Thursday, June 01, 2006

Zim: is the army taking over?

Senior military officers have in recent months been appointed to top posts in public institutions, including state-run companies, the central bank and the judiciary, as the armed forces increase their influence over civilian affairs.

The officers’ upward march has been so swift that it has taken the public by surprise. The latest appointment was of an army general to be the country's top tax collector, overseeing the running of the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority, ZIMRA.

A retired army general, Solomon Mujuru, is being widely touted as the man most likely to succeed Mugabe as state president. Mujuru, under the war name Rex Nhongo, was commander of Mugabe's guerrilla forces in the war of liberation against white rule in the 1970s.

The head of Zimbabwe's powerful and much-feared Central Intelligence Organisation, CIO, is a former army brigadier. Two judges are former top military officers. One of the eight provincial governors is a former general. An army colonel is permanent secretary in the ministry of transport.

The list goes on. Military men head the strategic Grain Marketing Board and the prison service. Mugabe's inner cabinet has four soldiers serving as ministers or deputy ministers.

Less visible, but perhaps more important, is the extent of the military's influence further down the bureaucratic chain. Many managers at the Grain Marketing Board are ex-soldiers. Having thrown white farmers off their land, the military has taken over many of the farms in a move termed Operation Maguta. Military men at the Grain Marketing Board are also setting up camps on the land of black farmers and ordering them to grow maize, the country's staple food, to try to avert widespread hunger. Teams of soldiers are forcing farmers to plough up other crops such as onions, tomatoes and potatoes without telling them what price they will be paid for compulsory acquisition of maize.

Most of Zimbabwe's top military brass are veterans of the 1970s liberation war against white minority rule and are fiercely loyal to ZANU PF. With new recruits to the military now coming from Mugabe’s hated youth militia, there is little hope that the military will become an impartial body in the near future. The militia training camps, which have been in existence since 2001, are places where school leavers are imbued with "patriotic values" as defined by the ruling party. Graduates from these camps, known as Green Bombers from their distinctive olive green uniforms, have been used to terrorise government opponents at successive elections.

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