Democracy Ideas: Charles Mangongera, Zimbabwe: The Military vs. Democracy

 International Forum for Democratic Studies Interview Series

About this Episode

In this episode of Democracy Ideas, Christopher Walker interviews Charles Mangongera about the militarization of Zimbabwe’s politics, state institutions, and economy, as well as how the military’s role may affect Zimbabwe’s prospects for democratic reform.

Mr. Charles Mangongera is a Zimbabwean human rights and governance researcher who previously served as director of policy and research at the Movement for Democratic Change. He was a Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellow in residence at the International Forum for Democratic Studies from October 2013–February 2014. During his fellowship, Mr. Mangongera explored the role of the military in supplanting Zimbabwe’s democratic transition.

Related Content

Read Charles Mangongera’s article, “A New Twilight in Zimbabwe? The Military vs. Democracy” from the April 2014 issue of the Journal of Democracy. (ProjectMUSE access is required)

Listen to a podcast with Adrienne LeBas on her article, “A New Twilight in Zimbabwe? The Perils of Power Sharing” based on her article in the April 2014 issue of the Journal of Democracy.

Watch video from Charles Mangongera’s fellowship presentation, “Zimbabwe’s Military and the Prospects for Democratic Reform” held on January 15, 2014.

Interview Transcript

Walker: Given the wide range of challenges that Zimbabwe faces on governance, why is it that you’ve decided to focus on the military’s special role in blocking improvements to governance in the country?

Mangongera: Well, as I reflected on the challenges that we have in the country and in particular, on what has happened over the last four to five years when we had a power-sharing government—which was supposed to bring in the reform of state institutions and create conditions for open and free political competition—what we saw was that process was kind of supplanted and Zimbabwe’s transition became complicated.

And as I reflected on that, I realized that the military has taken a much more prominent role in determining the course of events to make sure that Mr. Mugabe’s party retains political power.

The military has taken over most of the strategic institutions. If you look at the economy, they have taken over most of the strategic industries, ensuring that they have used those resources that have accrued from their control to maintain the totalitarian grip of power by Mr. Mugabe.

Walker: In what ways has ZANU-PF’s militarization caused the militarization of wider Zimbabwean society?

Mangongera: Well, That’s an interesting questions because what we have seen in Zimbabwe, I think, is a conflation of the state and the party. So in some ways, you fail to distinguish the state from the party, the party becomes the state, and the military has become infused in all of this.

If you look at the 2013 election for instance—which we just came out of—you had people coming from the military and going to ZANU-PF to design the electoral campaign and to design the voter registration process, so they basically control everything.

But beyond that, if you look at the key institutions that are critical for power—if you go to the judiciary for instance, you will find some of the judges come from the military. If you go to the public broadcaster, the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation, the person who is heading that institution has been given a farm in one of the prime areas. If you go the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC), you will find that the person heading the ZEC and the people who are manning the secretariat are people from the military, and they have been given some of these patronage benefits.

If you look at society and the economy, most of the key industries—mining for instance, in Chiadzou where we are mining diamonds—you will realize that Chinese companies have gone into a joint venture with companies headed by people who come from a military tradition or who come from the military. So, the whole society has been militarized, and in my view, that has complicated the kind of transition we would want to see because they want to maintain total control of the state for the purposes of accumulating personal and functional benefits.

Walker: You’ve described very eloquently the opportunities that are available to the senior ranks of Zimbabwe’s military, but is it your sense that there is a distinction between the upper ranks of the military and the more junior ranks which may have a different vision and view of how Zimbabwe should be governed?

Mangongera: Well, I often say to democracy actors in Zimbabwe who are thinking about possible positive actions that can be taken in the future in terms of security sector reform, I think that there’s a professional cadre which is below or in the lower ranks of the military command which just wants to do its job and is committed to professional work. I think that’s the professional cadre that we ought to be thinking about going forward.

Walker: Finally, Robert Mugabe has recently celebrated his 90th birthday and while the precise time of a political transition isn’t known, what in your view would be the most important steps for political opposition and reform minded people to take in order to encourage better democratic outcomes in the future of Zimbabwe?

Mangongera: Well, I think that the biggest challenge going forward for democracy actors in Zimbabwe is going to be the reform of state institutions that have become so compromised because the regime has really bastardized most of these institutions. To create a professional ethic within those institutions so that they act in an impartial and non-partisan way is going to be one of the biggest challenges.

More importantly, for me, even a post-Mugabe Zimbabwe, the challenge we are going to have is, “How do you untangle these tentacles of the military all over the place?” In industry, mining, business, and everything, you have all these people having control. It’s really like a mafia system. How do you untangle that to ensure that you have a professional business sector? How do you ensure that you really have a thriving private sector which is run by people with innovation and ideas who are not just benefiting from state patronage. I think that’s going to be the next biggest challenge for democratic actors in Zimbabwe.