In post-conflict states, the establishment of institutions, as part of state formation, is carefully managed in order to prevent the resumption of fighting amongst former armed groups. In the transition from colonial Rhodesia to present Zimbabwe, the process was guided by the provisions contained in the December 2, 1979 Lancaster House Agreement (LHA) reached in London by parties in dispute. The LHA provided for a finely balanced political power sharing arrangement during the first decade between the minority white and the majority African population. This was divided and embedded for the next ten years, in a ratio of 20 to 80 seats, respectively, in the new National Assembly. The accord’s underlying assumption was, therefore, that the African majority represented a cohesive and united group. Given the end of the conflict with a ceasefire signed by the political entities, each with a highly charged armed group—comprising the Rhodesian Security Forces (RSF), former combatants of the Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army (ZANLA), and the Zimbabwe Peoples’ Revolutionary Army (ZIPRA)—an urgent, parallel process to establish an integrated force was also in support of the new administration that would emerge from the two scheduled electoral processes. Since the creation of the Zimbabwean state, in April 1980, the security establishment has evolved into a highly politicized institution in support of the ruling party and executive, ultimately serving as the alternative to electoral legitimacy, placing them at odds with the citizenry. In examining the transformation over nearly four decades, the evidence reveals three distinct steps that began by invitation, between 1980 and 2001, against actual and perceived political opposition. This was followed by the second step, made explicit on January 9, 2002, when the full repertoire of top generals in full regalia appeared on television redefining the criteria of the presidency, outside the electoral norm but in support of the incumbent in an incestuous relationship. This position persisted from January 2002 until November 2017. On November 21, 2017, President Robert Mugabe was compelled to tender his resignation following his isolation after the violent seizure of power through Operation Restore Legacy on November 14–15. From that moment on, the military establishment in Zimbabwe, working closely with a political faction of the Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front (ZANU PF), fully grasped political power. On December 18, 2017, a formal announcement ending Operation Restore Legacy was made together with the parallel retirement and appointment of the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), Lieutenant General Constantine Chiwenga as the new first Vice President of the country, accompanied by the Air Marshall, Perence Shiri, who became the Minister of Agriculture, and Major General Sibusiso Moyo who, at dawn on the November 15th had appeared on television announcing what has since been described as the military-assisted transition (MAT), appointed as the new Minister of Foreign Affairs among others. All the senior officers cited also became members of the ruling party, ZANU (PF)’s highest decision-making echelons of the politburo and central committee, which was now headed by Major General Engelbert Rugeje, also immediately retired, to become the new commissar or secretary general.
Relying on secondary sources, observation, and minutes of confidential meetings, the discussion provides a better understanding of why and how the political role of the military emerged almost in parallel with independence in 1980, how the institution evolved, away from the LHA plan, and what it became following the reticent and acrimonious departure of Mugabe, expelled from ZANU (PF) and compelled to resign after 38 years in power and at the helm. In the aftermath, the military has become the arbiter and kingmaker, again continuing to negate the electoral processes while observing minimally constitutional and normative provisions for purposes of retaining sub-regional, SADC, and African Union continental, multilateral support. Significantly, even with the naked politicization of the military amid the militarization of Zimbabwean politics, woven into revolutionary neo-colonial rhetoric, there has been no sufficient expectation or resolve to have Mugabe or the country’s institutions observe norms of democratic governance, particularly as leaders of the majority of African states appear convinced that, in fact, the crisis in Zimbabwe is about the continuing decolonization agenda against which revolutionary, violent methods are justified. To this end, the involvement of the political opposition receiving explicit support from the former colonial power—for instance, Joshua Nkomo exiled in Britain during the 1980s, and later the expressed support by British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, for Morgan Tsvangirai and the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC)—only reinforced these impressions. Consequently, amongst the African member states, there is an unrealistic expectation that political changes will emerge from ZANU PF reforming and aligning itself to the democratic agenda. In their view, the opposition MDC is but merely a protest movement, not credited as a possible alternative government in waiting.