THE shadowy Cuban-style Zimbabwe National Security Council (ZNSC) was recently set up to run the country’s economy on a crisis-management basis — 26 years after the start of self-rule.
The move indicates a virtual state of emergency in Zimbabwe’s economy, confirms the government’s policy paralysis and reflects panic in the corridors of power.
But it also shows government’s implicit awareness of the potentially devastating political consequences of the current economic meltdown. The ZNSC, chaired by President Robert Mugabe, runs the economy on an emergency basis — as in Cuba, where “anguish committees” manage the economy. Mugabe referred to the initiative yesterday during his keynote address at the country’s 26th anniversary of independence from Britain. At the same event, he made a stunning claim that the economy, which has shrunk by a cumulative 35% in the past six years, will grow between 1% and 2% this year. No one believes this, and it would be shocking if Mugabe does.
The Cuban economy is run by a Council of State, backed by committees, although the government has devolved some authority to ministries and enterprises in recent years. Under the slogan “Socialism or Death”, the Cuban regime continues to proclaim Cuba a socialist state with an economy organised under Marxist-Leninist principles. Most means of production are owned and run by the government. About 75% of the labour force is employed directly by the state.
Mugabe tried to do this and failed and now wants to try it again, although this time it is crisis management rather than socialist principles that are driving the process. In October 1990, Cuban leader Fidel Castro said his country had entered a “special period in time of peace” and that the economy would function as if in a time of war until the crisis had been resolved.
This appears to be the mentality within the Zimbabwean government. The ZNSC will run the economy like Cuba’s Council of State until the current crisis disappears, something unlikely if no fundamental political and economic reforms are undertaken. Cuba learnt this the hard way.
In Zimbabwe, the state security establishment now effectively runs the economy as it cross-cuts the emergency subcommittees which have been set up to perform a rescue operation. This confirms the view that the Central Intelligence Organisation and the Joint Operations Command — comprising the intelligence service, army, police and prisons — now virtually run the country and are involved in a whole gamut of nonsecurity issues.
The state security establishment has no credible economic knowledge, capacity or the means to pull Zimbabwe out of the morass. The situation requires a political solution and economic measures supported by the international community. The ZNSC initiative only validates the view of a police state in Zimbabwe run by the state security apparatus. Government bureaucracy is already heavily militarised. Serving or retired army officers can be found in government departments, parastatals, electoral institutions and quasigovernment organisations performing the roles of civilians.
Military rule takes various forms, which include army control where the generals direct events from barracks, arbitration in which the army comes in as conflict manager between political parties or the government and opposition parties, and army veto where the military vetoes some civilian decisions. There are also crypto-military democracies in which it is difficult to tell where army interventions end and civilian rule begins.
Anecdotal evidence shows the military might be pulling the strings in civilian government issues, but there is still no decisive proof that army authority has taken root and is now the basis of governance in Zimbabwe.
There are clear signs of the executive’s erosion of confidence in public officials, and the encroachment of armed forces — apparently by invitation — in civilian matters. While this might serve Mugabe’s self-preservation needs at the moment, it creates problems for future governments which may have to struggle to uproot an entrenched military culture in civilian government.
The ZNSC will not be able to reverse the economic decline in the present circumstances — not in a “thousand years” as central bank governor Gideon Gono recently observed, in an eerie echo of former Rhodesian leader Ian Smith’s comment on the prospects of majority rule in Zimbabwe in 1965.
‖Muleya is Harare correspondent and Zimbabwe Independent news editor.