The military’s involvement and participation in politics

Of Cabinet appointments, the military and politics: Globally accepted norms and a timeless symbiotic relationship.
Zimbabwe's Generals at the National Sports Stadium

By Tichaona Mushambadope

Subsequent to the much awaited cabinet announcement by the new Zimbabwean President, the deafening hullabaloo is but instructive.  It fundamentally reveals three irrefutably truisms. Firstly, that Zimbabweans adore their country and long for the day the country takes its rightful place at the apex of the global economic ladder. Secondly, we are but one people and that the imaginary lines that divide us expeditiously melt away in the sweltering heat of the passion that the citizenry possesses for flag and country.  And finally, as a people, sometimes we miss the plot completely because we invest emotions incoherently in domains where cognitive agility and empirical evidence should prevail.

By its very nature, the voice of reason whispers hence for one to eavesdrop on it, it is imperative to comprehend that much of the disquietude is very much ado about nothing. One has to effectively stand far from the madding crowd and in the words of Chairman Mao, “Seek the truth from the facts”. Special mention goes to the quantum of decibels in the outcry pertaining the inclusion of military personnel in the cabinet. The proponents of this protest, learned or otherwise, claim, through long reads or louder shouts, that persons with military links or history should not be appointed to cabinet.

When such assertions are made by persons with big book who have gone through the proverbial educational crucible and have sufficiently drank from the calabash of knowledge, we can only but attribute this to either intellectual dishonesty or acute selective amnesia when relating with truths that seem inconvenient. The transition that is upon us emanating from President Mugabe’s rejection and ejection was preceded by a bold and decisive military operation which then ignited the social, political and legal facets of the revolution. In essence, men in camo, akin to everyone else, have unalienable rights as enshrined in our constitution and if one meets all the necessary criteria to be appointed into cabinet, there should be no form of discrimination.

As the adage alludes a people without a past are a people without future, it is critical to comprehend the pertinent role that men in camo have played in shaping the political landscape within our country and beyond our borders. Right from the inception of the armed struggle for our independence there was an agreement that was set in stone, that politics would lead the gun. To put things into perspective, the premises of the position was based on the comprehension that in both parties, ZANU and ZAPU, the political class was comprised of older, educated and experienced persons while the military wing was made up of younger cadre some of whom had dropped out of school to join the liberation struggle. There has been a symbiotic relationship between the military and political class and as our turned professional the former young cadres furthered their education as evidenced with many doctorates degrees holders in the army included but not limited to General Constantino Chiwenga. With our army boasting of a commercial and profitable arm, we have a limitless talent pool of evidently patriotic Zimbabweans to choose from.

There is nothing amiss for a patriot to cross the aisle as there is an intricate relation between the military and political class. President Mngangagwa who sabotaged a train under the nom de guerre Trabablas Dzokerai Mabhunu in 1964 was one of the first military trained cadres who crossed the floor to the political realm with his ascendancy to Special Assistant to the President during the Chimoio Conference in 1977. With the comprehension that Operation Restore Legacy is a historically significant corrective occurrence that is akin to Mgagão declaration, inclusion of prominent and competent soldiers in cabinet is in sync with the objective of the mission.

The United States of America, the very custodian of the democratic model that most countries seek to follow has had twenty six ex-military men serving as Presidents, a whopping 58% of the total forty five patriots. From General George Washington to General Dwight Eisenhower, thirteen Commanders-In-Chief voyaged into the political arena after reaching the rank of General in the army. President Bush Senior who has the distinction of being the second youngest pilot in the United States Navy during World War II earned the esteemed Distinguished Flying Cross before going on to become head of Central Intelligence Agency, Vice President and President. Casting our sights to the far East, to Zimbabwe’s all weather partner China, both Presidents Mão Tse Tung, the founding father of the People’s Republic and Deng Xiaoping, who was instrumental in ushering a modernized and economic oriented China, were top notch military strategists who decimated Chiang Kai-Shek’s nationalist army and compelled them to create a government in exile in Taiwan.

Closer to home, President Paul Kagame who has transformed Rwanda from the brink collapse to one of the leading growing economies in Africa is a renowned military tactician. Having fled his country of birth at a young age to Uganda, he participated in a number of military operations under Milton Obote, Yori Museveni and Fred Reigyema, before eventually returning home to wrestle control of the country after the 1994 genocide. He has metamorphosed Rwanda into the cleanest and most investor friendly country earning the affectionate reference of the Singapore of Africa. Botswana President Ian Khama is not only a champion of democracy and a voice of the voiceless who stood alone by the people of Zimbabwe when all and sundry in SADC and AU would not heed the people’s voice for the former President to step down. He is a decorated military man who has presided over a stable economy and the least corrupt country in Africa.

The appointment of Major General Sibusiso Moyo to the post of Minister of Foreign Affairs is premised on merit encompassing the facets of academic qualifications, vast experience and ideological synchronization. He is an acclaimed expert who holds a PhD in International Relations from the Zimbabwe’s oldest and most prestigious learning institution and has practical experience through various tours of duty and assignments to Zimbabwean foreign missions. The notion that a military man cannot be the external face of a democratic nation is devoid of veracity because the leading US Secretaries of States in recent times have been decorated soldiers in the shape and form of General Colin Powell and Purple Heart medallist, Lieutenant John Kerry. If his face could serve for the poster of one of the smartest bloodless military operation in modern times, it can also serve for the poster that demonstrates Zimbabwe’s intent to repair broken partnerships, forge new relationships and fortify existent friendships in the process of restoring her legacy as the breadbasket of Africa.

Gallantry of the participants and supporting mass during the Second Chimurenga war was ignited by the pertinent need to rectify the inequitable distribution of land which emanated from the Berlin Conference of 1884 and was officialised by the hoisting of Union Jack at Fort Salisbury on the 12th of September 1890. Commandeering operations in Tete Province, Air Marshal Perence Shiri and the rest of the guerrilla fighters fired bullets that posed questions pertaining to the ownership of land. After the land distribution programme in which he was an active participant, through passion and hard work, he has distinguished himself to belong to a special class of Zimbabwean black farmers who are operating their farmers at the same or higher level than the previous white commercial farmers.

As the army is an integral part of President Mnangagwa’s brain child, Command Agriculture, the former commander of the Air Force was a key team leader in ensuring that the country had surplus produce in more a decade. In essence, the appointment of Air Marshall Perence Shiri, a graduate of the United Kingdom Royal Collage of Defence Studies, epitomises meritocracy and is in sync with the President Mnangagwa’s vision of food security for not only Zimbabwe but the region in its entirety.

At the end of the day, no cabinet appointment is a silver bullet that will instantly vanquish all the challenges that the country faces and indeed, every member of the team has his/her fair share of shortcomings. As the people who have been in the public eye for a lengthy period of time, there is a glaring temptation to dig deep into the archives and point the numerous places that the current crop of ministers and the President have faltered. The hard knuckled truism is that such an exercise may only temporarily serve to stroke egos but will definitely lead the country towards a long road to the abyss. It is imperative for Zimbabweans, as a people, to observe this as a Damascus moment, whereby they cast away the modus operandi premised on vilification and victimization and embrace the message of peace, unity and prosperity.