Bill Clinton, when once asked about what was the key issue in his 1992 election campaign, famously replied “its the economy stupid” – and it was. For all the experience that incumbent President George H Bush brought to the electorate, the fact remained that the US economy was faltering, which Clinton was savvy enough to understand – and he addressed it more effectively than Bush was able to. Clinton won the election.
There is no doubt that the Zimbabwean economy was a major issue in the election which occurred this past Monday 30 July, which must be addressed by all the leading contestants. After 38 years of ZANU PF misrule the economy is on its knees and the great potential of Zimbabwe is unrealised.
Although the economy grew during the brief period when the MDC was in charge of the economy between 2009 and 2013, since ZANU PF took over, total control again they have reversed whatever gains were achieved during that period. Zimbabweans are desperate for jobs to be created and whoever convinces them that they are better equipped to address their economic concerns will attract significant support.
However, the question remains whether this, in fact, is the key issue facing the electorate.
Was Mugabe solely to blame for the collapse of the Zimbabwean economy?
If our concern is the economy, we need to understand why the economy has been destroyed by ZANU PF. Emmerson Mnangagwa has tried to portray himself as a breath of fresh air; his rhetoric has been positive – he has promised to open up the economy, to tackle corruption and to repeal laws which have deterred foreign investment, such as the Indigenization Act. He has sought to distance himself from Mugabe and seeks to convince the electorate that Mugabe is to blame for all of Zimbabwe’s ills.
This narrative has been strengthened by the feud between the Lacoste and G40 factions within ZANU PF, which have distracted us all so much in the last few years. The opposition and civic society have also been distracted by this feud. When the G40 held sway, Lacoste was held responsible for our woes; since the November coup d’ état the new government under Mnangagwa has tried to convince Zimbabweans that the G40 was the source of all corruption and mismanagement. Even some foreign governments have bought into this propaganda, believing that ZANU PF under Mnangagwa will usher in a new enlightened era. Many in the business community have swallowed the bait, hook, line and sinker.
In recent weeks ZANU PF leaders have sought to go beyond the G40 group to blame Mugabe himself for the chaos which has befallen Zimbabwe since independence. In the last few weeks, the Herald has gone to the extent of “accusing” Nelson Chamisa of meeting Mugabe in Dubai, of wanting to appoint Grace Mugabe as Vice President. Whilst Chamisa has denied that he met Mugabe and that he has any intention of aligning with Grace Mugabe, the promotion of these falsehoods by the Herald and other State-owned media illustrates how ZANU PF believes that it can lay the blame on Mugabe.
There is no doubt that Mugabe must take the lion’s share of the blame for the collapse of the Zimbabwean economy, rampant corruption and the gross human rights abuses which are the hallmark of his rule for 37 years. However, can it be said that Mugabe is solely to blame and that Mnangagwa and the military establishment who support him can be exonerated? To be precise, has the military itself played any role in the collapse of the Zimbabwean economy?
The role of the military leadership in destroying the Zimbabwean economy
Act 1 : The DRC
In August 1998 Mugabe and the military command agreed to commit ZNA troops to the DRC. Thus started the Second Congo War which lasted five years and cost the lives, conservatively estimated, of at least 860 000 people. It became the deadliest war in African history, eventually involving nine African countries. But none was more committed to the war than Zimbabwe. Some 3 000 ZNA troops, supported by combat aircraft and armoured vehicles, were deployed immediately under the leadership of former Fifth Brigade commander Perence Shiri, who was then an Air Marshal in command of the Airforce of Zimbabwe. Some reports allege that as many as 13000 troops were deployed.
We shall never know the true cost of this deployment but it cost the nation dearly. It also profited a ruling elite within the military greatly. It is pertinent to recall what the UN Panel Chaired by Ambassador Mahmoud Kassem of Egypt reported to the Secretary-General Kofi Annan on the 16th October 2002 about the “plundering of DRC natural resources”.
This report describes how an elite network of Congolese and Zimbabwean political, military and commercial interests “transferred ownership of at least US$ 5 billion of assets from the State mining sector to private companies under its control….. The key strategist for the Zimbabwean branch of the elite network is the Speaker of the Parliament and former National Security Minister, Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa.”
This report has never been refuted by those implicated. It is significant that several of those implicated as being part of this network are the same people brought into Cabinet by Mnangagwa. General Sibusiso Moyo, who was the face of the November 2018 coup is now Foreign Minister. Air Marshall Perence Shirinow holds the critically important Lands Ministry. But the critical point is that the deployment of troops was paid for by Zimbabwean taxpayers, and Zimbabwean soldiers lost their lives, while senior officers and leaders profited enormously.
Act 2 : the violence associated with the land reform programme
The DRC operations were in the late 1990s and early 2000s. But that isn’t all the military were involved in during the early 2000s. The violent land invasions which commenced in March 2000 were remarkably well coordinated countrywide. Although there was no obvious involvement of uniformed soldiers, the well-planned operations uniformly implemented across Zimbabwe were done with military precision. When, for example, white commercial farmer Martin Olds was murdered on 18 April 2000 in Nyamandlovu the manner of the assault on his homestead bore all the marks of the military. Although the propaganda at the time described Old’s assailants as war veterans, the people who besieged Old’s farmhouse used current military weapons and tactics. Many of the best commercial farms in Zimbabwe were handed over to senior military officers and they still remain in possession of those farms. ZANU PF would never have been able to wage their violent land reform programme without the support of the military, whose senior officers once again profited handsomely from the policy.
Act 3: the 2008 election violence
Fast forward to the 2008 elections. It is now common knowledge that Mugabe, having lost to Morgan Tsvangirai in the first round of elections, was tired and prepared to throw in the towel. In the six weeks that it took to announce the “results” the military regrouped, persuaded Mugabe to stay on and contest the election. What followed was a massive deployment of the military throughout Zimbabwe, but particularly in areas which traditionally had voted for ZANU PF, but did not vote for them in the March 2008 general election. There have been numerous credible human rights reports published about the involvement of the military.
These reports document the role of people like then Brigadier GeneralSibusiso Moyo who was assigned the Midlands Province. Investigations by international human rights watchdog, Human Rights Watch (HRW), also implicated the military in widespread electoral abuses. In a report, HRW stated that the scale of military attacks exceeded “anything seen previously during Zimbabwe’s long history of electoral violence”. Soldiers carried out scores of attacks in Harare and surrounding townships. The military takeover resulted in “an explosion in the level of violence in Zimbabwe”. Such was the violence that Morgan Tsvangirai was forced to withdraw from the election and Mugabe won by default.
Act 4 – Mugabe becomes a civilian political fig leaf
Critically, however, at this point in history, a marked shift in power occurred. Prior to this Mugabe undoubtedly wielded more raw power than the military. From March 2008 onwards Mugabe effectively became a civilian fig leaf covering de facto military rule. Although never described that way, what happened between March 2008 and June 2008 was, in reality, the first coup d’ état suffered by Zimbabwe. Mugabe then became subject to the whims of the military hierarchy, even though he, as I will show later, himself ironically forgot where the real power lay to his ultimate folly.
Act 5 – The military junta’s involvement in Marange diamond fields
At the same time the military restored Mugabe’s rule, the wealth of the Marange alluvial diamond fields became apparent. A company, African Consolidated Resources PLC, had obtained an exclusive prospecting order over the diamond fields but were elbowed out by a variety of means. Seven companies, Marange Resources, Anjin Investments Ltd., Diamond Mining Company, Gyn Nyame Resources, Jinan Mining Ltd., Kusena Diamonds, and Mbada Diamonds, ultimately got control of the Marange diamond fields, many of them affiliated with the military hierarchy. To consolidate their grip in November 2008 Airforce of Zimbabwe (then under the direction of Perance Shiri) helicopter gunships were used to fire on small-scale miners. It was alleged at the time that some 150 miners were shot by these gunships.
During the period that the GNU operated between February 2009 and August 2013 there was a parallel economy with diamond proceeds not coming into the central fiscus. There are numerous credible reports and other documents which show that massive profits were generated at this time, very little of which found itself in government coffers. What is clear is that the military hierarchy benefitted greatly from the Marange diamond operations, although the precise figures are still not known.
The military as a Corporation
The key point flowing from this is that the Marange diamond operations consolidated the transformation of the military into a Corporation. In other words, as it had done in the DRC the military went way beyond its core Constitutional mandate of being a body responsible for the defence of Zimbabwe to a Corporation involved in business, which appears to almost exclusively benefitted its directors, being the military hierarchy. There is no evidence that the vast profits generated by the military’s diamond mining in both the DRC and Marange ever trickled down to benefit rank and file soldiers.
Although the military role in the 2013 election was not as obvious as it was 2008, the military played a major role in ZEC and there is evidence that diamond proceeds were used to subvert the electoral process and result. There is no doubt that without the military’s assistance Mugabe and ZANU PF would not have won the 2013 election. Furthermore, given Mugabe’s age and rapidly declining grip on the affairs of State, his power vis a vis the military continued to decline. As such his role as a civilian fig leaf continued and his real power lessened even more.
Mugabe and Grace’s folly – not appreciating where the true power lay
However, very few people understood where the real power lay, including Mugabe himself and certainly his wife Grace. Indeed nearly all of us, including me, were so distracted by the intra ZANU PF factional battle between the Lacoste faction and the G40 that we were distracted and lost sight of the fact the real power behind the throne was the military hierarchy. Another serious error was made in surmising that the divisions within ZANU PF were mirrored in the military. I certainly made that error of judgment. In warning of a “perfect storm” through 2016 and 2017, I assumed that the military was just as divided as ZANU PF and that there would be an awful conflagration when one faction in ZANU PF asserted its authority over the other.
Clearly, Mugabe made that error of judgement himself. Grace Mugabe also assumed that the military would never dare challenge her husband’s authority, not realising who in fact was in command. In this regard, it is clear that when Mugabe fired Mnangagwa at the behest of his wife he assumed that General Chiwenga and the rest of the military would obey him. When that didn’t materialise and Mugabe was forced to try to effect Chiwenga’s arrest on his return from China, Mugabe must have assumed that the remainder of the military command would side with him as President against General Chiwenga. As we now know they didn’t and Chiwenga’s subordinates foiled Chiwenga’s arrest.
Operation “restore legacy” – or Operation “restore the military elite’s interests”?
At the time that information was not in the public domain and so I was surprised as most people were when General Chiwenga held a press conference on Tuesday the 14th November flanked by nearly all his senior officers in both the army and air force. The only arm of the disciplined forces which didn’t fall in line was the ZRP. The divisions which we had seen within ZANU PF and which I assumed would appear also appear in the military, along ethnic or political lines, did not appear. The interests of the military hierarchy clearly transcended the factions within ZANU PF. In other words, the military corporation’s interests were being threatened and it responded to protect its interests, not so much ZANU PF’s.
After the coup, it was critical for the facade of civilian rule to be restored as quickly as possible. The junta went to a military judge in the High Court, Judge Chiweshe, to get him to rule that the coup was lawful. ZANU PF held its Congress and Emmerson Mnangagwa was elected to replace Mugabe. Mnangagwa appointed his new Cabinet which further revealed where the true power lay – Sibusiso Moyo, the face of the coup, was brought in as Foreign Minister; Perance Shiri was brought into the critical Minister of Lands post.
Where the real power lies today – Mnangagwa is the new political fig leaf
But it was in the appointment of Chiwenga in December 2017 that we saw where the real power lay. Chiwenga was appointed 2nd Secretary of ZANU PF at its Congress on the 15th December and I assumed that his appointment as Vice President of Zimbabwe would follow quickly. But there was a delay until 23 December when he and Kembo Mohadi were appointed Vice Presidents. Then on 28 December, when sworn in as Vice President, it was announced that Chiwenga would also be in charge of Defence. This demonstrated where the real power lay. In making this appointment, Mnangagwa breached the Constitution – section 215 states clearly that the President “MUST appoint a Minister of Defence”. Section 203 states that a Vice President “cannot hold any other office”. In other words Mnangagwa was obliged to appoint a substantive Minister of Defence and could not lawfully appoint someone who simply oversaw the Ministry. Mugabe had previously stretched the meaning of the Constitution to appoint Mnangagwa as Vice President and the person who oversaw the Ministry of Justice, because there is no Constitutional obligation for a President to appoint a Minister of Justice. But there is no ambiguity in the Constitution regarding the Minister of Defence. So Mnangagwa found himself between a rock and a hard place – he could not politically appoint Chiwenga to the position of a mere Minister of Defence or a Vice President without any real power, and yet he could not lawfully appoint Chiwenga to be both Vice President and the person in charge of the military. So he decided just to brazenly ignore the Constitution. There is a further political footnote to this move: in making this appointment, Mnangagwa stripped ex ZAPU member Kembo Mohadi of the Ministry of Defence and Security role (a powerful position) and made him a weak Vice President with responsibility for national healing. Put simply this was the illegal concentration of enormous power in the hands of Chiwenga. The delay in this appointment between the 15 and 28 December suggests that there was considerable political manoeuvering behind the scenes – a battle which Chiwenga and the junta won.
Since then there is little to suggest that Mnangagwa is any less a political fig leaf than Robert Mugabe was. The power matrix created by the November coup has not changed. But for the military coup, Mnangagwa would still be in exile and he is entirely dependent on the support of the military hierarchy to remain in power. The Cabinet is dominated by the same military figures involved in the DRC, the 2008 political violence and the Marange diamond fields – namely Chiwenga,Shiri and SibusisoMoyo. I have deliberately not mentioned Gukurahundi, but it must be stated in this context than Chiwengaand Shiri were also the two principal army commanders most responsible for those atrocities. Chiwenga, then called Dominic Chinenge, was the Commander of 1 Brigade which provided all the logistical support needed by the notorious North Korean trained 5 Brigade commanded by Shiri. Mnangagwa was the Minister in charge of the CIO (Zimbabwe’s secret police) which provided intelligence to the 5 Brigade which resulted in the decimation of Joshua Nkomo’s ZAPU party structures. The events they were responsible in Matabeleland between January 1983 and June 1984 were crimes against humanity. In other words, the same two principal military commanders who have engineered violence in Zimbabwe for the last 38 years are still there. Without their support Mnangagwa is powerless.
The choice which the Zimbabwean electorate faced on Monday 30 July
Mnangagwa and ZANU PF
Since being ushered into office after the November coup, Mnangagwa has described his government as a “new dispensation”, committed to “zero tolerance to corruption”, being “open to business”. He has dressed himself up to appear warm and cuddly – his now trademark scarf is designed to project that image. He has said that he wants Zimbabwe to rejoin the Commonwealth and that he is committed to “free, fair and credible elections”.
The problem is that there is a vast gulf between his rhetoric and his government’s actions. Firstly, this is not a “new dispensation” – Mnangagwa himself has been at Mugabe’s side for 38 years and was his most trusted lieutenant. His Cabinet is made up of men who have been at the forefront of crimes against humanity and the destruction of the Zimbabwean economy. He has hardly any women in his Cabinet and few under the age of 65.
Secondly, his claim that he has zero tolerance towards corruption is risible. His first act as President was to select some of the most corrupt men in Zimbabwe to senior positions in Cabinet. The only prosecutions to combat corruption have been against former ZANU PF opponents within the G40 faction. His move to create a special corruption task force has been placed within his Cabinet office, not under the prosecutorial authority. As Nelson Chamisa stated recently, having hope in Mannagwa’s policy to combat corruption is rather like expecting a mosquito to be able to cure malaria.
Thirdly, his claim to be open to business is clearly restricted to large foreign investments in the mining sector, which in Zimbabwe has been notoriously susceptible to corruption. Nothing has changed on the ground to help local businessmen and in fact, the business environment has worsened during his 8 months in office. The situation has been compounded by populists moves. Vice President Chiwenga has told urban residents not to pay their rates. Recently the military, followed by the civil service, was awarded a large salary increase further exacerbating the budget deficit. Government spending continues apace. Finally, ZANU PF has spent millions on their campaign and one wonders where all this foreign exchange to purchase new vehicles has come from when every other business sector is starved for cash.
Finally, his promises to respect the rule of law and to allow a “free, fair and credible” election have become farcical. The ZEC Chair he appointed has been arguably the worst ever. ZEC has systematically broken the Constitution, the Electoral Act and its Regulations in a brazen way, clearly designed to facilitate Mnangagwa’s election. State-owned media such as the ZBC, Herald and Chronicle has also brazenly breached their Constitutional obligations to be impartial and, if anything, in recent weeks, have got far worse. All of these are harbingers of how Mnangagwa will respect the Constitution after the election if he is helped to victory by ZEC. The deployment of the military countrywide in the real areas to intimidate people demonstrates that Zimbabwe simply cannot be free in future under the military junta.
My view is that a win for Mnangagwa and ZANU PF will simply perpetuate military junta rule, corruption and abuse of power. It may be that Mnangagwa himself has had a damascene experience but that clearly hasn’t happened to the likes of Chiwenga, Shiri and others in his Cabinet.
Layers of lipstick on a Pig
Zimbabweans have been bombarded with propaganda in the last few months favouring Mnangagwa and denigrating MDC Alliance candidate Chamisa. I have argued for weeks that ZANU PF has clearly engaged a sophisticated western PR firm to persuade Zimbabweans, diplomats and potential investors that the new regime is, in fact, a “new dispensation”; a reformed group of people who will transform Zimbabwe. The fancy billboards, the colourful scarves, the fine sounding rhetoric and clever advertisements are all part of a sustained campaign, no doubt costing millions, designed to dupe the Zimbabwean public. The same PR experts, in conjunction with the Zimbabwean State-owned media, have done everything in their power to portray Chamisa as a young clown who is unfit to govern. They have twisted what he said, refused to report on his rallies attracting thousands across the country and ridiculed his statements in which he has raised genuine concerns about the fraudulent and illegal electoral process and other matters.
In fact, these are all simply layers of lipstick on a pig. And the pig isn’t Mnangagwa, – he is just another layer of lipstick – the pig is, in fact, the junta. A junta is defined as “a military or political group that rules a country after taking power by force”. There are few historical examples where juntas have helped nations. Because of the inherently violent nature of these types of regimes, they do not respect the rule of law and constitutionalism. It is a tragic myth that Zimbabwe can possibly be better in the hands of this small group of men who have wrought so much harm to Zimbabwe over 38 years.
If Zimbabwe is to move forward, we need to understand what this election was and is all about – “it’s the junta – stupid”. If we do not end the rule of the junta, the misery of Zimbabweans will continue. The person and party best placed to end that is Nelson Chamisa and the MDC Alliance.
In the early hours of the morning 3 August, the chairperson of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) declared Mr Mnangagwa to have been elected as President of Zimbabwe. The election has once again been stolen from the people of Zimbabwe by a military regime.
The people of Zimbabwe have voted wisely and bravely and we will fight to have their votes count. The MDC Alliance is working with a collection of international human rights lawyers to file a Presidential election petition.
Democracy can only be truly lost when no one is looking. My plea is that the international community and our neighbours see what is happening in Zimbabwe, so that our outrage and suffering is echoed around the world.
God bless Zimbabwe. DM
David Coltart is an MDC-Alliance member and former Zimbabwean Cabinet Minister.