Tsvangirai entices generals

HARARE - Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai is courting top army officials, thus far the biggest threat to his potential rule.

Since the emergence of the MDC in 2000 as the foremost threat to Zanu PF and President Robert Mugabe’s rule, the army has threatened to subvert the will of the people even if Tsvangirai wins a free and fair election.

Tsvangirai’s efforts to win the trust of army generals come at a time when MDC formations in the unity government are sweating over what they say is a covert military operation that could scupper prospects of a peaceful election.

Soldiers, according to MDC formations, are carrying out an operation code-named “nyika yaenda — nyika haiende” (the country is under threat) across the country in order to ensure a Zanu PF victory come elections.

High-placed sources close to the PM yesterday said the MDC leader “has changed tact” and will now use the regular, National Security Council (NSC) meetings to allay fears of army generals who include defence chief Constantine Chiwenga and police boss Augustine Chihuri.

One of the army commanders, Douglas Nyikayaramba, has previously described Tsvangirai as a national security threat while the MDC leader has described the major general’s statements as a pre-emptive coup and demanded security sector reforms before elections.

Mugabe on his part has refused to reform the security sector arguing tempering with the army would compromise the country’s security.

Army top-brass have vowed not to recognise anyone without liberation war credentials amid fears someone from outside Zanu PF could see them persecuted for various crimes against humanity as well as strip them of their riches.

Tsvangirai unlike Mugabe did not participate in the protracted liberation war of the 1970s but has been able to attract the support of a disgruntled electorate through his party’s bread and butter policies.

Chihuri, Chiwenga and a host of other military top-brass have openly declared their allegiance to Mugabe, at times threatening to thwart the will of the people.

For some time, MDC officials including, Tsvangirai, himself have played in the hands of the military hardliners as they have attacked the security sector establishment.

But well-placed sources in the Premier’s office said the former trade unionist is now trying a new method and managed to build bridges with service chiefs at the last NSC meeting that was also attended by Mugabe and top unity government ministers.

William Bango, Tsvangirai’s spokesperson, could neither confirm nor deny that the PM had changed approach.
“What I know is that the National Security Council has been meeting previously in order to address national security issues,” said Bango.

However, a high-placed source in the Premier’s office said since December last year, there has been a gradual change in the PM’s approach to the military.

The source said the MDC is moving from “confrontation to engagement”.

“The Prime Minister is shifting from confrontation to engagement. The aim is to try and allay fears of those who are afraid of his rule. This is a major policy shift in the MDC as previous attempts to confront the army have failed to move hardliners,” said the source.

Apart from courting army generals, who will no doubt play a significant role towards the country’s transition, Tsvangirai has been openly meeting officials from the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission and Registrar General’s offices — two bodies that will play a major role in the forthcoming elections.

Like the army, Zec the body mandated with running elections, is accused by civil society of tempering with 2008 harmonised election results.

With Zimbabwe hurtling towards elections that could be held midyear, fears are high that the impending poll could turn into a farce if security sector and legislative reforms are not put in place.

A report released by Human Rights Watch last year listed the army as the biggest threat to the country’s hopes of holding free and fair elections this year.

Even though Mugabe has been reluctant to effect security sector reforms, there are signs that the army might be ready to ensure that the forthcoming elections will be held under peaceful conditions.

MDC secretary-general Tendai Biti who also attends the NSC meetings, in December last year said army bosses are now committed to creating peaceful conditions ideal for a free and fair election.

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