July 30 elections: The people, Chamisa and military factor

GIVEN MDC Alliance leader Nelson Chamisa’s surging rise and excitement of Zimbabwe’s electoral politics ahead of the July 30 general election, and his vow to defend the people’s vote in the event of proven manipulation, Zimbabwe, the region and the international community should be prepared to rein in the military to avoid a possible conflict, considering their previous efforts in blocking a democratic breakthrough.

Pedzisai Ruhanya & Bekezela Gumbo

Zimbabwe has entered another “critical juncture” in history, whose correct perception and accurate arrest by transition agents is a prerequisite to entering a successful transition in the political economy of the nation state.

Yet this transition is marred by fears, irreconcilable interests and a vacuum in pre-emptive conflict prevention measures which together leave the perception of entrapment of this transition in a “conflict maze” a very persuasive likelihood in the day after July 30.

The decisive role of the military in the fall of former president Robert Mugabe in November 2017 should guide us in understanding its unquestionable, but undesirable role in Zimbabwe. Its partisan role in the party or state complex to perpetuate Zanu PF rule is a serious cause for concern especially where the defeat of the ruling party is a real prospect.

The latest opinion polls conducted by the Mass Public Opinion Institute in May and July 2018 show that the preference of Movement for Democratic Change Alliance presidential candidate Chamisa as the next president is rising every day among registered voters, and citizens are convinced that the Zimbabwe Election Commission (Zec) is biased and will give manipulated poll results.

This came after a survey done by Zimbabwe Democracy Institute in July 2018 revealed that Zanu PF has utilised military deterrence to intimidate electorates in rural and farming communities. A coalition of these realities has intensified fear of a perceptible “Operation Defend Legacy” among many Zimbabweans as they imagine the day after July 30.

This has served citizens with a double-dose of fear; on one hand is a nightmare of possible military reprisals in the “operation restore Emmerson Mnangagwa”, whereas, on the other hand, is the fear of a brazen hijack of the people’s will by the military and its compradors (Zec, Zanu PF, judiciary) in the “operation defend legacy.”

It is therefore plausible to posit that Zimbabweans, if not assisted by conflict prevention actors, are left alone to make a tough choice between two evil options; either to risk the peace to defend the will of the people or betray the will of the people for peace.

Goliath on the road

Robinson and Acemoglu (2012) submitted that the timely perception and capture of a “critical juncture”, defined as “any event in history that disrupts the status quo within which to initiate political reforms requisite for socio-economic prosperity”, is a prerequisite to instituting a successful politico-economic transition.

This “ripeness” of a political system comes once in many years and the most unfortunate fact in Zimbabwe is that transition agents have been consistently outsmarted by the military elite in the perception and capture of this moment. Military elites have been very accurate in identifying, locating and hijacking Zimbabwe’s “critical juncture” necessary for politico-economic transition to take place.

As it stands now, Zanu PF is not the Goliath blocking Chamisa’s road to the State House anymore, but the Zimbabwean military elite is, and they have done that before: in the June 2008 presidential election run-off when soldiers were deployed to campaign for former president Mugabe through coercive tactics that included egregious and colossal human rights violations. The same Goliath has kept the politico-economic transition in Zimbabwe trapped in what Schedler (2002) called a “foggy-zone” since the early 2000s.

To put this vividly clear, it is germane to consider these questions:

l Who displaced around 2,4 million of the urban population in 2005 at a “critical” transition juncture?;

l Who hijacked the people’s will at a “critical juncture” when many within Zanu PF had begun accepting defeat following the March 2008 election?; and
l Who stopped self-destruction in Zanu-PF that was a “critical juncture” likely to culminate in the victory of the people in November 2017?

The answer points to Zimbabwe’s military elites who captured Zanu PF from Mugabe in November 2017. These military elites have taken the country through a series of “operations”, whose ultimate end has consistently and effectively blocked a democratic breakthrough in Zimbabwe.

People, military, Chamisa

Given the above restatement of the transition problem and its undoubted causal factor, it is important to again reiterate that, currently, the same military elites have identified the “critical juncture” inherent in July 30 2018 polls and are working round the clock to capture it and block a possible democratic transition and breakthrough.

As a matter of fact, the military has not yet made a public announcement withdrawing their 2002 statement that “he who has no liberation struggle credentials shall not rule Zimbabwe.”

This public pronouncement was made through the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) television and radio stations.

If this patently unconstitutional posture were to be undone, it should be reversed through the ZBC and its various channels that propagated the undemocratic utterances. Pre-election opinion poll surveys have shown that people within and without Zanu PF are increasing in numbers to push for a “Chamisa-in-the-State House” agenda and the same Chamisa neither has liberation struggle credentials nor is he a trusted, tried and tested comprador of the interests of the military elites. How then can we justify anyone’s dream about a peaceful transfer of power from Mnangagwa and Chiwenga — the leading military elite — to Chamisa?

What this means is that a Chamisa victory is most likely to induce another military “operation defend legacy” — the legacy of keeping power in the hands of military elites and their civilian comrades. This might come in two forms: They can either cause “their” Zec to announce a wrong election result to ensure Mnangagwa a continued stay in power, which is most likely and least dangerous, or support a brazen refusal to leave State |House by its compradors, which is the least likely and most dangerous.
This is the most unprofitable and deplorable scenario in and for Zimbabwe as it will give birth to an inevitable and possible “conflict episode” that should be prevented by both domestic and international players.

Looming conflict episode

The military factor, which is the only likely impediment to power transition in the event that Chamisa wins the July 30 2018 election, will introduce Zimbabwe to a grotesque “conflict episode”. The logic behind foreseeing this eventuality is that the people of Zimbabwe have tasted and confirmed that they are the guarantors of political legitimacy and they can transfer power from one leader to another through whatever means effective.

This lesson was learnt following the manner with which the international community tolerated (treated) a military coup d’état in November 2017 on grounds that it was the will of the people. The same people have therefore been reminded of their natural right to determine who must be their leader, when and how—even if this is done outside institutionalised procedures of the state.

Zimbabwe is therefore on the brink of a very ugly conflict which cannot be avoided without dealing with the military factor at hand. Unlike the late opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, who in 2008 chose peace over the people’s will, Chamisa has vowed to die defending the people’s will with the people following the judgement of “the court of public opinion” and “shut-down” cities.

An analysis of Chamisa’s past shows that he is no “bluffer” but a trustworthy “promise” keeper. He promised Zec demonstrations and kept that promise. In his early years in the struggle as a student leader, he distinguished himself as a man who keeps to his word.

Should a conflict between military elites and the people erupt, the army chiefs have the onus to either stoke the flames or avoid the conflict. However, since absolute power corrupts absolutely, it is very likely that because of it and greed thereof, they either do not see this coming, underestimate this possibility or are bent on risking it in the name of power retention. Most preferable is that they be assisted in avoiding the conflict.

Wake-up call

Since key actors, causal factors and vested interests at play in possible electoral conflict have been spelt out clearly, it is important for key regional and international conflict prevention mechanisms to be put in place to avoid a tussle between the people and the military elites. Sadc, AU and the UN should closely assess these realities and take action to prevent the damaging situation from proliferating right before their noses.

They should have their eyes on the military elites because they are the main factor in whose hands lays the decision as to whether to prevent a nasty conflict or plunge the nation into chaos. It is not too late for regional and international bodies to impress upon the military that what they did in June 2008 and November 2017 when they directly determined the political leadership of Zimbabwe is undemocratic and therefore unacceptable.

Ruhanya is a post-doctoral research fellow with the University of Johannesburg in South Africa and Gumbo is the principal researcher at the Zimbabwe Democracy Institute where the former is the director. This article was first published in the Zimbabwe Independent