LAST week’s invasion of census training centres by rowdy soldiers demanding to be part of the process clearly shows a lack of discipline among Zimbabwe’s armed forces.
Once regarded as one of the most professional armies in the region, the soldiers did exactly the opposite causing mayhem at centres across the country demanding to be hired as census officials, even though they are not competent to do so.
It took the intervention of President Robert Mugabe, who is the Commander-in-Chief of the Defence Forces, before the soldiers could return to their barracks. Even then, ministers of Security had to be involved to make the soldiers leave the training centres.
Such wayward behaviour by the security forces reinforces the call to prioritise security sector reform ahead of elections that may be held next year.
This matter has been a bone of contention between the two MDC formations and Zanu PF for a while. It needs to be addressed urgently before these rowdy elements of the military do the unthinkable.
If the soldiers can demand to be involved in the counting process, which is definitely outside the scope of their mandate, what can stop them from demanding to be involved in electoral processes? In the event that elections are held, they may throng voting centres across the country and subvert the will of the people.
Measures need to be taken to ensure that soldiers are confined to the barracks and be called upon only when national security is under threat.
Zimbabwe has successfully conducted three population censuses since Independence but at no point were soldiers involved other than providing security. This process was mainly done by teachers and other civil servants. So what has changed now?
Whether or not the debacle was a political strategy by Zanu PF to influence the programme that has a bearing on the delimitation of constituencies, it reflects badly on Mugabe ahead of the Sadc summit to be held in Maputo, Mozambique, this week.
Mugabe will be viewed as someone who has lost control of the army that is developing a potential to destabilise the country.