By Constantino Chiwenga
I feel honoured to speak on “The role of the military in peac-building and national reconciliation” itself a topic under the broad theme “A Reflection on Ethical Leadership. The theme honours the 100th sub-Anniversary of our icon, Dr Joshua Nkomo Mqabuko Nyongolo.
My discussion shall address the role of the military in peace-building and reconciliation and then pan out to sharing with you my perspective on Dr Joshua Nkomo.
In particular, I will highlight the important role he played in building peace and cultivating the ethos of reconciliation in this country, especially his constant nexus with the military both before and after Zimbabwe’s independence.
At face value, there seems to be no obvious, discernible link between the military, ethics and peace-building, as many people associate the military with war and destructive power.
The military is generally and traditionally understood as an institutional instrument designed to inflict physical harm, violence and death of the enemy, however defined.
In any case, any violent conflict involves the military as a key player, one way or the other.
When you then relate this perception of the military and our discussion today, questions on the appropriateness, legitimacy and applicability of the military in peace-building becomes obvious and even contradictory.
What needs to be understood is that the military as an instrument of power in any State or nation’s insurance policy.
This analogy of an insurance policy should help us to understand how the military can be employed by the State both as a preventive and corrective measure.
It should also be noted that the use of the military has been evolving from its traditional war fighting dimension to a completely different one, in response to changes in the geo-political environment.
This change has been even more visible after World War 2 where peace-making, peace keeping, peace-building, peace enforcement and military aid to civil authorities (MACA) etc, have morphed into key and central functions of the military.
It is also important for us to understand that the act of peace-building and reconciliation stems from a situation of conflict, and that a conflict situation usually involves the use or threat of the use of force.
My presentation therefore seeks to unbundle how the military can be employed as an agent of peace building and reconciliation, to highlight the role played by Dr Joshua Nkomo in peace building in our country, Zimbabwe.
Now therefore I get deeper into my discussion, we need to have a common understanding of some of the key concepts that will form the core of this discussion.
These are, ethical leadership, peace building and reconciliation.
Ethical leadership is understood as a form of leadership in which individuals demonstrate conduct for the common good that is acceptable and appropriate in every area of a society’s life.
Ethical leaders share some common traits and characteristics, such as commitment to justice, respect for others, honesty, humanity, focus on unity and national team-building, value-driven decision making, encouraging initiatives, and self-accusation, leadership by example, value awareness and non-tolerance for ethical violations.
Peace-building is a generic term referring to all activities and initiatives that are intended to create the conditions necessary for sustainable peace to form and to build in the aftermath of a violent and destructive conflict.
Sustainable peace allows for a state of human security and fulfilment, which should be enduring at the very least minimising the recurrence of violence.
Paradoxically, the world use of the military in peace-building creates what can be termed “a culture of militarism” stemming from the belief that peace building can only be achieved through use of force and violence.
Think about a situation where there are two warring groups and a third intervention force is deployed to make, enforce or keep the peace, and then you get a sense of what I am driving at.
Since peace-building forms the basis of this discussion, I would like to explore one of the inherent risks and challenge as this process relates to the military.
Though the challenges and risks are numerous and invariably situational, I have particularly chosen one, which is generally understood as “spoiling” as it will have a bearing in the course of this discussion. However in this piece I will single out what is generally termed as “spoilers”.
I want to quote from, and summarise some aspects of “Spoilers” as propounded by the United Nations University Press in a volume on “Challenges to Peace Building: Managing spoilers during conflict resolution”.
Thus, the act of labelling a particular group as a “spoiler” may reflect a political agenda which is an extension of the conflict itself, or the interests of third parties.
The Volume acknowledges that contemporary conflicts are complex, diverse in nature, and involve an array of actors, motives, and processes both within the conflict area and from outside.
From such a perspective, traditional conceptualisations of peace building, conflict settlement processes, and the role of disputants and third parties may seem rather limited.
The volume adopts a broad definition of spoiling behaviour. At the core of this are the activities of any actors who are opposed to peaceful settlement for whatever reason, whether these come from within or, as is usual, these come from outside the peace process, and who thus use violence or other means to disrupt the process in pursuit of their aims.
Similarly, there are parties that are a part of the peace process but which are not seriously interested in making compromises or committing to a peaceful endgame.
They may be using the peace process as a means of gaining recognition and legitimacy, gaining time, gaining material benefit, or avoiding sanctions, and thus can be described as having “devious objectives”.
Finally, spoiling includes actors who are geographically external to the conflict but who support internal spoilers and spoiling tactics: ethnic or national diaspora groups, states, political allies, multinational corporations, or any others who might benefit from violent conflict or from holding out.
So-called civil or domestic conflicts are, in reality, often influenced or characterised by international processes, causes and consequences.
One Terrence H Buckeye (2010) of the US Army contends that Reconciliation remains an abstract concept in both domestic and international contexts, as well as in academic and governmental contexts. The military role in reconciliation remains even more elusive.
He goes on to state that, ‘The concept of reconciliation has evolved through an on-going dialogue between International relations community, who view it in realist terms of political and economic structural reforms and the Conflict Resolution Community who view reconciliation as integrating emotional and substantive concerns.
The concept can also be understood differently when viewed as interstate or intra-state for purpose of this presentation, I will opt for the intra-state understanding.
The concept of reconciliation has developed through several disciplines but consensus has not yet produced a standard definition.
Buckeye further contends that ‘Spiritual interpretation tends to focus on the aspect of forgiveness and apology while psychological interpretations analyse past narratives to synthesis future narratives.
Political scientists and international relations expect explain reconciliation as a restructuring process of negotiation, meditation, and arbitration oriented on political, legal, security and economic systems of a society’.
Understood from this context, we want to agree the reconciliation seeks to prevent a recurrence of a conflict situation and build a stable environment that allows inclusive interaction in a previously conflicted situation for the construction of one might term long peace.
Is the use of the military in internal peace building legitimate and applicable?
From the forgoing discussion on peace building, it is evident that the military is somewhat conflicted as an agent of peace building.
Peace is built from a conflict and conflict being a product of force, entails the participation of the military as a key agent or player in a conflict.
In a paper to a seminar on the role of the military in peace building, one Andrew Rigby says ‘Military intervention is one instrument in a broader spectrum of tools designed to prevent conflicts and humanitarian emergences from arising, intensifying, spreading, persisting or recurring.
The objective of such strategy must be to help ensure that the conditions that prompted the military intervention do not repeat themselves or simply resurface . . . the consolidation of peace in the aftermath of conflict requires more than purely diplomatic and military action . . . an integrated peace building effort is needed to address the various factors which have caused or are threatening a conflict’.
What is clear in this assertion is that the military is but one player in a peace building process and there is a requirement for an integrated effort.
However, many participants in the peace building process find it difficult to accept the contribution of the military.
This is because, as noted by Rigby, the military is seen by many as undemocratic and male-dominated.
Some critics have argued in favour of having police in place of the army.
The proponents of this argument argue that in most cases the military is deployed before a situation has developed to warrant, intervention, leading to an escalation to the expense of the intended goal of peace.
Once a ceasefire is declared, many believe that the role military should be restricted to probably training and reforming the local military.
In the case of intervention by foreign forces, be it under the banner of a regional economic grouping like SADC, a continental block such as the African Union, or the United Nations itself, locals might have a feeling of being occupied.
The military, under such circumstances should implement its mandate with utmost care as it might be a target of hostilities and/or even litigation either under domestic or international law.
Military Integration as Peace Building Tool
What I have tried to do so far is to bring common understanding of some concept so that subsequence discussion is contextualised.
Let me now shift my focus to the one of the most challenging aspects of peace building which is the process of military integration.
Government forces may absorb guerilla forces or may merge the two warring factions to form a single national force. It is important to note that peace building is usually conducted after cessation of hostilities though the security situation may remain fragile.
The second model is complete demobilisation where government decides to downsize its military through the normal channels of peace building, but does not include former enemy combatants in its forces.
Examples include Ethiopia’s 1991 complete demobilisation of former government forces after the defeat of Mengistu Haille Miriam.
The third is coercive model of peace building, which involves forced disarmament of insurgents, and is usually carried out by external intervention under a United Nations mandate. An example of this is the failed force disarmament of Somali warring factions in 1993.
As a case study, Zimbabwe would suit the first model as we look at the post cease fire period of the liberation struggle.
The role of the military in peace building in Zimbabwe
I would like to zero in on the role of the military in peace building in Zimbabwe. The concept of peace building is usually associated with countries that are emerging out of a conflict.
I am, however, of the view that peace building in a country origin is always a continuous process, and that some of the activities might not attract so much attention. In addition, security challenges are always evolving.
The number of inter-state wars are decreasing as are traditional wars. New challenges are emerging with the advent of high unemployment rates particularly among the youths, security threats from non-state actors; irregular migration; and climate change, hunger and environmental degradation, among others.
These phenomena have a huge impact on peace and security just like wars and the military is working with various institutions in combating these challenges. For example, the Zimbabwe Defence Forces is increasingly involved in the fight against hunger, patrols to combat crimes along borders and many other economic development activities.
Dr Joshua Nkomo and his Role in Peace building in Zimbabwe
The story of peace processes in Zimbabwe from pre-independence to post independence can never be fully discussed without acknowledging ‘Father Zimbabwe’, as the late Dr Joshua MN Nkomo was popularly known.
Father Zimbabwe did not only rally us in the fight against colonialism; he also once again rose to the occasion immediately after the independence to lead the intricate processes of founding a new nation.
This was not an easy process; the people’s expectation among the black majority were high and mixed, given uncertainty particularly of those who were not at the front, the white minority community and those in the security establishment.
Given what had happened elsewhere following the dawn of independence, many feared what would become of us as a nation. It therefore not possible to chronicle all Dr Nkomo’s efforts in peace building activities in this presentation given the time allotted.
Cde Nkomo was born and grew up in a very oppressive and trying Rhodesian environment. Born in the Semokwe communal lands in Matabeleland South in 1917, he grew up like any other in a rural community, later to be known as ‘Native Reserves’, to use the language of communal settlers.
His early adulthood days were characterised by trade unionism which I believe shaped his national outlook and subsequently, his national politics.
He became a fully-fledged nationalist when he was elected President to the Southern Rhodesia African National Congress (SRANC) in 1957. In 1959, the SRNC was banned by the Settler regime but this gave way to the formation of the National Democratic Party (NDP) in 1960 again with Dr Nkomo as its President. This was to be outlawed again immediately bringing about the birth of the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU) in 1961.
The formation of ZAPU was followed by a period of turmoil where its leaders were imprisoned or restricted. Naturally, the members became divided as intended by the regime.
Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) came into being in 1963 and Cde Nkomo was not a member of it. In trying to address this fragmentation that was taking place, he came up with the People’s Caretaker Council (PPC) which was supposed to spearhead the mobilisation of the people for the struggle for majority rule.
Once again the regime reacted brutally by rounding up and restricting members to Gonakudzingwa, a remote place to the South-East of Zimbabwe, bordering Mozambique.
Dr Nkomo was to remain there, or in other prisons until towards the end of 1974 when he was released and flew to Zambia.
In 1975, he was he was again elected as the president of ZAPU and soon after, he was to intensify the liberation struggle from Zambia. Indeed, as soon as he got back to the helm, the abortive Geneva Conferences of 1976-77 followed.
In 1979, the landmark Lancaster house conference convened, leading to a ceasefire and the subsequent independence of Zimbabwe.
This short chronicle of events marks the key aspects of the life of Dr Nkomo in pre independence Zimbabwe. In highlighting these, my aim is to put into perspective the rise of a visionary from a sample from a simple village boy tending to the family herd to a national leader, along the way shattering the dreams of a sophisticated colonial settler regime.
What comes to the fore in the life of the late Dr Nkomo is that peace cannot be built outside justice and the recognition of a peoples’ right to self-determination. Such peace if at all, is false peace, in fact sheer acquiescence to operation. Similarly, reconciliation cannot subsist under those conditions.
This resolves the paradox of the military in peace building in that the use of military force to dismantle an oppressive system becomes sine quo non for peace building and reconciliation. Herein lies the ethical leadership of General Josh.
Perhaps one of the most trying times in the history of Zimbabwe is the advent of the integration of the three forces involved during the liberation struggle, namely ZANLA, ZIPRA and the Rhodesian Army.
The formal process itself is well documented and I have alluded to it in the preceding paragraphs, but what many do not appreciate are the background activities and manoeuvres that went on behind the public observation, more so as these relate to Dr Nkomo.
It must be understood that during this period, there was a lot of mistrust between and amongst these integrating forces, as well as between the two liberation forces and their former political leadership. To compound matters, a third force in the form of sinister hand of Apartheid cannot also be overruled.
To compound matters in the form of the hand of Apartheid readily fished in our troubled waters, an explosive stage was thus set for a conflict situation which undermined our early independence from 1982 to 1987 when the Unity Accord was signed ending hostilities.
It took mature and ethical leadership as well as commitment to national peace and national interest above personal ambitions and egos to bring this about. Herein lies the greatness of Joshua Mqabuko Nyongolo Nkomo, indeed his rightful claim to the moniker of Father Zimbabwe.
Even though we no longer have him with us today, his peace building legacy endures and underpins the stability and unity which secures us all.
I am aware that this lecture was meant to entrap me into making my just considered public statement on Operation Restore Legacy.
You can congratulate yourselves for succeeding where many have failed. We code named it Operation Restore Legacy advisedly.
When you are a foremost commander whose roots are steeped in the liberation struggle and you see the very fabric and foundation of the society you helped build as a cadre of the struggle, the very society you protected and defended as a commander threatened with the implosion and collapse, what becomes upper most on a commander threatened with the implosion and collapse, what becomes upper most on your mind is not political terminology or jargon, but your responsibilities as a man in charge of an institution which is the state’s last line of defence as bided by the Constitution.
Section 212 explicitly states and I quote; “The function of the Defence Forces is to protect Zimbabwe, its people, its national security and its interests and its national integrity and to uphold this Constitution.”
What has not been apparent to our sophisticated scholars is that where the figure and the symbol of the state is himself a victim of that threatened disintegration, the Defence Forces as the last line of protecting the constitutional order is enjoined to act.
What made Operation Restore Legacy stand out and apart from the average African experience was in how measured and respectful of the corner stones of the constitutional order it was.
What is significant is not that the tanks got out of the barracks, but (1) Parliament remained functional during the operation (2) The Judiciary went about with its business as usual (3) The rest of the executive branch continued to function as normal and most spectacularly that, the Head of the State and Commander in Chief of the Defence Forces continued to enjoy his honours and salute including from me personally and from the rest of the officers, men and women who comprise the Zimbabwe Defence Forces.
I and as all of you will testify, the broad civilian society remained not only free and unfettered but actually voluntarily joined in the defence of the constitutional order. Thereafter both the ruling party and the national parliament took steps that decided the political fate of our Zimbabwe.
I leave history to judge.
As we reflect on the life and role of our dear departed Father Zimbabwe and also peace building and reconciliation and what these mean for our society, we should never forget that peace and stability once established must be defended at all costs.
The recent terror attack on the national leadership at the White City Stadium on the 23rd of June 2018 barely hours after His Excellency the President Cde E.D Mnangagwa has visited Ekusileni Hospital, itself Umdala Wethu’s dream for healing our society, brought to the fore the sheer fragility of national peace if taken for granted and left undefended.
Dr Nkomo’s reaction to this heinous terror attack is as predictable as is obvious, he would have denounced it as cowardly and inhumane. We thus cue from him to unreservedly condemn in the strongest of terms these merchants of violence, who have no place in the society which the late Joshua Nkomo built and sacrificed for so much.
The police and other arms of security working with the rest of our peace loving society must ensure that the devil is accounted and must never go unpunished.
As we commemorate the centenary of the birth of the father Zimbabwe, Chibwe Chitedza Dr Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo, Zimbabwe should treasure his exploits, traits, peace building and national reconciliation that he advocated, for the betterment of the livelihoods of all Zimbabweans.
I THANK YOU.