The tug-of-war between the Zimbabwean military and President Robert Mugabe has been celebrated across continents. But as a human rights defender, I don’t support military governments, and I will not support a military government in any country including Zimbabwe.
By Kapya Kaoma
Harare Mambo Band’s song, Mbuya Nehanda provides the rationale for the military takeover: “If you want self-rule, pick up the gun and rule,” the song argues.
Under Mugabe, this song is part of the Zanu PF revolution, the very revolution Zimbabwe Defence Forces Commander General Constantino Chiwenga seeks to perpetuate.
I personally opposed Mugabe’s brutality between 1998 and 2001, long before many Zimbabwean clergy did so. I was harassed, put under house arrest and finger-printed by Mugabe’s infamous Central Intelligence Organisation, and later forced out of Zimbabwe. I also witnessed people’s backsides sliced like bread by the military.
Yet, I would not endorse taking Mugabe out with a bullet. The truth is, without the military, dictatorship falls. Mugabe would have been replaced many years ago if Chiwenga and his colleagues did not intimidate the electorate or rig the elections in his favour!
It is clear the military “stepped in” because Mugabe expelled one of Chiwenga’s partners — it has nothing to do with the suffering of Zimbabweans. I fully understand and sympathise with the untold and dehumanising suffering Zimbabweans have endured at the hands of the military-sanctioned dictatorship.
The collapse of the economy and the health care system, the chaotic land distribution programme and its effect on food security; the untold levels of unemployment and extreme poverty turned the once admired nation into a ghetto. With military help, Mugabe grabbed farms, killed opposition supporters and exiled more than six million people. With military help, Mugabe rigged elections. This explains the excitement his downfall brings.
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It seems that Africa and the world have developed amnesia on African military governments. In 2000, General Paul Kagame took power in Rwanda. He was a highly celebrated war hero by Westerners and Africans alike following the genocide. Today, he is poised to be in power until 2036. To many Rwandans, President Paul Kagame is the late Ugandan President Idi Amin incarnate — extrajudicial killings, corruption, rampant human rights abuses, ethnic persecution, and nepotism characterise Kagame’s devilish regime. As for independent journalists, they rot in prison.
Yet, Ugandans celebrated General Idi Amini when he forcibly took over power in 1971 — but only for a short period. The very people, who danced as Amini paraded and killed his opponents, are the very ones who became victims of his brutal rule. Initially, the West supported Amin, and he became the very devil they created. We all know how it ended — the Ugandan President for life died in exile.
In 1986, General Yoweri Kaguta Museveni forcibly took over power. He was celebrated and admired by the West, but his rule has been characterised with corruption, rampant human rights abuses, political persecution, and nepotism. Ugandans want him gone like yesterday, but he is now the election-rigging general — ask any Ugandan.
In 1997, General Laurent Kabila was celebrated as a revolutionary leader after he overthrew another Congolese dictator, Mobutu Sese Seko Koko Ngbendu Wa Za Banga, who forcibly came to power in 1965. A beloved of the West, Mobutu was a vicious lion to his people. He promised to introduce democracy — but ruined his mineral-rich nation and killed millions.
As for Kabila, he renamed the nation the Democratic Republic of Congo — but ruled as a tyrant. After his assassination in 2001, his son, 28-year-old General Joseph Kabila took over power — he is still the president of the DRC. But democratic elections must wait, while ordinary people continue to die like grasshoppers.
I can go on and on, but the point is clear — the solution to Zimbabwe is not the military but democracy and the rule of law. Mugabe’s brutal rule was sustained by his military generals, among them, Chiwenga. Since independence, Zimbabwe has been a police state — Mugabe and his generals have had it all — they have killed at will.
The military solution will only disempower the country to forge its own democratic future. The installation of fired Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa as president will only extend the dictatorship. Mnangagwa may be loved by the military, but he could have been responsible for Gukurahundi killings “under Mugabe’s explicit orders”.
It is time we realised that dictatorship rides on the military, while democracy rides on the people. It is time Zimbabwe understood the power of the ballot over the bullet. As long as bullets are glorified over ballots, Zimbabwe will remain a dictatorship.