SOLDIERS… Don’t shoot! We are just unarmed citizens!
BY DAVID MUTORI/BENJAMIN PARADZA
All we are trying to do is abide by Zimbabwe’s democratic Constitution that binds us all (including yourselves). However, we are increasingly confused by statements from your top ranks.
Recent media statements by Zimbabwe’s generals create the impression that there is a huge chasm between the generals’ view and that of ordinary citizens. The statements that are clearly addressed to citizens have left us confused about whose interests the generals are serving and which Constitution they are defending. Worse still, since the Commander-in-Chief has not rebuked his generals, we have to assume that he supports their views. We, the citizens of Zimbabwe, are deeply concerned.
There are fundamental problems with the view that only generals determine what is in the national interest and therefore approve who and who should not lead the country and still insist that they are abiding by the national Constitution. We question the very idea that only those who went to war can lead Zimbabwe:– that view is a violation of the democratic principles in our Constitution and was never the objective of the liberation struggle! Our Constitution talks about freedoms — not about straightjackets, warnings and consequences imposed by the military.
It is clear that some of our generals believe that their job includes taking command of citizens. However the mechanism through which our leaders communicate with us is governed by the Constitution (our contract with each other). Constitutionally, the military answers to the parliament and the parliament answers to the people. In the interest of national dialogue, we request the generals to clarify their views via our representatives which are the parliamentary committees responsible for security. However, before they do, and in order for us to have confidence in the generals, we feel that each one must make a conflict of interest declaration to reassure us that their role as our soldiers is not compromised by their other interests. We need reassurance that they are speaking to us as soldiers who serve the people. Such a conflict of interest declaration must answer the following questions:
Are you a member of a political party?
When you make announcements to the public, are you speaking as a representative of our army or as a representative of the political party that you support?
Have you or anyone related to you received any favours such as mining claims, farms, businesses etc. from a political party, organisation or individual perceived to be politically active?
If you are a member of a political party, can you state that such membership does not jeopardise your duty to serve all citizens regardless of their political affiliation?
Do you agree that as a national soldier, you are not to make any public pronouncements perceived to be in support of any political party or threatening to the public?
Are you aware that flagrant violation of the national Constitution will result in disciplinary measures against you or your instant dismissal?
When our military bypasses parliament (in peacetime and without suspending the Constitution) citizens get very concerned that their army is a parallel government or if indeed we live in a de-facto military dictatorship. We no longer know whether we should abide by the Constitution of Zimbabwe or military orders of the day. We hope the generals understand the huge difference between the two — one of these frameworks allows citizens to freely exercise their democratic rights while the other requires them to follow orders. We cannot have generals who pretend to be working under the national Constitution while they seek to control the public by giving unconstitutional orders.
It would be a very sad state of affairs if citizens feel that their gallant soldiers are the institution that is standing in the way of real post-independence freedom. While we appreciate their defence of the objectives of the liberation struggle, they must tell us what is wrong with pursuing a post-liberation agenda that addresses today’s challenges: civil rights, poverty, unemployment, cash shortages, road blocks, potholes, poor health, economic decline that are some of the root causes of today’s insecurity.
Are our generals’ interests really Zimbabwe’s interests? When they refer to the interests of ‘our people’ are they forgetting that we are those people and that we are mature enough to decide for ourselves and tell them what our interests are? It would be a very dysfunctional Zimbabwe if citizens felt that soldiers serve only one section of the citizenry and are there to be feared by everyone else.
During the liberation war, povo and freedom fighters co-existed as water and fish. Can you please tell us what has changed? As citizens, we demand that our army must be professionalised according to the Constitution. Every Zimbabwean has a right to aspire to be Zimbabwe’s next leader. This is not a matter to be dictated to us by soldiers. The number of those who fought during the liberation struggle is not increasing — rather, it is diminishing daily and one day we will wake up to the reality where all the liberators are gone. Are we going to shut down Zimbabwe when that happens? If anything, our liberators should be taking a back seat by now and letting the new generation take the nation forward. Soldiers who are unable to abide by the national Constitution must be retired.
We need soldiers who we respect, not thugs who we fear. It is only in a war situation or military dictatorship where soldiers are to be feared. Zimbabwe’s situation is none of the two. We do not want political soldiers in our barracks. Be men enough to surrender your uniforms and go into politics full time. It is your right to do so and this is not without precedent. The first black commander of the national army, General Solomon Mujuru, retired from the army after 10 years of professional service and went full time into politics and business. You cannot be a general and a politician or political activist at the same time.
We demand that all soldiers, without exception, should be educated in our national contract – the new Constitution. Those who find it too difficult to follow must go home. We will not miss you.
David Mutori is a UK-based economist and pro-democracy activist. He can be contacted on email@example.com.
Benjamin Paradza is the exiled judge of the High Court of Zimbabwe and president of Zunde. He can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org; wwwzunde.org; @zundezim