Mnangagwa as the “duly” elected president, MDC Alliance leader Nelson Chamisa suggested that he and Mnangagwa needed a serious discussion that would lead to the breaking of Zimbabwe’s legacy of violent and jimmied elections.

It’s still an open question whether such a discussion would lead to a coalition government, or the space for the faction-ridden MDC Alliance to flex the muscles of a loyal opposition and to rebuild.

Its bad experience during the 2009-2013 “unity government” might militate against a repeat.

But the wider need to cushion the new régime from militarisation is worth considering.

The cautionary note to the MDC Alliance about any such new dispensation might be: don’t neglect your badly fractured party and its allies needing to be in the fold; and don’t sideline your enemies within precipitously.

Meanwhile, many among the MDC Alliance and its supporters fear the Zanu PF machine is poised to wipe them out permanently.

Much related to the above and perhaps the key, is Zanu PF itself. The battle between top party officials could be overdrawn, but the tragic killings of August 1 have thrown it into stark relief.

Ticking like a time bomb is the ruined economy. No real money and a gargantuan number of unemployed embedded in the precarious “informal sector”, if they’re not eking out a penurious peasant’s existence.

Their situation is so miserable that they are easily bribed — with flour and subsidised prices for their maize backed by intimidation from the chiefs — to vote.

The rulers’ faux pas against the demonstrators has worried even its dedicated supporters in the wider world.

The “West” dangled the slightly less rigorous chalice of Heavily Indebted Poor Country status in front of Mnangagwa’s finance bureaucrats before the elections.

Even though Zimbabwe is considered “too rich” for the easier debt-relief packages that comes with the status, broad hints were made. It’s doubtful if those whispers will get louder now.

In any case, as civil society activist Takura Zhangazha has written, IMF and World Bank policies are woefully inadequate for Zimbabwe’s problems: it is highly unlikely that its poor majority will be lifted to a decent life under their aegis. As for private investment: Zimbabwe will again be fair game for the cowboys —from the east as well as the west these days.

Zimbabwe is in a precarious position. Its immediate future rests under the sword of Damocles. The threads of democracy have to be thickened. One hopes the chronicle of its demise cannot be foretold.

– Moore is a Professor of Development Studies and visiting Researcher, Institute of Pan-African Thought and Conversation, University of Johannesburg.

This article was originally published in the Daily News (Zimbabwe)