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2014-01-15 16.10.06

Mangongera at left of NED Moderator and Commenter

Yesterday, I attended a talk by Charles Mangongera, a Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy.  Mangongera is the Director of Policy and Research for the Movement for Democratic Change (Tsvangirai branch), the main opposition party in Zimbabwe.  Before assuming this position, Mangongera worked with Freedom House and was authoring reports for DC-based organizations like USAID and IRI.  Mangongera masterfully covered  wide-ranging remarks on ‘Zimbabwe’s Military and the Prospects for Democratic Reform.’

His central thesis was that ‘the military has played a central role in prolonging Zimbabwe’s democratic transition’ and that there were ‘dim prospects for democratic transition without security sector reform.’  He touched on a number of angles to promote this contention, primarily centering on the corruption of senior military officials.

Corruption in the Military

I knew that Zimbabwe’s economy had collapsed fairly precipitously as a result of 1997 decision to make lump cash payments to dissatisfied veterans of the liberation struggle.  However, I did not know that decision had such drastic immediate consequences, with the Zimbabwe currency losing 70% of its value on November 14, 1997.  Mangongera then highlighted that this was quickly followed by Zimbabwe’s decision to intervene in the regional conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  Some corrupt senior military figures got rich from this intervention, but Mangongera notes that it cost the state $6 – 7 million (USD) a day, a very significant amount for a country with an economy the size of Zimbabwe’s.

He noted that military figures have continued to enrich themselves, often by entering into joint ventures with Chinese investors to exploit diamond reserves and never remitted the revenues to the State.  China has also supported Zimbabwe’s military by funding the construction of a defence college just outside of Harare.

Military Officials Influencing Civilian Authorities

Another way that Zimbabwe’s military has stifled democracy is by inserting itself into civilian government functions.  Mangongera cited scholarship which argues that ‘the military [is] in charge of Mr. Mugabe’, leading to the ‘facade of a civilian government.’  He noted that even those who oppose that extremist view admit that Zimbabwe’s securocrats have redefined the country’s civil military relations in the period since the MDC emerged in 1999 and Zimbabwe ceased to be a de facto one party state.

Mangongera noted that Operation Murambatsvina, which ostensibly aimed to spruce up urban centers and control informal growth in 2005, actually reflected the efforts of the military ‘to silence opposition strongholds’ (he did not address claims that a former Ethiopian military leader in exile in Zimbabwe was the brains behind the operation).

The MDC staffer also noted that during the recently dissolved Government of National Unity, ZANU – PF ‘kept control of the hard power cluster’, or all of the ministries pertaining to matters of security. He also noted that the ZANU-PF securocrats forming the Joint Operations Command met clandestinely throughout the GPA and refused to convene in a reconstituted form as mandated by the Agreement.

Violence and Intimidation by Military Officials

I got the impression that Mangongera favored an emphasis of the role of the securocrats in negatively influencing the economy over an examination of violent atrocities perpetrated by the military during his presentation.  However, he did accuse the military of ‘violent purges and assassinations.’  He noted that Josiah Tongogara, the head of ZANU’s armed wing just prior to independence was ‘assasinated’, whereas most commentators play it safe and note that he died in a mysterious car crash.

Speaking of a renegade ZANU-PF legislator who was critical of the lack of transparency regarding diamond revenues, Mangongera noted that shortly after releasing a damning report, ‘he died in a car crash, in quotes.’


He listed several potential scenarios (continuity under Mugabe, shifts under a new ZANU – PF leader, and transition to the MDC), but I didn’t get a great sense as to which Mangongera found most likely in the coming years.  The only issue I took with his very astute comments were rather frequent references to Zimbabwe’s isolation.  With the EU reducing its targeted sanctions on ZANU-PF officials, the support from China that he cited, and SADC’s nomination of Mugabe as its incoming Chair, I think that position is overstated.