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The Godfather experiment, politics of attrition in Zimbabwe

25 Nov 2023 at 07:47hrs | Views
GODFATHER experiments are made in instances of confrontation and attrition, mostly, if not always. Godfathers consider themselves to be powerful figures who wield significant influence, especially underground or behind the scenes.

When a president claims to be a ‘godfather' of security or state structures, it typically implies that they see themselves as the centre of power in proactively shaping and controlling such domains.

Attrition is used in this article to describe strategy where a leader systematically weakens or erodes the power of potential rivals, opponents, or institutions to consolidate their own power.

Both attrition and godfatherism are somewhat interpreted here as, "the outside is looking in, and the inside is looking out" scenario. Godfathers know that friends are like stars.

They look for the difference that balances. At a political level, games are played. There are no easy games. One must sense the scope of threats before and after losing office. When a statement is uttered, one must always, when asked what it means to the public, think twice.

It is like, ‘it's too early to tell!' What then, is the problem of godfatherism as it relates to Zimbabwe's security problems? Let us confine ourselves to the recent public statement by President Mnangagwa that he is the godfather of security systems in the country.

Obviously, something different is intended, which revolves around factual and counterfactual conditionals. It appears like there is someone, who scratched the match, and someone is trying to stop it from lighting, or rather, causing a bonfire.

Perhaps it is a statement to confirm internal fissures or resistance of some sort. Beyond physical proximity to security briefing, the President of Zimbabwe is a pseudo-civilian. He has some attachment to the army as the Commander-in-Chief of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces. Under communicative proximity to the security institutions, there is the office that obviously briefs him, the Office of the President.

Permissibility of utterances

Constitutionally and cognitively, the statement should not have been uttered by a State President because it exposes Zimbabwe's security system.

So back to my matchstick analogy, had the match been scratched, it would have lighted. What we have is a statement that the civilian President is still connected as a godfather to the security or state structures.

If he was Julius Caesar, no one would be worried. And if Julius Caesar was him; he would not be worried by how the general population would react. As I see it, a civilian president should not publicly speak about the security or state structures in ways that smack of the existence of a ‘political caste' in Zimbabwe.

Doing so amounts to a counter-legal declaration where the President ignores general laws directly, as if triangles were squares. As a result, the match is well made, is dry enough, and the oxygen is present in enough measure.

That the match will light is now inferred from the fact that it has been scratched by someone. I am not using the law of logic here, but the natural, physical, and causal law.

Godfatherism, problem of Zim's law

Using my matchstick analogy, a scratched match lights because the connecting principle is that every match that is scratched, well made, is dry enough in enough oxygen, lights.

But sometimes the match fails to light because of too much oxygen. If so, our problem lies in distinguishing between the causal law and the real laws. The Constitution of Zimbabwe does not create service chiefs for the Intelligence Services.

We have never seen an intelligence service director-general behaving like the generals from the Prisons and Correctional Services, the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP), and the Zimbabwe Defence Forces during open parades.

What this means is that our constitution has a lot of grey areas on the accountability and transparency of the intelligence services. The Constitution is silent whether there is need for a ministry to oversee the Central Intelligence Organisation(CIO).

We have ministers of State elsewhere. This leaves the civilian president at large to play the godfather games willy-nilly. He can make the security institutions appear underworldly. Even when someone threatens state security, the constitution does not limit the powers of the national intelligence services in the manner it does with the ZRP.

The latter must ensure an accused person arrested by the ZRP is brought before a court of law within 48 hours. It is not known how someone arrested by other security institutions can be detained or brought before the courts or trial.

I do not know how the framers of the Constitution ignored the fundamental need to regulate all intelligence arms of the State, which could or might, in a way, promote executive excesses, including instances of godfatherism.

Godfatherism, pseudo-laws

Without accountability provisions in the constitution, the executive President can openly confront anyone who opposes him using the godfatherism or any other provisions that seem to make the state president untouchable.

All the president needs to do to immunise himself from the law is to give the impression that he gets to know about any forms of attrition, whether by physical or communicative proximity to the systems he created.

Everything that he created as the godfather depends on his predictive statement.

Regrettably, the President and his supporters, consider his statement as presumably true, and to this extent, it would be a pseudo-law. This pseudo law can be used to infer from President Mnangagwa's statement that all state institutions are in his pocket. Thus, the untrue counterfactual is created.

Enough of philosophy

Let us argue that the 2017 rise of President Mnangagwa was a mixture of more power play and less, if nothing, of popular uprising against the late former President Robert Mugabe.

Some could infer that the replacement of retired Zimbabwe National Army Commander Lieutenant General David Sigauke by Lieutenant General Anselem Sanyatwe is Mnangagwa's consolidation of power.

It could also lead to the arrangement of chairs in the security and presidium. One aspect is that Sanyatwe could be the next commander of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces, after General Valerio Sibanda retires and joins the presidium using the precedent set by retired General Constantino Chiwenga.

Will we see a female President soon? For students of synchronised politics, Machiavelli, in his seminal book, The Prince, suggested that it might be necessary to eliminate potential threats, including coup leaders, to consolidate power and maintain stability.

I still believe Machiavelli did not write The Prince. Do not ask me why? On the other hand, some political theorists like Hannah Arendt, have emphasised the importance of political forgiveness and reconciliation for long-term stability.

While some have pointed to the existence of fissures in the Presidium, such as the existence of pro-Mnangagwa and proChiwenga camps, we should not place the cart before the horse in matters of political thought and statecraft.

Factions as diversionary tools

Mnangagwa's godfather statements can be situated in a plethora of game plays. The obvious one is that politicians may use factions or the appearance of factionalism to divert attention and consolidate power by exploiting divisions within their own political party or by creating external enemies.

For instance, from history, President Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew of the United States of America strategically fuelled internal divisions within the Democratic Party during the Vietnam War and anti-war protests.

Vice President Agnew targeted liberal factions, using divisive language, and framing them as unpatriotic. This diversionary tactic was aimed at consolidating support among conservative factions.

Currently, Zimbabwe is grappling with the legitimacy of the Mnangagwa's presidency at Sadc level. We have witnessed rounds of social media platforms alleging that they are being briefed by the military intelligence and so forth on the arrest and incarceration of pro-Chiwenga faction members.

Attention under this may shift to the byelections where Zanu-PF parliamentarians might win some seats that could give Zanu-PF two-thirds majority in Parliament. Mnangagwa might then amend the Constitution and consolidate his power.

Elsewhere, the search engines in Russia have been presented as part of the disinformation playbook. Those who searched ‘dead Putin,' ‘Dying Putin,' and ‘Putin died,' generated 417 000 impressions in Russia's most popular search engine, Yandex.

The fun fact in this of course is that ‘barbie movie,' ‘party hats,' and ‘liquor stores near me,' were the next three most frequent searches. So, everything in statecraft is propaganda if people are busy drinking and forgetting their problems.

Let us also not forget that Russian President Vladmir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev have thrived on manipulated factions and allegations of suppressing the opposition groups and exploiting nationalist sentiments.

Medvedev, while serving as President, was seen as a moderate man, yet diverting attention from Putin's strongman image. This internal dynamic allowed Putin to consolidate his power as Medvedev's successor.

So, in the power matrix, those who talk about a Chiwenga-Mnangagwa tiff could be seeing shadows. Perhaps, let me also use the examples of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Ahmet Davutoglu in Turkey. We might argue that Erdogan used factionalism within his party to side-line potential rivals.

Davutoglu, once Prime Minister, fell out of favour because of policy inconsistencies. Politics is a game of wits. And whoever wants to be Zimbabwean President can do so beyond what the incumbent President can say.

Remember Mugabe's famous ‘ndomudonhedza', literally meaning, I will demote him, statement!

Resistance within Zanu-PF

And so, we go on: playing cricket, soccer, and politics. But are we politically awake? Worse, have the gods sent us a policy of appeasement before destruction falls?

The backside review of Tim Bouverie's book, Appeasing Hitler notes that: "On a wet afternoon in September 1938, Neville Chamberlain stepped off an aeroplane and announced that his visit to Hitler had averted the greatest crisis in recent memory. It was, he later assured the crowd in Downing Street, ‘peace or out time"'. Less than a year later, Germany invaded Poland and the Second World War began. This is a vital recent history of the problems of indecision, failed public diplomacy, and political infighting that enable Zanu-PF's dominance in Zimbabwe and Southern Africa.

We hope conflict prevention, management and reduction in Southern Africa will take seriously the cognitive elements of presidential declarations.

Conflict prevention activities would reduce manifest tensions and prevent the outbreak of internal and external conflicts. Once conflict has started, as is the case with Zimbabwe where an electoral conflict has also led to internal problems relating to abductions and killing of citizens, conflict management and reduction activities come to the fore.

They must be prioritised by the Zanu-PF government and other political actors within and outside Zimbabwe to prevent the escalation of the violent spasmodic conflicts, reduce its intensity or geographical extent, and bring proxy wars to an end. The elections in Zimbabwe must never be seen as war by other means.

Hofisi is a lawyer, conversationalist and transdisciplinary researcher. He has interests in governance and international law. —

Source - The Independent
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