parallel control

Zimbabwe: How intelligence and military are running the upcoming general polls

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This article is part of the dossier:

Zimbabwe votes

By Farai Shawn Matiashe

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Posted on May 29, 2023 13:37

Emmerson Mnangagwa Zimbabwe
Tight race: Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa may not have as much support as the polls indicate, say critics. (AFP/Jekesai Njikizana)

Zimbabwe’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa has created a parallel structure run by the State’s Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) to run internal polls of the ruling party, the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (Zanu PF), and influence the outcome of the upcoming elections.

The Southern African nation will hold its parliamentary, local authority, and presidential polls in August this year.

Zanu PF’s primary elections held in March this year were marred by massive rigging and vote-buying. At the centre of the chaos was the Forever Associates of Zimbabwe (FAZ) – an establishment of the country’s most feared and deadly intelligence unit the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO).

FAZ, which is led by the CIO deputy director Retired Brigadier-General Walter Tapfumaneyi, wrestled the role from a little known organisation called Heritage Trust that ran the national elections in November 2018.

This year’s Zanu PF polls had surprises, with some of its old guards, such as Mnangagwa’s closest ally Justice minister Ziyambi Ziyambi and Mashonaland West Provincial Affairs minister Mary Mliswa-Chikoka, being toppled.

Inside sources in intelligence say that while CIO’s FAZ operations are unconstitutional, the Treasury has channelled millions of dollars and other resources from the taxpayers’ money to fund its operations.

FAZ’s goal is to keep Mnangagwa in power, who remains unpopular amid the economic crisis (high inflation rate, and price hikes), and power shortages, by campaigning for him and working hand in hand with the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC).

‘CIO’s operations are unconstitutional’

Critics are worried about the CIO and the military’s involvement in the country’s upcoming elections.

This fear shows that Zanu PF and the state have been captured by military elites, says Bekezela Gumbo, a researcher at the Zimbabwe Democracy Institute.

The long-term impact is that the electoral environment has been compromised and captured to favour Zanu PF

“The immediate impact is to deter opposition support and create a parallel Mnangagwa structure that operates parallel to Zanu PF structures,” he tells The Africa Report.

“This further highlights elite discohesion within Zanu PF. The long-term impact is that the electoral environment has been compromised and captured to favour Zanu PF, in particular, and the Mnangagwa faction within Zanu PF.”

Since taking over through a military coup in November 2017, President Emmerson Mnangagwa has heavily involved intelligence and military services in running the affairs of the ruling party Zanu PF.

In the 2018 general polls, the military – through Heritage – campaigned for Mngagagwa and rigged the elections in his favour, according to one intelligence source who asked not to be named.

Mnangagwa narrowly beat opposition party leader Nelson Chamisa in the disputed election.

Mnangagwa’s victory was confirmed at the Constitutional Court by Chief Justice Luke Malaba, the president’s ally and his key person as far as the judiciary is concerned.

The Constitution of Zimbabwe states that the intelligence services and the military are apolitical, says political analyst Lazarus Sauti.

However, “this is not the case because the ruling party’s primary elections were overseen by the Central Intelligence Organisation, which was operating under the shadowy FAZ”, says Sauti.

This demonstrates how the militarisation of our elections poses a threat to democracy

“An army-affiliated organisation called Heritage Trust helped FAZ conduct the polls. This demonstrates how the militarisation of our elections poses a threat to democracy.”

Allegations of voter intimidation and violence

The CIO and the military are accused of perpetrating violence to intimidate voters, particularly in rural areas to coerce people to vote for the ruling party leader.

In the 2008 bloody elections, the military and intelligence personnel were accused of abductions and torturing of opposition party supporters as part of a wider strategy to intimidate voters to vote for then-President Robert Mugabe.

Sauti says FAZ’s operative platoons participating in the country’s elections is worrisome and concerning.

“Judging from previous elections, these operatives will prevent alternative voices from fully engaging in the electoral process, thereby violating people’s rights and freedom,” he says.

“The opposition, independent media outlets, and civil society organisations are renowned for having difficulty reaching rural constituencies during election season because of CIO agents, military, militia, and traditional chiefs.”

Rural areas, which are Zanu PF’s strongholds, have been mostly a no-go area for the opposition party Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC), with Zanu PF militia working hand in hand with law enforcement agents making it difficult to penetrate.

The CIO and the military’s role erodes the credibility of the elections given their entrenchment in partisan politics, says political analyst Kudakwashe Munemo.

“If ever they will play a key role in the upcoming general elections, it will be ultra vires the constitution as they are not constitutionally mandated to do so, except if it is to the extent of supporting the party they are aligned to and by so doing still, they will be acting in a partisan way,” he tells The Africa Report.

Power tussle between the CIO and the military

Mnangagwa ascended to power through a military coup led by then Commander of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces General Constantino Chiwenga in November 2017. Since then, the president has been struggling to stabilise Zanu PF.

Two factions have emerged: one led by him and the other by his deputy Chiwenga.

Many of Chiwenga’s lieutenants who staged the coup have been forced into retirement by Mnangagwa and offered ambassador posts abroad.

Mnangagwa has been strengthening his position since taking office by either removing army commanders who were instrumental in his rise to power from their positions or by relocating them abroad, Sauti says.

…when a whole president of a political party chose to rely on parallel structures like FAZ, Teachers 4ED, that is clear testimony

“On the other side, VP Chiwenga still keeps in touch with his former army colleagues. This demonstrates the rift between the two,” he says.

The latest taking over of the role of the election by the CIO from the military demonstrates the rift between the leadership in Zanu PF and the government.

Inside sources say the military is not happy about the latest development.

It appears Mnangagwa is not trusting his party structures, hence the creation of parallel structures like FAZ, Teachers for Economic Development (Teachers 4ED), and Pastors for Economic Development (Pastors 4ED) – among others – to campaign and lure votes for him.

Africom’s role

Africom, a communication service provider, which played a huge role in the rigging of the 2018 elections by taking advantage of housing ZEC servers, is owned by the military.

The military is in control of ZEC’s tech side and the electoral body’s offices are dominated by people from the security sectors deployed by the state.

Because Mnangagwa has to give way to Chiwenga to carry on with the leadership, it is very clear that FAZ is being used to counter Zanu PF structures that work to phase Mnangagwa out, says Gumbo.

The rift [is] clearer than ever these days and when a whole president of a political party chose to rely on parallel structures like FAZ, Teachers 4ED, that is clear testimony,” he says.

This reflects the polarisation of not only civilian politics, but also the security sector institutions, says Munemo.

Should either of the military and CIO organisations command loyalty from Mnangagwa or Chiwenga, it may project a fight between them and a worsening rift, he adds.

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