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Why the armed forces must not be routinely asked to do police work

The violent post-election clashes witnessed on Wednesday 01/08/2018 in Zimbabwe in which six civilians needlessly lost their lives when the Army opened fire on protesters in Harare do not only show the immaturity of the MDC leadership and insensitivity of ZANU PF but also remind us of the importance of keeping the armed forces in their barracks for as long as possible and allow our police/ peace forces to protect and serve the public in cases of civil disobedience.

Why is it easy for the Zimbabwean Army to be deployed to deal with issues of internal security?

It is fair to say in Zimbabwe, it is far too easy for the State to deploy the Armed forces on the country’s Soil to conduct what, in normal states, are Police duties because the public, who are far removed from decisions of governance, have been conditioned into normalising and tolerating State brutality. The State has thus got into the habit that the moment there is the slightest of disturbances, the Army is deployed to manage the situation. This routine use of the armed forces for internal security issues is neither good for the Army nor safe for the nation.

History and years of ZANU PF political dominance have severely compromised the Armed forces’ professionalism. We expect the Armed forces to be apolitical, yet the reality of the day is that it is difficult to separate the military from ZANU PF, the political organisation; the Army own ZANU PF and ZANU PF leadership conforms to the whims of the army and vice versa. In an environment where we cannot clearly define where ZANU PF – the political party – influence ends and where the State influence begins, chaos reigns.

Is it wrong in all circumstances for the Armed forces to enforce internal law?

Certainly not, indeed during times of insurrection, armed revolt or extreme lawlessness, it is proper for the Armed forces to intervene and help the Police force restore law and order. But, our Armed forces should not interfere with police work as a matter of routine. I just do not believe the protests of 01/08/2018 were an extreme situation that reached the threshold warranting Armed forces’ involvement. If it did, then what is the role and need of the police officers in Zimbabwe?

Why we must ensure it is difficult for the Army to deploy in internal security matters

Perhaps to answer this question we need to look at how and why armed forces are trained the way they are compared to Law Enforcement officers. Soldiers are trained primarily to engage and destroy enemies of their country. In military parlance they say, “it is better to be judged by 12 than carried by six”; for combat soldiers, the proverb’s meaning is clear: when in doubt, shoot first and ask questions later.

On the other hand, police officers are trained to maintain the law of their own country within their own country and with their fellow citizen. It is therefore logical that killing must only be used when theirs or someone else’s life is under real or genuine threat.

Yes, it is true that in fast-paced events accurately judging the degree of exposure to genuine threat to one’s life or somebody else’s is not rocket science and mistakes will be made, but we expect our police officers to be trained to the highest possible standard to make such decisions with a high degree of precision.

From an informed point of view, we can deduce logically that generally a soldier, while still a soldier, cannot possibly understand the doctrine of “reasonable force” because the only force they know how to use is lethal. It therefore seems reasonable to refrain from or restrain military policing unless there is absolute need.

Why restricting the executive’s authority to deploy the military on Zimbabwean soil is necessary?

The only way to protect the public from a tyrannical executive is depriving the executive unrestricted authority over the deployment of our armed forces to intervene in issues of internal security. The legislative branch of government must put in place laws that hold the executive to account each time our armed forces are to be used for internal security issues. We need to restrict the President’s ability to deploy Zimbabwean Troops (under the President’s control as Commander-In-Chief) on Zimbabwean Soil to a set of well-defined parameters.

Our government model must be reviewed so that no individual branch should wield too much power without the consent of the other branches. The USA federal model shown below will be a good starting point to explore for possibilities.

Table 1 The 3 branches of the US government can give Zimbabwe a guide on how to spread and balance power distribution within government so that no organ is too powerful for the safety of the country.

To tighten things further, permission or request of the relevant provincial governor must be sort before any internal deployment of the Armed forces for internal security purposes is activated. The caveat here is that the provincial governor should act within constitutional provisions.

The Harare issue was neither an emergency nor widespread to justify the deployment of Armed forces, and by so doing put human lives at risk. It can be reasonably argued that the Armed forces were (mis)used that day as a tool of intimidation, and restoration of order was secondary to the objective. That is not the right way of using the army; the Army’s involvement in internal security duties makes it vulnerable to politicisation.

Concluding remarks

Greater care must be taken whenever consideration for the deployment of our armed forces for internal security issues is made. Let us ensure that without a good and proper reason, the executive cannot deploy the Armed forces against Zimbabwean citizens. It must never be lost to us that we train our troops to engage and kill or maim to protect our country against our enemies. Yet in many instances, our political leaders then ask these trained young men and women to serve as peace officers, a job that entails entirely different expectations, expertise and holds them to a different moral standard. Expecting our armed forces to play both the role of Armed officers and that of Police officers is expecting too much of any human being.


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