IT has now emerged President Robert Mugabe has ordered a warlike campaign driven by military-style tactics in an increasingly desperate bid to win the do-or-die presidential election run-off on June 27.
This was agreed upon at a critical Zanu PF politburo meeting on April 4, a few days after the controversial March 29 elections which Zimbabwe’s struggling imperial president and his party lost.
The shock defeat sparked off a chain of events that have left Mugabe even more vulnerable at the run-off. MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai has a historic advantage in the forthcoming poll. It is his to win or lose.
After being nearly swept away by a tidal wave of popular discontent, Mugabe held a series of crisis meetings with close political and security advisors on the way forward. Emergency meetings were held between March 31 and April 8 to discuss a rescue operation for Mugabe who spent gloomy days holed up in his suburban mansion after the surprise defeat.
It took him weeks to comment on the political earthquake. In the end it was decided that a military strategy should be employed to save Mugabe’s political life. Soon after the April politburo meeting, the state machinery was cranked up to start the ongoing scorched earth campaign.
The decision to resort to a scorched earth policy campaign is said to have been a product of behind-the-scenes crisis meetings between the president and the Joint Operations Command (JOC), including his close political advisors. This is seen as the trigger of the current upsurge of political violence.
The picture of the political landscape since the beginning of Mugabe’s fight back campaign has been grim. Scores of ordinary people, mainly opposition activists, have been killed, injured or displaced in the ongoing brutal campaign as the bitter Mugabe and his diehards battle for survival.
The victims of violence have been killed using vicious techniques, including the cutting or crushing of genitals, hands, legs and various other body parts. Bludgeoning of victims to death using steel bars, axes, sticks, gun butts and other blunt objects has been common. Every week the MDC is reporting the murder of its activists and providing evidence of the killings. Doctors have confirmed in medical reports that most of the victims – at least 50 so far – died after “severe assaults”.
The MDC, human rights organisations and civil society groups blame Zanu PF and state security forces for the killings. They say the army was deployed nationwide after the March polls to campaign for Mugabe under cover and has been wreaking havoc across the country. The army has however officially distanced itself from the violence, but human rights activists insist that the military is waging a covert but brutal war on civilians.
Denials aside, what is currently going on is war by other means against the people by the state. There is a low intensity conflict (LIC) unfolding. A LIC involves the use of security forces deployed selectively and with restraint to enforce compliance with policies or objectives of a political party controlling the military force. The term can be used to describe conflicts in which at least one or both of the opposing parties operate along such lines.
US philosopher Noam Chomsky said the term “low intensity operations” – originated by British General Sir Frank Kitson – is a form of terrorism in its own respect. State terrorism involves repression against the people by those controlling levers of state power.
In the US, LIC is defined as a political-military confrontation between contending parties or groups below a conventional war but above the routine, peaceful competition.
Usually, this involves protracted struggles of competing principles and ideologies. It is waged by a combination of means, employing political, economic, informational, and military instruments.
Low intensity conflicts are often localised, generally in the Third World, but contain regional and global security implications.
In comparison with conventional operations the armed forces involved operate at a greatly reduced tempo, with fewer soldiers, a reduced range of tactical equipment and limited scope to operate in a military manner. It involves intelligence gathering, psychological operations, propaganda and counter-operations in the battle for hearts and minds.
In many respects, what is going on in Zimbabwe today ahead of the run-off is definitely a low intensity conflict. Mugabe and Zanu PF are mainly using state security instruments and propaganda in their battle to win the crucial poll.
Service chiefs have made unequivocal anti-opposition remarks in clear violation of their constitutional duties.
The question now is: Will the military-style strategy work for Mugabe? It would take a miracle for Mugabe to win given the economic meltdown and the sea change in popular attitudes.
There will be seismic changes on issues, party leaders, demographic power bases and a reshaping of the political landscape, resulting in a new political power structure and status quo.
Mugabe might try but certainly can’t stop the howling winds of change.