Caution: The enemy shoots the decoy

Sadc Electoral Observer Mission to Zimbabwe head Nevers Mumba

TODAY’S philosophical point is ideally that the enemy is countered on speed and determination.

The thinking is that political players, especially those in Zimbabwe’s opposition normally focus on the ruling party, opposition politicians or supporters, and not the real diversionary agenda.

"Caution: The enemy shoots the decoy" is a metaphorical statement that signifies a strategic manoeuvre or diversion employed in political and democratic contexts.

In this scenario, the "enemy" represents opposing political forces or individuals who seek to undermine a particular democratic or constitutional agenda or narrative using grand political means. The "decoy" is a symbolic figure or tactic used to divert the enemy's attention or resources away from the true objective.

Unlike the usual focus of "shooting the messenger," which typically involves punishing or discrediting individuals, who deliver unwelcome news or information, such as has been done to Nevers Mumba, the Head of the Sadc Observer Mission through a televised documentary.

"Shooting the decoy" involves creating a deliberate distraction or smokescreen to divert attention from the core issue or objective. This tactic is often used in the realm of politics and democratic philosophy to manipulate public perception, sway public opinion, or disrupt the opposition's plans.

Shooting the decoy

In the wake of the ongoing Sadc processes related to Zimbabwe's political landscape as well as discussions from think-tanks seemingly connected to Zanu PF or neutrals, it is crucial for the opposition to reframe its concerns and strategies effectively.

Opposition politicians often struggle to internalise and communicate the concept of "shooting the decoy" to their supporters, hindering their ability to engage in constructive peace dialogues and connect with think tanks.

This lack of acumen in political imaging and strategy can disrupt their strategic balance, leading to stretched tensions and negative messaging.

Instead of focusing solely on perceived electoral victories or defeats, the opposition should seize the opportunity presented by the Sadc processes to reframe their concerns.

By prioritising dialogue, cooperation, and engagement with think-tanks, they can shift the narrative towards peaceful conflict resolution and democratic progress.

This approach allows them to avoid the destructive cycle of conversational frenzy noticed in some inter-actor peace dialogues recently and emphasises their commitment to transparent, inclusive, and democratic governance, aligning with the broader goals of the Sadc processes.

Why the caution?

In navigating complex political landscapes, it is essential to employ a rational approach that includes mapping theories of change, utilising situation rooms, and fostering camaraderie while avoiding frustration-driven thinking.

From the standpoint of political and democratic philosophy, the concept of "shooting the decoy" poses vital ethical and normative (constitutional) questions about the principles underlying political strategies.

It emphasises the possibility that political actors when on edge engage in extreme political realism as part of tactical diversions and manipulations to achieve their objectives, potentially undermining transparency, and accountability.

In such instances, political leaders should steer clear of group-think and instead engage in critical thinking and discernment when evaluating political narratives and agendas.

This highlights the imperative of ensuring that genuine issues are not overshadowed by strategic decoys, offering a sobering reminder of the intricate and dynamic nature of political manoeuvring within democratic societies, where the quest for power and influence often involves both overt and covert strategies.

Pipe dreaming, gut-level reasoning

The opposition should be mindful of political self-talks listedabove. In the context of the Zimbabwean election impasse between Zanu PF and the opposition Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC), the role of the Sadc Troika takes centre stage.

An extraordinary discussion was held and both political parties are expected to do the needful. The expected procedure is that the Sadc Troika would send its report and actionable recommendations to President Emmerson Mnangagwa, as leader of the Zanu PF government and to the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) as the administrative body responsible for conducting elections in Zimbabwe.

As the Troika prepares to send its report, the opposition CCC and its supporters must strategically embed the concept of "shooting the decoy" within this matrix to navigate the complex political landscape.

Firstly, the opposition CCC should recognise that the report sent to President Mnangagwa represents a potential decoy tool in the broader political narrative. While the report's focus may be on the contested election results, it could be used as a distraction from deeper issues related to electoral transparency, fairness, and democratic governance.

CCC must ensure that they do not become entangled in the decoy but maintain their focus on the core principles of democracy and electoral integrity. By highlighting the need for transparent electoral processes and accountability, they can redirect the narrative to the fundamental issues at hand.

Secondly, CCC and its supporters should be prepared for potential diversions or smokescreens created by the government or the elections administrative body, Zec, if any.

The government's response or lack, thereof, may serve as another potential decoy to divert attention from electoral concerns. CCC must strategically communicate to the public and international community, emphasising the importance of a comprehensive and unbiased assessment of the election process.

By doing so, they can avoid being drawn into peripheral debates and maintain their steadfast commitment to democratic principles. In that case, a room is opened for proactive diplomacy with regional and international stakeholders, ensuring that the core issues of electoral fairness and democratic governance remain at the forefront of democracy and democratisation efforts in Zimbabwe.

This approach will help prevent the opposition from being sidelined or distracted by decoy tactics and enable them to drive the discourse toward genuine electoral reform and democratic progress even when there is attrition through hybrid warfare.

Attrition through hybrid warfare

In the context of hybrid warfare related to elections, "shooting the messenger" takes on a strategic dimension. Hybrid warfare often involves a combination of conventional military tactics, irregular warfare, disinformation campaigns, and political manipulation.

When opposition parties or independent observers raise concerns about electoral irregularities or manipulation, they can be perceived as messengers bearing unwelcome news for the ruling party.

In such cases, the ruling party may resort to tactics aimed at discrediting or undermining the credibility of these messengers, thereby, diverting attention from the underlying issues of electoral fairness and integrity.

This tactic aligns with the broader goals of hybrid warfare, where the information domain becomes a battleground, and the control of narratives and perceptions is paramount.

The opposition's engagement with Zanu PF from the perspective of informed intelligence on hybrid warfare is crucial for several reasons. Firstly, understanding the dynamics of hybrid warfare allows opposition parties to anticipate and counter the tactics employed by the ruling party and external actors who may seek to influence election outcomes.

This informed approach empowers the opposition to navigate the complex landscape of information warfare, disinformation campaigns, and political manipulation effectively.  Secondly, engaging with Zanu PF on issues related to hybrid warfare can lead to constructive dialogue and the establishment of mechanisms to safeguard the integrity of the electoral process.

By addressing the root causes of electoral manipulation and disinformation, both parties can work towards creating a more transparent and trustworthy electoral environment.

This approach aligns with democratic principles and can help build confidence in the electoral process among voters and the international community.

Military intervention in Zimbabwe

Social media reportage in Zimbabwe generally shows that there are people, who think the military should intervene to resolve the election impasse between Zanu PF and CCC.

The idea that the military should intervene to resolve the election impasse between Zanu PF and CCC in Zimbabwe is a complex and contentious one. While some individuals may see military intervention to break the deadlock and restore stability, it raises serious concerns related to democratic principles, civilian control of the military, and the potential for human rights abuses.

This notion of military intervention can be seen as an example of "shooting the messenger" in the sense that it diverts attention from the underlying electoral issues by advocating for a drastic, non-democratic solution to the impasse.

By calling for the military's involvement, proponents of this idea may inadvertently be shooting the decoy, as the core issues of electoral fairness and transparency could be sidelined in favour of an authoritarian approach.

From a democratic perspective, military intervention in the electoral process is generally considered undesirable and should only be considered in the most extreme cases, such as when there is a threat to national security.

Zimbabwe, like many democracies, should prioritise peaceful, negotiated solutions to political disputes and adhere to constitutional and legal mechanisms for resolving election-related conflicts.

The challenge of hybrid tactics

In dealing with the deadlock, we have heard about planned succession by 2025 if Sadc processes prove otherwise especially from Ibbo Mandaza and Trevor Ncube discussions in at In Conversation with Trevor. While they claim associational information, the concept of training a soldier by creating an image of the enemy is an age-old strategy in warfare.

In the past, successful fighters would position themselves strategically to minimise the risk of defeat and patiently await opportunities to overcome the enemy.

The ultimate art of war from war strategies like Sun Tzu was seen as subduing the enemy without engaging in direct combat, recognising that true victory lay in breaking the enemy's resistance without resorting to battle.

However, modern warfare encompasses various types, from asymmetric and conventional conflicts to terrorism and hybrid warfare, each requiring a different approach.  Notably, not every enemy can be subdued without a fight, especially in the context of hybrid warfare, where the fusion of financial power and politics often prevails. Zimbabwe’s elections have been seen as war by another means.

Jonathan Moyo's insight into near hybrid warfare by opposition sheds light on the opposition's challenges in Zimbabwe. By emphasising that claims based on 'the intelligence of the public' or 'the wisdom of the masses' can be dangerous and anti-intellectual, Moyo highlights a critical issue.

The opposition often struggles due to a lack of coherent strategy and the tendency to rely on collective intelligence that may not always align with their goals.

Moyo's philosophy underscores the importance of countering hybrid warfare tactics, where alliances can shift, and former allies become adversaries.

While democratic reasoning is rooted in collective intelligence, the need to address majoritarian dilemmas and protect minority perspectives remains crucial to preserving the principles of democracy as contemplated by multiparty politics in Zimbabwe.

I would recommend using caution as we move forward, including when dealing with non-state actors who help to channelise our hurt over democratic processes. Discretion is the application of the mind.

  • Hofisi is a lawyer, conversationalist and trans disciplinary researcher. He has interests in governance and international law. — [email protected]


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