Opinion: Zim risks plunging into civil war

In the past few years, Zimbabwe has witnessed politics of hate speech, power jostling and factionalism, mainly in the ruling Zanu PF and the main opposition MDC-T.


In the ruling party, the war has escalated to name-calling, violence and expulsions of senior politicians who have been in government since 1980. In the MDC-T, the talk of leadership renewal, to replace Morgan Tsvangirai, who has been at the helm of the party for 17 years, resulted in the sacking of 21 MPs aligned to the former secretary-general Tendai Biti.

The MDC led by Welshman Ncube, which broke away from the MDC-T in 2005, has its own divisions. Simply put, the State is fragmented and antagonistic to itself.

To many Zimbabweans and scholars of political science, the divisions in the political cockpit sign posted a disgruntled people, fed up with the establishment and seeking ways of dealing with President Robert Mugabe’s dictatorship, but differing on the modus operandi. In some sections, tribalism and regionalism have been cited as part of the divisionary nature of Zimbabwean politics.

This school of thought posits that the fight for hegemony among the Ndebele, Shona, Zezuru and the Karanga is at the fulcrum of the political divisions. It suggests that the divisions within the main political parties borders on tribe and region, hence the fallout between Tsvangirai and his deputy Thokozani Khupe in the MDC- T and Mugabe and his deputy Emmerson Mnangagwa in Zanu PF.

While there have been reckless tribal proclamations from the political leadership of different political parties, tribalism and regionalism does not adequately provide an answer to the root cause of the political fragmentation, particularly within Zanu PF, where succession is central to the divisions.

Tribalism and regionalism is being used to mobilise people for political scores in the succession race. It is, therefore, myopic to look at Zimbabwe’s polarised situation with regional and tribal lenses. In fact, it is to miscue the broader context of Zimbabwean politics.

The power struggles in the ruling Zanu PF present a threat of war based on factional and tribal lines. Across the continent, various examples can be cited where tribalism has been used to mobilise people into a violent conflict to settle political agendas. The South Sudanese conflict speaks volumes to how power struggles in the Presidium can escalate into civil war and ultimately into tribal or ethnic conflict.

The fall out between SPLM-IO leader Riek Machar and incumbent President Salva Kiir on ethnic and political lines as well as the involvement of the army, culminated in the civil war that has killed thousands and displaced millions. The central factor to the South Sudanese conflict is a fight for political power using ethnicity to mobilise people to engage in violent conflict.

The narrative reverberates with the current political environment in Zimbabwe, hence the need to make an analysis and envisage the dark future that awaits Zimbabwe, if the political brawls within Zanu PF and citizens concerns are not addressed.

Factionalism in Zanu PF

The ongoing purging of members aligned to Mnangagwa’s Lacoste faction is a manifestation of the depth of divisions that characterise ruling Zanu PF. The former Vice-President Joice Mujuru purging seems to be repeating itself, targeting Mnangagwa, who, through proximity to the President, is thought to be the heir to the throne, albeit in a democracy. Some have suggested that Zanu PF seeks to get rid of Mnangagwa, who is seen as an impediment to the creation of a Mugabe dynasty.

Mnangagwa, who has been a close ally to the President and minister in various portfolios, including the powerful Defence and Legal ministries, is said to be enjoying huge support from the security sector. The war veterans have thrown their weight behind him based on their shared revolutionary pedigree.

Commander of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces Constantino Chiwenga has also recently gone out of his constitutional dictates to prescribe a post-Mugabe Presidency, claiming those without liberation credentials must sit down.

This rhetoric has been going on since the late 1990s, but it carries different meanings at different times. Back then it pointed at opposition leader Tsvangirai who had garnered huge support posing a threat to Zanu PF hegemony.

The current rhetoric is aimed at Zanu PF’s G40 faction which is dominated by the post-independence generation. The open support for the VP by military generals who, by law, are supposed to be non-partisan points to the nature of divisions and the degree to which they can go in defence of a fellow comrade; force being an alternative.

Socio-economic concerns

On the other front, the rage against the government by the citizens is so huge that it needs a spark to manifest itself violently or otherwise. Various political analysts have ruled out the possibility of a citizen-driven violent conflict labelling the Zimbabwean population passive.

Past experiences have, however, proven that passivity of the citizens is either absence of grievance, opportunity or both. In the peace and conflict discourse, grievance and opportunity forms the foundations of most violent conflicts on the globe.

The contentious debate on these two as key factors to the onset of conflict is on the degree of causation not causality. I will, therefore, not delve much into it but put emphasis on the detriment of an enraged citizenry to peace, a characteristic of what obtains in Zimbabwe.

Unemployment has reached alarming levels. Standards of living continue to fall and cash shortage has worsened despite introduction of the bond note. Inequality, as measured by the Gini coefficient, has widened, itself a recipient of conflict. Zimbabweans on the land and in the Diaspora, have lost trust and confidence in the incumbent and the antagonism between the two continues to worsen.

Higher education needs redress both in access and its quality to meet industry demands.

War veterans and war collaborators, on the other hand, feel jettisoned. They have not enjoyed the fruits of the promised land decades after independence.

The Canaan they fought for was privatised by fellow comrades. The elders feel disappointed despite their hold of the rural vote on which Zanu PF’s very existence is premised on. They form the greater part of the small-holder farmers in the resettlement and communal areas who are struggling to produce enough food for their families.

The war veterans pose as an alternative military in case of a violent conflict. Their ability to wedge war can be doubted, but their capacity to marshal the rural populace against the establishment if need be is substantial. I, therefore, posit that they pose a threat of war based not only on the analogy of their rhetoric, but the abhorrence between them and the young turks within the governing party. They are fed up too.

The August clash between the members of the military and the police in the city of Harare is a tip of an iceberg. It informs the nation of what to come in the case of Mugabe departure.

The world over a clash of security institutions of a same government raises concerns on national security. It signals unprecedented break down in law and order and fissures in the political field. It’s not an ordinary happening; it’s indeed far from the simple act of the police throwing a spike on a military vehicle; the roots are more wide and deep.

The clash of the security forces in Papua New Guinea early this year which left an officer dead was handled with high attention and described as a sign of lack of political leadership and a country “falling apart”. In the Zimbabwean case it’s a case of a country that has already “fallen apart”, at least from the view point of the economy and leadership failure. National security is indeed under threat.

Dictators always present a threat of war in the end essentially because of unresolved succession, divisions within their parties and more importantly the expectations of the ordinary citizens after years of oppressive rule. Even where strong leaders have governed well, their departure is associated with political anarchy as parties compete to introduce new political systems or to continue with the legacy of the departed leader.

The weakening of the State and post-Mugabe era will open a void for citizens to demand their rights after years of State repression. Ordinarily the demands surpass what the State can offer presenting a conflict of interests.

The post-Mugabe government will have to deal with the economic crisis and deeply-rooted corruption. It will have to deal with the huge national debt that hangs over the country, and to correct the socio-economic blunders made by the Mugabe regime. Presidential hopefuls must, therefore, raise consciousness in the citizenry that the departure of Mugabe presents a mammoth task that needs unity and patience.

Lastly authoritarian regimes rely on repression to thwart their perceived enemies and in so doing building more resistance not only outside of the party, but even within. Repression is not exclusively exercised outside of the party, it becomes a tool for suppressing voices of dissent. When opposition emerges from within, the same tool is generally ineffective, for it works against the very people who constructed it. It is met with heavy resistance and reliance on security apparatus is a common phenomenon.

The succession disputes within Zanu PF, the reckless tribal and regional statements combined with citizen anger against the government provides enough threats of war. From the peace and conflict discipline, they provide enough grievance and opportunity to engage in a violent conflict. Across the continent, case studies can be drawn. We are not unique.

[Avoid Masiraha is a Peace and Conflict researcher based in Norway. He is a former student leader and he writes in his own capacity.]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s