Police Commissioner-General Augustine Chihuri sounded forthright in condemning electoral violence last week when de-briefing a contingent of police officers on their way to United Nations peacekeeping duty in Liberia. Editor’s desk: Nevanji Madanhire
He said: “Violence will not be tolerated. Those that are bent on causing mayhem and confusion will be dealt with in the strongest way possible and they will have no one to blame, but themselves if they are found on the wrong side of the law.”
Coming from the top policeman on the land, the words are very welcome especially coming at a time when the country is heading for a make-or-break harmonised poll next year.
The call for peace is not new: in the recent past, President Robert Mugabe has been outspoken in his plea for peace between political rivals as the election approaches. He reiterated the point early this month at the burial of the late Higher and Tertiary Education minister Stan Mudenge at the Heroes’ Acre.
But the public has received with scepticism Mugabe’s call for peace as incidents of violence seem to proliferate as soon as he utters the word “peace”. It now seems increasingly evident that the president has no control over his party’s rank and file who have, most of the time, been fingered in the incidents of violence despite his pleas.
Many have concluded that Mugabe’s calls for peace are often empty because there is no concomitant will in the police force to enforce peace. Indeed Chihuri and his charges have been accused before of selectively applying the law by punishing one perpetrator while looking away as another commits wanton acts of violence.
Chihuri has denied this is the case but the nation is still to see a test case where police have really descended upon Zanu PF perpetrators with the same “maximum force” it has descended on MDC hooligans.
Chihuri’s latest words against political violence have one weakness however; they seem to address the signs and symptoms of violence rather than the disease itself.
Chihuri doesn’t seem to acknowledge that the violence we see is systematic in that at the core of it are senior politicians in the political parties’ leadership. Those who commit the violence are often simply youths who, because of a lack of a livelihood, are hired and paid by these senior politicians to commit the acts of violence.
This is why Chihuri should address the politicians first before targeting their foot soldiers because doing so will only treat the symptoms and not the disease.
Let me digress a little. In 2007 there was electoral violence in Kenya that left more than 1000 people dead. Naturally the police’s first reaction was to target the machete-wielding tribesmen who hacked down opponents and destroyed the livelihoods of anyone whom they deemed to support rival candidates.
But later a closer look by civil society and the international community revealed that at the heart of the violence were senior politicians who, facing imminent electoral defeat, sought to use violence to intimidate and cow opponents into voting for them. Uhuru Kenyatta was one of them.
Uhuru, the son of Kenya’s founding father Jomo, was a presidential candidate for the long-ruling independence party Kanu and has served in different ministries, meaning, despite his age (he was born in October 1961), he is a veteran of Kenyan politics.
Another instigator of violence was Francis Kirimi Muthaura (born October 20 1946), a civil servant and close ally of President Mwai Kibaki. He is the head of Kenyan civil service and secretary to the cabinet. Muthaura has been named as an instigator of post-election violence in 2007-2008 and was together with Uhuru named among six suspects to be prosecuted by the International Criminal Court.
He is accused of leading secret meetings in Kibaki’s office, where revenge attacks against supporters of Kibaki’s opposition were planned. The ICC prosecutor claims he authorised the use of excessive force against protesters by the police.
He was recorded by two people posing as students, who claimed he had admitted involvement in post-election violence.
Uhuru and all the others including Muthaura have been indicted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity. They are allegedly criminally responsible as an indirect co-perpetrators pursuant to article 25(3)(a) of the Rome Statute for the crimes against humanity of murder, deportation or forcible transfer, rape, persecution and other inhumane acts.
It is important to note that they did not, in person commit these crimes but instigated them by driving their subordinates to commit them. In other words, there is a causal relationship between what Uhuru and Muthaura told their subjects and the violence that the subjects committed.
Similarly, in Zimbabwe there are politicians who are inclined to instigate political violence by encouraging their supporters to beat up or even kill their opponents. So, in order to nip political violence in the bud, it is these politicians who should be targeted by law enforcement agencies. The old cliché holds: prevention is better than cure.
In recent weeks we have heard lots of inflammatory language coming from senior Zanu PF politicians. In their language they have sought to create in the minds of their supporters a mindset that creates an atmosphere conducive to electoral violence.
Recently Minister of Justice Patrick Chinamasa has leadingly said that the military and war veterans will not allow Morgan Tsvangirai to rule if he wins elections next year. He has thereby psyched the military to revolt in the eventuality of Tsvangirai winning.
He has also incited the war veterans to rise against any popularly elected leader who doesn’t come from a certain group. If after the elections next year violence erupts and people are murdered, raped, displaced and generally persecuted, Chinamasa will be liable for prosecution for crimes against humanity.
Zanu PF national spokesman Rugare Gumbo is also guilty of the same inflammatory statements which lay the ground for electoral violence by echoing Chinamasa’s sentiments. Recently a shop was burnt in Mberengwa in an incident involving a faulty refrigerator and fuel stored in the same room.
Despite that the fire was purely an accident, Gumbo sought to inflame his supporters to beat up political rivals by alleging the political rivals had intentionally torched the shop in spite of a police report to the contrary.
Police Commissioner-General Chihuri should deal sternly with politicians of this ilk as a preventive measure. Fat chance! The Chinamasas and Gumbos of this world will get away with it while the police practise tokenism by arresting their agents.