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National dialogue must address endemic problems


Guest Column: Willard Chinhara

President Emmerson Mnangagwa has done well to open up for national dialogue in the wake of sustained political impasse and an unprecedented economic crisis. This indicates that national dialogue is the starting point in mapping out a lasting solution for the country’s perennial problems.

National dialogue is a complex process and in this regard, it is safe to submit that the localised initiative is a phase and not an end to that process. Therefore, in view of the call for national dialogue, it is important to avoid the myopic perception that the present national problems are new. Above all, it is critically important to avoid levying and blaming Western sanctions as the key source of Zimbabwe’s socio-economic and political problems.

Thus, it should be noted that there are endemic problems that can be dealt with through a holistic interrogation of underlying factors. In these circumstances, it is very dangerous to deal with the present problems without historical and future considerations. In this regard, it is imperative that the conceived national dialogue which is now work-in-progress, must uncompromisingly address national endemic problems without leaving a sting for future generations.

Present political establishment

The present political establishment which is affectionately dubbed the “New Dispensation” is a reincarnation of former President Robert Mugabe’s administration, whose formidability remains a legacy for the present administration. What makes the New Dispensation seemingly extraordinary is that it was underwritten by a professionally trained military junta that dethroned Mugabe through a coup d’état in November 2017. The same military junta and its erstwhile affiliates in the security sector and the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association, formed in April 1989, prolonged Mugabe’s reign until November 2017. It is not surprising that the same military junta has the capacity to maintain and prolong the present status quo. Thus, Zimbabwe’s security apparatus remains both the king-maker and the king-keeper. The reasons for the existence of a securocracy or counterintelligence State are many and varied.

The securocracy concept

According to historians and political commentators, one definition of a securocracy is that it is a political system “characterised by the presence of a large, elite force acting as watchdog of a security defined as broadly that the State must maintain an enormous vigilance and enforcement apparatus… This apparatus is not accountable to the public and enjoys immense police powers… Whether the civilian government is able to control the security bodies is an open question; indeed the civilian government is so penetrated by the apparatus that there is no clear distinction between the two.” An example of a securocracy was the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republic, in short the Soviet Union.

It is submitted that there was a massive security apparatus in the Soviet Union to prevent any opposition, and every facet of daily life fell into the domain of the Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti (KGB), translated in English as Committee for State Security (1954 to 1991). Undercover staff of the KGB included three major categories, namely:
The active reserve

The “trusted contacts” (or “reliable people”), and

“Civilian informers” (or “secret helpers”)

The “active reserve” included KGB officers with a military rank and worked undercover. Perhaps, Zimbabwe’s security apparatus closest to the KGB is the Joint Operations Command (Joc). The Joc is regarded as the supreme organ of State security in Zimbabwe. Its origins date back to the colonial era where it was established by the Rhodesian Security Forces to supervise its counter-insurgency campaign in the Rhodesian bush war (the Second Chimurenga) as well as external incursions into neighbouring countries such as Zambia and Mozambique. The Joc retained its functions in the post-independent Zimbabwe Defence Forces, and has since been accused of manipulating elections and orchestrating political violence. In 2008, the Joc was headed by then Minister of State Security, Didymus Mutasa. Mutasa was replaced soon after the Zimbabwean presidential election held on March 29, 2008 by then Minister of Rural Housing and Social Amenities, Emmerson Mnangangwa. The Joc has been widely accused of organising repression campaigns against both opposition parties and civil society. It has been claimed that in the wake of the Zimbabwean presidential election, the Joc took over control of the day-to-day decision-making of government, effectively operating as a military junta.

Security sector reforms

In view of the securocrats’ involvement in civilian governance, it would be incomplete to appraise Zimbabwe’s democracy and human rights record without considering the country’s security matrix. From time immemorial, there have been calls for security sector reforms.

The Sadc-mediated Global Political Agreement (GPA) of 2008 took into account the need for security sector reforms. Unfortunately, Sadc and the African Union (AU) did not put in place functional modalities for the effective implementation of such reforms.

The Joint Monitoring and Implementation Committee (Jomic) that was born out of the GPA proved ineffective due to a plethora of malfunctions. Jomic was a Zimbabwean multi-partisan panel launched on January 30, 2009, pursuant of the 2008 power-sharing deal between Zanu PF and the two MDC formations. What Sadc and the AU should have done was to resource their own independent technical team of experts to act as a valid apparatus for effective checks-and-balances and that would periodically submit progress reports to Sadc and the AU.

In view of the above, it is not surprising that the problems that were supposed to be solved between 2008 and 2013 culminated in the November 2017 coup d’état which dethroned Mugabe. Thus, past political blips should not be repeated in the present drive for national dialogue. Additionally, it is foolhardy to skirt around issues of national peace and reconciliation without addressing the root causes of national destabilisation. It is, however, regrettable that the November 2017 coup d’état was a missed national opportunity to address endemic national problems. The AU, Sadc and international community partners unfortunately overlooked the November 2017 developments.

The present Algerian affair is a case in point. Algeria’s President Abdelaziz Bouteflika (82), in power for 20 years, resigned after weeks of mass protests. He dropped plans to seek a fifth term as opposition to his rule grew. The powerful Algerian army called for the 82-year-old President to be declared incapable of carrying out his duties. He suffered a stroke six years ago and since then he has rarely appeared in public. It is reported that the demonstrations against Bouteflika called for the whole political system, in which the military plays a significant role, to be overhauled. It is yet to be seen what lies ahead of the Algerian political developments.

National dialogue boycott

Citing insincerity and neutrality deficiencies in the dialogue process, the MDC and other political parties have vowed not to be party to the national dialogue. Above all, the MDC maintains that the legitimacy question is unsettled. This is a sad situation as the country continues to plunge into a political and economic abyss. The national dialogue initiative should be encouraged. However, inclusivity must be encouraged and broadened to ensure that the dialogue carries the brand of a national process. It is no use for the main stakeholders to play hide-and-seek games amidst economic meltdown and mass impoverishment. A classical clue should be taken from the Tunisian experience.

In the wake of the 2011 Jasmine Revolution, a “Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet” was formed in the summer of 2013. The National Dialogue Quartet”, whose objective was to build a pluralistic democracy in Tunisia, comprised four organisations namely:

The Tunisian General Labour Union ( Union Generale Tunisienne du Travail);

The Tunisian Confederation of Industry, Trade and Handicrafts (UTICA, Union Tunisienne de I’Industrie, du Commerce et de I’Artisanat);

The Tunisian Human Rights League ( La Ligue Tunisienne pour la Defense des Droits de I’Homme); and

The Tunisian Order of Lawyers (Ordre National des Avocats de Tunisie).

It is interesting to note that despite subsequent difficulties, the National Dialogue Quartet was, on October 9 2015 awarded the 2015 Nobel Peace Prize.

Zimbabwe has greater chances for peace, stability and development. Parties to the national dialogue should call a spade a spade to avoid a national settlement of convenience that may crash along the way.

In other words, the national dialogue, by addressing endemic problems, must attempt to underwrite a good future for the coming generations. Thus, broad inclusivity and above all, unfeigned radicalism, are of paramount importance to ensure lasting solutions to Zimbabwe’s problems.

The result should be a true democracy.

Willard Chinhara is a political and socio-economic commentator. He writes in his personal capacity.

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