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Militaries belong in the barracks

Zimbabwe's General Constantine Chiwenga
A presidential resignation, extracted when the incumbent is under house arrest, and forcefully denied all the tools necessary for the exercise of executive constitutional powers cannot be described as constitutional. To call the Robert Mugabe’s act a resignation is fraudulent, to put it mildly.

It is to attempt to sanitise a constitutional illegality and lie to future generations. What has happened is a de-facto and de-jure coup. Emmerson Mnangagwa has not been democratically or constitutionally installed. He launched a coup from abroad with the help of his military cohorts who shared in his fears of loss of power and privilege.

Defence Forces have no business in choosing and installing presidents. If the constitution was being followed, the General’s would never have left the barracks without Mugabe’s command. Militaries have no business in appointing themselves guardians of constitutional or revolutionary ideals.

That is a poor excuse for unbridled military political activism. National courts are the guardians of democratic constitutions. Listening to General Constantine Chiwenga’s speech one is struck by how out of depth with constitutional reality the Zimbabwean military is.

One is baffled by how distorted they consider their role as a Defence Force to be and how convicted they are of the correctness of their conceited claims. Of course, the long suffering people of Zimbabwe could not care less so long as Mugabe was permanently off the seat. But there is a principle behind the events of the past week which must not be lost.

Southern African militaries must not be deluded to think that the emotional and possibly delusional applause given to the Zimbabwe military is a ratification of the principle the military professed to be defending. The result would be what we see in Lesotho, Egypt, Pakistan, Myanmar and other nations where supposedly democratic outcomes are nothing but endorsements of military preferences.

The BDF, for example, should not be deluded to think that in a typical Masisi – Molefhi standoff, they have a right to judge who best represents the ideals of our constitution and to preempt democratic outcomes if such appear not to be aligned to their preferences.

Militaries must remain without political voice or position. Unlike General Chiwenga’s example, they must be ready to salute any democratically elected head of state and submit to constitutional authority. The Zimbabwean situations holds promise for better but it is a classic example of a state torn between its past and its future. There can be no true democracy where freedom fighters consider that by virtue of their sacrifices, they won power not for the people but for themselves and that no one else, is entitled to lead.

Now, I do not see the euphoria that has gripped Zimbabwe as an endorsement of the incoming regime and whatever it represents but rather, a disapproval of the specific

person of Mugabe as President. It is that typical scenario where evil and good share a preferred short term outcome as a gateway to well established diametrically divergent ultimate objectives. There is nothing about Mnagagwa that marks him as anything other than what Mugabe, Chiwenga and their ilk stood for. Murder and rapine.

It would be remiss not to share in the euphoria of the Zimbabwean people. It means a lot to them even if the situation does not represent a break with their oppression but with their oppressor. Their endorsement of Mnagagwa was a plea of mercy to a confirmed slave driver to hand them fewer whips as their hands push hard upon the plough. Mnangagwa is entering the presidency with a credibility deficit, if any. The blood of those his regime killed is his common legacy with Mugabe and can never be erased. At best it can be extenuated by reform.

It would be remiss on his and General Chiwenga’s part to miss out on this opportunity. That’s the only way they can ever hope to go to heaven. It is odd for a people to applaud the ascendance of people who have shared in their oppression for decades. That Zimbabweans are prepared to accept any evil as a democratic compromise is symptomatic of a damaged national psyche brought about by their brutal authoritarianism.

But what can Southern Africa learn from the Zimbabwean example. How could a liberal constitutional state degenerate to such abysmal levels of authoritarianism?  A pliable liberal constitution is not a guarantee for democracy. It can just all well be a guarantee for authoritarianism. Zimbabwe has held elections since independence but that has not stopped it from being an authoritarian state.

There was a time when the Zimbabwean parliament was perhaps the busiest in the world passing laws day and night to cover up for the whims and caprices of the Mugabe regime. Southern African states must revisit their liberal constitutions and must benchmark against more secure western models. The tired and worn refrain that because “the constitution has served us well” is a fallacy. Processes are not renewed because the old have ceased working.

Our future political outlook must be driven by a desire to be the furthest in the frontiers of democratic governance. In Botswana, our constitution has not served us well. It was all too porous and all too manipulable. It is our leaders who have. They exercised restraint against glaring temptations offered by its decadence of checks and balances.

Chief On Friday




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