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Oct 8, 2013 | Commentary

Conceptualising the SSR Narrative: A Kaleidoscopic View

An adage which says when a fish starts to rot, it starts from the head may probably ring true in the case of Zimbabwe. It is not the junior rank and file members in the army or police who are un-professional; rather it is the security chiefs who have been de-professionalising the security sector. Since independence in 1980, the Zimbabwean populace has been facing challenges trying to address the excesses of what Althusser (1970) terms state apparatuses. Hence, the chorus for SSR (security sector reform) has remained louder and more pertinent, especially given Zimbabwe’s checkered record on human rights abuses, mainly as a result of the abuse of power and erosion of the rule of law. Interestingly, it should be understood that the SSR narrative in Zimbabwe has remained exclusivist and elitist.

The elitist debate on SSR seems to be split amongst the major two competing interest groups, namely those in ZANU-PF and those in the Movement for Democratic Change. On the other hand, there are some elements (mainly from and within) the ruling ZANU-PF party who have been arguing against security sector reform. Such elements have dismissed the calls for security sector reform as the work of the ‘enemy’ the (Movement for Democratic Change) who are bent on pursuing a ‘regime change agenda’ – an ‘illegal’ change of government.

Militarisation of Public Institutions: Navigating through a Minefield

Soon after gaining independence in 1980 the Zimbabwean government became more interested in entrenching state/ national security rather than human security. It is common knowledge that Zimbabwe has also witnessed the militarisation of parastatals. Serving or former members of the security sector have been appointed to head such public institutions

More worryingly, these security chiefs who have been appointed to head parastatals have failed to effectively manage and run these institutions. Hence, some circles within the civil society and from the opposition political parties have been constantly calling for the reform, re-professionalization and transparency in the appointments of personnel in public institutions. The appointment of security chiefs to head civilian institutions has also exposed the corrupt and nepotistic tendencies in the management of public institutions in Zimbabwe – hence the calls and need for security sector reform.

Who Will Police the Police – Towards Police Reform?

The Zimbabwean police force has largely been inactive when it comes to dealing with politically motivated violence. Arbitrary arrests, forced disappearances, torture and inhuman and degrading treatment has become the order of the day. There are allegations, documented evidence and reports pinpointing the Zimbabwean police force as the major culprit in this regard. Basically, the chorus and demand for SSR in the police force has been aimed at weeding out corruption, partisanship, politicisation of the police force, lack of professionalism and unfairness in their conduct of duty. Equally so, the army and intelligence services have also been implicated in human rights abuses as early as1990 up to the contemporary.

Whistling in the Wind – Calls for Security Sector Reform

The calls for security sector reform in Zimbabwe seem to be falling on deaf ears. To date, there has been no attempt to deal with the reform of the security service to align it with normative human rights practice and discourse. Although, the newly crafted Zimbabwean constitution has spelt out the need for the security sector to be neutral, non-partisan and professional – the conduct of the security chiefs still displays a lack of change. Mainly, the resistance to reform has been a result of the rigidity on the part of some political hardliners. On the other hand, the soft-liners have been willing to effect some gradual security sector reform; although their efforts have suffered a deathblow from the hawks.

The hawks have dismissed security sector reform as a non-starter and non-negotiable chapter in the history of Zimbabwe. As such, SSR has been conceived as an issue of national security which is not subject to public scrutiny. Consequently, this has affected the democratisation process, since SSR is also a major plank in constructing a democratic society.


Gift Mwonzora is a Blog Contributor for the Security Sector Reform Resource Centre and a PhD Candidate at Rhodes University in South Africa. He is also a lecturer with the Zimbabwe Open University (ZOU).