Making the case for security sector reform in Zimbabwe

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The Case for Security Sector Reform in Zimbabwe


Zimbabwe's politicised military, paramilitary and police forces remain a threat to stabilisation one year after a breakthrough power-sharing agreement, unless the Government of National Unity, and its regional and international partners make security, and security sector reform, in Zimbabwe an urgent priority, according to a new report published by the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI).

Making the Case for Security Sector Reform in Zimbabwe (PDF) argues that Zimbabwe's security sector will hold 'the casting vote' on whether Zimbabwe's existing stabilisation and growth lasts, or collapses. Written by Dr Knox Chitiyo, a Zimbabwean who is Head of RUSI's Africa programme, the paper outlines both short term and long term policies for demilitarising the Zimbabwean state and making the country's return to democracy both sustainable and secure.

Acknowledging that there have been some positive steps in the realm of national reconciliation in Zimbabwe recently, the paper also highlights the establishment of the National Security Council as a major step forward in civil-military relations. But one year after the breakthrough power-sharing agreement, much of Zimbabwe's security sector still remains highly politicised, and political violence remains a major problem.

'The security sector remains the biggest "known unknown" in Zimbabwe's current politics, the report concludes; 'what is certain is that the military has the capacity to contain or roll back political transition through the use of force, coercion and co-option'.

As well as this possible role as a 'spoiler', however, the paper explores a role for the security sector as an 'enabler' of the rule of law. Stressing the major contribution Zimbabwe's military has made in the past to nation-building and development, the report outlines how - if the military is seen as a 'partner' rather than an 'enemy' - it can do so again. Yet, for this to happen, the Government of National Unity, the security sector, civil society, and Zimbabwe's regional and global partners, must make security, and security sector reform [SSR] an 'urgent priority'.

The RUSI report makes four key recommendations:


  • - The Government of National Unity must draw up a new National Defence and Security Strategy, in which SSR would take a central role. 'Regionally and globally, many countries are undertaking national Defence Reviews. Such a review, which would include SSR, is long overdue for Zimbabwe,' the paper points out.


  • - Stakeholders must integrate the military into the country's ongoing political and social reconciliation process, aligning SSR with popular demands for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and transitional justice. While many international organisations have underlined the need for SSR in Zimbabwe, what matters is that it is Zimbabweans - including many in the security sector - who are calling for security reform.


  • - Reform and capacity - building of Zimbabwe's police must become a priority in its own right, returning to a focus on combating a rising wave of criminal violence, and ending 'a crisis of politicised policing'.


  • - Zimbabwe's international partners must commit to a strategy of 'smart' SSR. In particular, the United Kingdom must change its policies towards Zimbabwe, favouring 'inclusive engagement' with all the key stakeholders in the security sector and the Government of National Unity.


Making the Case for Security Sector Reform in Zimbabwe focuses on the security sector's role in the power-sharing agreement at a time when the stability of the Government of National Unity has been questioned. Security concerns also impact on investment and international relations - in September 2009 a top-level EU delegation to Zimbabwe declined to lift sanctions on President Robert Mugabe and several advisers from his ZANU-PF party. 

Major policy differences between the three parties have strained the coalition in Zimbabwe. Many of the problems are a result of major failings in the rule of law and the depredations of security personnel and paramilitary groups.  In particular, the paper warns that military intervention remains a threat to free elections in Zimbabwe: 'electoral transparency and monitoring is key, and without mechanisms to ensure the safety of the voters and neutrality of results, the military could again take charge and short-circuit the transitional process'.

Speaking at the launch of the new RUSI publication, Dr Knox Chitiyo, the report author said:

"Zimbabwe's recent remarkable economic recovery is not only important for her people; it is crucial for the region, and also has global significance. But Zimbabwe's full potential will only be realised when there is a shift from the security of the state to the security of the people...  if Zimbabwe's renaissance is to be sustainable, security must be embedded in the national agenda."

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