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Zimbabwe's militarized, electoral authoritarianism.

Authoritarianism in Zimbabwe survives because a coalition of political and military elites stands ready and willing to employ violence to execute the Machiavellian vision of President Robert Mugabe and perpetuate his control of the state. Several variables reinforce the durability of this regime--chief among them the mass out-migration and the large inflow of remittances that has decimated the middle class and dampened the political voice of those who remain in the country. Beginning in 2000, Zimbabwe's authoritarianism became militarized with the overt intrusion of the security sector into the political arena, a process that reached its peak before the June 2008 presidential runoff election. The electoral dimension of its authoritarianism stems from the fact that the regime unfailingly holds elections in search of popular legitimacy but then manipulates them for its own ends. This article dissects Zimbabwe's militarized form of electoral authoritarianism with specific reference to the 2008 reign of terror. It concludes that the factor that best explains the regime is the symbiosis between the party and the security sector, with Mugabe providing the glue that binds them together in pursuit of regime survival


Many one-party and dominant-party regimes survived the demise of the Soviet era despite the broad sweep of modern political democratization. Among the survivors was Zimbabwe. (1) This article focuses on the case of Zimbabwe with specific reference to the country's elections in 2008 and the factors that played critical roles in the maintenance of the political regime. It argues that the security factor looms larger than other explanations, but also brings into the equation variables that work to cushion the regime but that are not intrinsic to it.


Authoritarian durability is not a new political phenomenon, nor is it a dying one. The euphoria generated by the collapse of many seemingly robust one-party and dominant-party regimes overshadowed the preceding interest in studies of authoritarianism to a point where "the end of the twentieth century witnessed a proliferation of studies of democracy and democratization." (2) Thomas Carothers notes that a dominant characteristic in the last quarter of the twentieth century was the "simultaneous movement in at least several countries in each region away from dictatorial rule toward more liberal and often more democratic governance." (3) Indeed, the implosion of the Soviet Union led some scholars to triumphantly declare "the end of history" and the global victory of liberal democracy. For instance, Francis Fukuyama declared that we had reached "the end point of man kind's ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government." (4)

But end-of-history triumphalism was quickly dampened by the return of history when authoritarianism found ways of mutating under new conditions. Instead of brutally suppressing liberal-democratic institutions, dictators manipulated them. Thus, Carothers observes that "the widely hailed wave of democratization that washed over the [sub-Saharan African] region in the early 1990s has ended up producing many dominantpower systems." (5) Andreas Schedler concurs, detecting "the startling spread of multiparty elections without democracy," and explains:
 The new stars in the constellation of nondemocratic governance are
 "electoral authoritarian" regimes, which conduct regular multiparty
 elections at all levels of government yet violate basic democratic
 standards in serious and systematic ways."

What happened? This question has confounded many and lies at the core of the puzzle about the resilience of authoritarianism in its many subtypes, especially in the era of democratization. Several schools of interpretation have emerged to account for this puzzle. Some scholars place explanatory primacy on elections. Even if manipulated, elections under authoritarian conditions generate the legitimacy regimes desperately need in order to govern and obtain compliance from the governed. (7) According to this interpretation, rather than destabilizing authoritarian regimes, elections may actually act as a buffer, conceding the form of democracy while denying its substance. The regimes hold regular elections with predetermined outcomes.

The alternative school questions the causal link between elections and regime durability and instead posits that it is political institutions--especially parties-that explain regime resilience. This interpretation has several variations and has attracted many scholars?

This article argues that the endurance of authoritarian regimes stems from two sources: internal and incidental characteristics. The former refers to factors that are intrinsic to the regime--such as the personality of the leader, use of coercive instruments and manipulations of electoral institutions and processes whereas the latter represents those that are not inherent mechanisms for the regime's durability. Most research has focused on the former and neglected the latter. In the neglected category are various actions that citizens take in response to regime behavior, including exiting the country, voicing dissent and withdrawing from the political process. Also overlooked for regime survival are the roles of remittances and a shrinking middle class. Though these variables are not organic mechanisms for regime endurance, they work in the ruling party's favor by numbing citizen protests and facilitating regime longevity. In fact, these actions represent citizen responses to the regime's failure to provide valued services, including security, public services, employment and civic rights and liberties.

The literature explaining authoritarian durability also downplays the role of external forces, which is surprising given that most authoritarian regimes of the Cold War largely depended on support from the two superpowers and their allies. In other words, exogenous factors loomed large in explaining the durability of authoritarian regimes at that time. In the post-Cold War world, authoritarian survivors soon discovered new friends in the international community, and China is the prime example. Larry Diamond makes this point when he observes that "the arrival of China as a major aid donor, investor, and geopolitical player in Africa has given a new lease on life to authoritarian regimes that now have in Beijing an alternative political patron whom they can play off against the West." (9) Richard Joseph similarly notes: "Unhindered by commitments to democracy and human rights, and proceeding under an avowed policy of eschewing involvement in host-country politics, China's growing presence has been complicating prospects for further democratization in Africa." (10) China's role in blunting democratic reforms is particularly relevant in the case of the dominant-party regime of the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF).


Zimbabwe's authoritarianism is historically rooted. The political history of the country is an uninterrupted progression of various shades of authoritarianism, first under white-settler colonialism from 1890 to 1979 and under a black postcolonial regime since 1980. African traditionalism, settler colonialism and liberation war politics are the three major streams that have fed into Zimbabwe's political culture. All three are anchored in authoritarianism and have worked, individually and in combination, against the growth and development of democratic attitudes and behaviors. The toxic combination of these three streams, reinforced by post-independence autocratic practices, has produced the hardened strain of authoritarianism that we see today in Zimbabwe. In sum, authoritarianism has been the only game in town, and its resilience was openly displayed in the run-up to the presidential runoff election in June 2008.

Of the three sources of Zimbabwe's political culture, settler colonialism seems to have had the most enduring effect on the structural foundations of the postcolonial order. The structural pillars of white-settler colonialism were inherited intact by the incoming, victorious black nationalists who, after capturing the state, proceeded to systematically reinforce these authoritarian pillars. Hence, the security sector (military, police and intelligence) and legal framework that undergirded colonialism were not reconstructed to be compatible with the new political order that the nationalists had fought so hard and long to establish. Dismantling colonial structures is no easy task, particularly given the extrinsic factors that aid the current government in its quest for regime prolongation.


Zimbabwe witnessed a nationwide demonstration widely known as the Zimbabwe Million Citizen March on 1 March 2011. The aim of the mass protest was to "demand the end of the thirty-one-year rule by the iron-fisted and corrupt Robert Mugabe," but fewer Zimbabweans took to the streets than expected, especially in light of "It]he seismic events taking place in north Africa" where the Arab Spring was unfolding)' This was not the first time that calls for a mass protest had gone unheeded.

This apathetic public reaction had become the default response to calls for collective mass action against the increasingly repressive regime since 2000, when the country's descent into a syndrome of crises accelerated. For instance, in September 2006, the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions organized countrywide urban protests against state repression in the midst of a deepening economic crisis. Under normal circumstances, there should have been an overwhelming response to the demonstrations. Instead, the protests dismally flopped when only a few dared to go into the streets. At the time, this author noted: "The paradox is that as the overall situation of the multi-faceted crisis worsens, the people directly affected become more and more impotent and demobilised." (12)

This paradox stems from "a basic asymmetry in the risk orientations of the ruling elite and the ruled masses." In other words, the ruling ZANU-PF leadership was a risk-taking elite while Zimbabweans are a risk-averse demos. (13) The thesis was that the public aversion to risk was a part of Zimbabwe's political culture that predated colonialism and was reinforced by settler-colonial repression, militaristic liberation-war ideology and post-liberation authoritarian politics. The result is that most Zimbabweans have come to view themselves as subjects, not citizens, which has major implications for political behavior. The masses have grown fearful of confronting the state in the face of its massive display of repression, a tendency that only reinforces this subject orientation toward state authority. The salient point is that a subject-minded political culture is fertile breeding ground for authoritarianism. Dictators can sleep soundly, safe in the knowledge that their subjects are too timid to challenge them.


In addition to the submissive political culture and its associated risk-evading orientation, large-scale migration since 2000 has diminished Zimbabweans' willingness to challenge the Mugabe regime. This exodus was in response to the syndrome of crises triggered by the violent land-acquisition program undertaken by the regime beginning in 2000, which gravely disrupted the mainstay agricultural sector and had ripple effects throughout the economy. The impact of migration on political voice remains a largely under-studied topic. (14) The estimated number of migrants varies widely, with some media reporting that a quarter of Zimbabwe's population--roughly fourteen million in 2002--has migrated, with up to three million in South Africa alone. The United Nations Development Programme estimated in 2008 that "the population of Zimbabweans resident outside the country is at least over two million." (15)

For our purposes, it is the profile of the migrants that is vital. A survey study by Daniel Makina shows that 58 percent of a sample of 4,654 Zimbabwean migrants in select suburbs of Johannesburg migrated for political reasons--such as political persecution, intimidation and torture--while 82 percent of respondents mentioned economic reasons such as the economic crisis (51 percent) and unemployment (31 percent). (16) Makina's findings and other survey data show that over 80 percent of Zimbabweans migrating to South Africa and the United Kingdom are between twenty-one and forty years of age. (17) Further, up to 40 percent of Zimbabwean migrants in Johannesburg are from Bulawayo, with another 11 percent from Harare, meaning that half of all migrants come from Zimbabwe's two major cities. (Migrants from other cities could significantly increase the proportion of urban migrants.) In addition, a Southern Africa Migration Project sample from 2005 showed that 84 percent of migrants from southern Africa into South Africa are males. (18) Nearly half of Zimbabwean migrants (46 percent) are well educated, having completed secondary education, and 22 percent have a university or postgraduate degree. Another 28 percent have a pre-university credential similar to an associate's degree. (19)

Taken together, the profile of an average Zimbabwean migrant is a relatively youthful, well-educated urban male, who emigrated for political or economic reasons. It is important to note that this is also the profile of a middle-class Zimbabwean, as well as that of a risk-taking political participant who is willing and able to organize or participate in protests. With up to a quarter of the country's population out of the country--a majority of them Zimbabwe's best and brightest--the implications for political protest and activism are potentially enormous. The country has been stripped of a critical mass of risk-takers who could take part in collective action with the potential to undermine the authoritarian regime. This risk-taking, politically active constituency has been the backbone of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), an opposition party formed in 1999. (20) Without this crucial group, Zimbabwe is a nation of apathetic, atomistic risk-avoiders. This obviously works to buttress regime durability by removing potential challengers. In short, by taking the exit option, the middle class has inadvertently prolonged the political life of the regime that authored their miseries.


Having been robbed of this critical group, the population that remained is dominated by risk-averse, politically withdrawn masses. At best, their most active form of resistance is through the ballot box by casting a protest vote. Even then, voters have to contend with the regime's diverse "menu of manipulation" at the ballot box. (21) The ferocity of the economic crisis reduced most of what remained of this middle class to a lumpenproletariat that could hardly make ends meet. A large percentages of this group were professionals who by 2008 were earning the equivalent of less than $10 a month. (22)

Table 1 shows the gravity of the multidimensional crisis. For instance, the country's rate of GDP growth was negative for ten successive years, tumbling to a low of-14.1 percent in 2008. GDP per capita collapsed from $740 in 1998 to $508 in 1999 and to less than $402 in 2008.

Decades of political and economic crises decimated the middle class, which was then compelled to preoccupy itself with the politics of the belly, leaving them little stomach to confront the repressive state. The Zimbabwe-based middle class was too weak and demoralized to take the voice option, which further reinforced its subject orientation vis-a-vis public authorities.


There is a general consensus that remittances rescued the Zimbabwean economy from complete collapse. It continued to teeter along despite stratospheric hyperinflation, officially estimated in July 2008 at 231 million percent--the second worst recorded in history. Steve Hanke of the Cato Institute estimated inflation at 89.7 sextillion percent in November 2008. (23) The UN International Fund for Agricultural Development estimated that in 2008 Zimbabweans abroad transferred into Zimbabwe an estimated $361 million in foreign currency--excluding hand-to-hand transfers--and this amount was expected to double in 2009. (24)

While these estimates vary depending on the source, it is not so much the quantum of remittances as their effect--that is, the dramatic political consequences of the large flow of remittances that individuals and households receive. A series of surveys by the Zimbabwe-based Mass Public Opinion Institute revealed that the number of respondents who said remittances were their primary source of money rose from 8 percent in 2006 to 18 percent in 2007, while a salary as the primary source declined from 37 percent to 26 percent over the same time period. (25)

Cash from abroad alleviates the deprivation caused by the regime's failure to provide basic goods and services. The anger that could burst into the streets is mitigated, as is the incentive to raise one's political voice. In short, remittances dampen the potential for political agitation. Thus, in Zimbabwe, exit undermines voice in a dual sense: first, emigration depletes the ranks of the risk-taking and politically assertive middle class, and second, remittances depress voice among those who remain.


The dampening of voice as a means of registering political dissent left voting as one of the few ways to promote political change in Zimbabwe, albeit in an electoral system. These conditions were fertile ground for a protest vote in March 2008, whose outcome invited the wrath of the security forces.

The 2008 election will go down as one of the most violent and fear-ridden episodes in the annals of Zimbabwe's history. Easily characterized as a "reign of terror," systematic state-orchestrated violence was deployed to preserve power by a regime that had monopolized it for the preceding twenty-eight years since independence. (26) During the last eight years of Mugabe's rule, the ZANU-PF-led regime has precariously clung to power in the face of real opposition from the robust MDC party, led by former trade unionist Morgan Tsvangirai. (27) From its formation until now, Mugabe has dismissed the MDC as a foreign creation with a western-driven, regime-change agenda to reverse the gains of the revolution. (28)

Mugabe's regime controversially won the fiercely contested parliamentary elections in 2000 and 2005 and presidential elections in 2002. However, the regime's series of contentious electoral victories ended on 29 March 2008, when the ruling party lost the presidential, parliamentary and civic elections. (29) The official results of the first round of the presidential elections showed that Tsvangirai had won more votes than Mugabe but failed to achieve the legal threshold of 50 percent plus one additional vote. This compelled a constitutionally mandated runoff election, with the second round scheduled for 27 June 2008. The interim between the March and June elections was a dark hour in the country's political history and a sad lesson in a regime's quest for durability.

One of the keys to unlocking the puzzle of this quest is the two-faced character of the ZANU-PF. Its political and military dimensions are an inheritance from the liberation war days when the party established a military wing--the Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army--to prosecute the armed struggle for independence. This resulted in a brand of civil-military relations whereby the military was subordinated specifically to the ZANU-PF party leadership and was not subservient to any national political leadership. In other words, the governance of the armed forces during the struggle conformed to Huntington's "subjective civilian control" of the military, meaning a system that maximizes the power position of the leader and the ruling party. (30) While this style of civil-military relations was perhaps appropriate during the guerrilla war, it is incompatible with liberal democratic modes of governance whereby the soldiers must be under "objective" civilian control--i.e., the military is subordinate to whichever political authority is in control. (31)

The present governance problem in Zimbabwe can therefore be reduced largely to the model of civil-military relations that was appropriate during the liberation war days but is now anachronistic in the post-liberation context. As a consequence, the Zimbabwe military--and indeed the whole security establishment--still passionately regards the ZANU-PF as its own party, which it must defend if ever under threat. The relationship is not unidirectional, however; the ZANU-PF party and its leadership also view the military as a creature to be carefully nurtured in return for support when needed. This symbiotic, reciprocal relationship was on display during the presidential campaign period from April to June 2008 when the ZANU-PF faced certain defeat by a resurgent MDC opposition.


Before the defeat of the ZANU-PF in the March 2008 elections, the party had traditionally relied on the twin tools of coercion and consent. The balance between the two oscillated depending on the level of threat, perceived or real, from opposition forces. Further, Mugabe and his security chiefs felt that the party, and by extension the state, had failed and even betrayed the regime. Thereafter, Mugabe's allies in the security appartus--the "securocrats"--leapt to his defense by putting in motion a "menu of manipulation" to ensure that Tsvangirai would not emerge an outright winner in the March elections, thereby paving the way for a runoff election against Mugabe. All evidence points to a ZANU-PF election campaign in which the military and its security allies were fully in charge. Tsvangirai himself claimed that "the country has witnessed a de facto coup d'etat and is now effectively run by a military junta," and many commentators agreed with him. (32) The ZANU-PF as a party led the electoral contest in March, but after it publicly declared failure the securocrats took over. (33) For the security sector, the June runoff campaign was like the continuation of the liberation war. It was a militarized moment, which reduced the contest "to a battle between the bullet and the ballot." (34) In other words, the risk-taking tendency of the security component of the authoritarian regime was put on full display.

The organ that played a central and strategic role in this drama was the shadowy Joint Operations Command, comprised of the security chiefs from the army, air force, intelligence, police and prison services. The framework for the campaign of intense violence and intimidation was called "Operation Makavhotera Papi," meaning "Operation Who Did You Vote For," and was reportedly given its blessing by Mugabe himself. (35)

This warlike conception of electoral politics was not new; it was part of the ZANU-PF's ideological baggage that was articulated as early as 1976 during the armed struggle. Then, Mugabe said "our votes must go together with our guns; after all any vote.., shall have been the product of the gun." (36) During the runoff campaign, evidence abounded that the ZANU-PF considered elections to be a continuation of war by other means. For instance, Major Gen. Engelbert Rugeje put it bluntly: "This country came through the bullet, not the pencil. Therefore, it will not go by your X [voting mark] of the pencil." (37) In another of many similar incidents, soldiers handed out bullets to fear-ridden villagers and chillingly warned: "If you vote for MDC in the presidential run-off election, you have seen the bullets, we have enough for each one of you, so beware." (38) Ten days before the runoff, the commander in chief endorsed what his soldiers had been preaching: "We fought for this country, and a lot of blood was shed. We are not going to give up our country because of a mere X. How can a ballpoint fight with a gun?" (39)

True to their word, the ZANU-PF and the army made the runoff a terrifying period for most Zimbabweans in both urban and rural areas. As Craig Timberg of the Washington Post describes:
 In three months between the March 29 vote and the June 27 runoff
 election, ruling-party militias under the guidance of 200 senior
 army officers battered the Movement for Democratic Change, bringing
 the opposition party's network of activists to the verge of
 oblivion. By election day, more than 80 opposition supporters were
 dead, hundreds were missing, thousands were injured and hundreds of
 thousands were homeless. Morgan Tsvangirai, the party's leader,
 dropped out of the contest and took refuge in the Dutch Embassy.


Many local election observers concurred with Timberg's assessment, notably the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (an elections watchdog) and the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace in Zimbabwe. The Election Support Network noted that after the March elections "the run up to the run off degenerated into a run over leaving in its wake a trail of destruction, houses burnt down, many people displaced and homeless, many children orphaned, and community relations torn asunder." (41) One Catholic Commission diocese report stated that the Pre-Presidential period from 29 March to 27 June 2008 was "the most violent and bloody of all postcolonial elections that we have witnessed as an observer group." (42)

On 4 June 2008, humanitarian aid organizations were banned as part of the regime's overall strategy for achieving a resounding victory. Already repressive media restrictions were further tightened, and the MDC was barred from accessing the state media, which churned out virulent anti-Tsvangirai vitriol. Tsvangirai's campaign was consistently disrupted when he and his campaign teams were arrested on multiple occasions in June 2008. (43) Regional and international actors condemned the scorched-earth onslaught targeted at the regime's so-called enemies. Tsvangirai was forced to withdraw from the contest, but the regime persisted in holding the one-candidate election, in which Mugabe "won" a pyrrhic victory with 86 percent of the vote. (44)

Notably, Operation Makavhotera Papi was not merely the securocrats' solo venture. The political hardliners atop the ZANU-PF were part of the deal. It was therefore a joint operation by a civilian-military junta sharing the same political outlook and historical experiences, bound together by a common quest to block the winds of democratic change, thus securing prolongation of their authoritarian rule. The hard-line ZANU-PF leadership was also linked to the top security-sector leaders, perhaps due to their mutual fear of prosecution at The Hague for a string of human rights violations that were orchestrated and led by the security agencies of the state. Prominent examples of such violations include Operation Murambatsvina--which displaced hundreds of thousands of Zimbabweans and prompted a UN investigation in 2005--and the violent, compulsory land acquisition program. (45)

The civilian-military junta may have succeeded in retaining Mugabe as president through its reign of terror, but it exposed beyond doubt the regime's undemocratic credentials, its violent streak and its unbending determination to survive. Though the regime endured, it was severely wounded and was compelled for the first time to participate in a brokered tripartite arrangement to share power--the Global Political Agreement, which took effect in February 2009. Previously, when the ZANU-PF shared power, it was on its own terms, but the agreement humiliated the party by forcing it to share power with its archrival. In short, by violently subverting the democratic process, the regime inadvertently gave birth to a transitional governance framework with the potential to divert

Zimbabwe's political transition away from authoritarianism. Having been forced into the Global Political Agreement, the ZANU-PF is now battling to subvert it, but it remains to be seen whether they will succeed.

This brings us to the regional and international dimensions of the ZANU-PF's regime durability. At the regional level, the ZANU-PF strategy since the crisis started has been to divide the regional and international community, pitting the Southern African Development Community against the United Nations. In the Development Community the regime has sought to create divisions between those countries ruled by former liberation war movements (Angola, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Tanzania) and those that achieved independence without an armed liberation struggle. The former are viewed by the ZANU-PF as natural allies that would support it against any Western regime-change agenda, especially after the West imposed a package of sanctions on the regime in 2002. (46) Mugabe has been skillful at appealing directly to people across Africa, portraying himself as the victim of Western machinations designed to punish him for acquiring land from the Whites. This resonates well with the African people because land is an emotive issue throughout the continent, especially in the South African Development Community. While Mugabe was condemned in Zimbabwe and the West, he was adored in the Development Community and in the rest of Africa. (47) This groundswell of popular support compelled many African governments to refrain from condemning him publicly, as when South Africa and other African countries shielded Zimbabwe at international forums, including at the United Nations. (48)

At the international level, China occupies a special place in Zimbabwe's strategy. In 2003, Zimbabwe adopted a "look east" policy to spite Western countries and to counter their sanctions. As Mugabe articulated this in 2005: "We have turned east where the sun rises, and given our backs to the west, where the sun sets." (49) China was seen as particularly friendly because its policy of noninterference in the domestic matters of other countries makes it uninterested in their democratic and human-rights credentials.

China has since extended military aid, provided diplomatic and political support and increased trade and economic investment in Zimbabwe, though not to the extent expected by the ZANU-PF regime. The diplomatic support proved particularly handy in July 2008, when China vetoed a UN Security Council resolution that sought to impose multilateral sanctions on Zimbabwe. (50) Critics question whether the relationship benefits the ZANU-PF substantially more than Zimbabwe. For instance, John Karumbidza writes, "Temporary benefits so far include the political preservation of Mugabe reign" and "a desperate move to perpetuate the tenure of the ZANU-PF." (51) Other countries in the look-east orbit include India, Malaysia, Singapore and Iran, although they have been less critical to the regime's survival.


When all is said and done, Zimbabwe's regime durability cannot be fully explained without acknowledging the role that Mugabe plays. He is the glue that binds the system together. Within his own party, he uses divide-and-conquer tactics to pit party factions against each other. By deliberately elevating faction leaders until they constitute a threat, then dropping them and elevating their rivals, Mugabe ensures his own primacy within the party. Christopher Dell, former U.S. Ambassador to Zimbabwe, ascribes the ZANU-PF regime's durability to Mugabe himself, describing him as a tactically skillful, ruthless politician determined to cling to power at any cost. In one of his dispatches to Washington that was released by WikiLeaks, Dell wrote:
 [President] Robert Mugabe has survived for so long because he is
 more clever and more ruthless than any other politician in
 Zimbabwe. To give the devil his due, he is a brilliant tactician
 and has long thrived on his ability to abruptly change the rules of
 the game, radicalize the political dynamic and force everyone else
 to react to his agenda. (52)

Most observers agree with Dell's assessment of Mugabe. Most times, Mugabe uses his skills and instincts to carefully assess the situation and then appropriately respond to the threat or opportunity. In this, he is aided by specialized analysts from his security organs, especially the Central Intelligence Organisation and the Military Intelligence Directorate.

Mugabe is also a supreme risk taker with a penchant for unilateralism in strategic policy making and implementation, and he has instilled this risk-taking and unilateralist orientation throughout his ZANU-PF party and the top hierarchy of state institutions, including the security sector. Prime examples of risk taking by Mugabe and his ZANU-PF party include: the Gukurahundi Operation in Matabeleland in the early 1980s, the granting of unbudgeted gratuities to war veterans in 1997 in order to co-opt them, the deployment of thousands of troops in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1998 and the withdrawal of Zimbabwe from the Commonwealth in 2003. (53) The significance of these decisions for regime survival is that many of Mugabe's critics--including domestic forces and the regional and international community--underestimate his resolve and therefore miscalculate his likely course of action. Although they may think that Mugabe would not act in a particular way because it would be irrational, in difficult situations he has, in fact, taken the least rational (and least likely) course of action, leaving his detractors scrambling to respond. This is an integral part of his arsenal of tricks for survival.


Structure, agency and history interact in complex ways to explain regime incumbency in Zimbabwe. The explanation offered by Michael Bratton and Eldred Masunungure for the durability of the Mugabe regime is still valid. In their essay, they argue that the "ZANU-PF's staying power hinges upon a destructive mix of ideology, patronage, and violence," and they characterize the resulting regime as "a militarized form of electoral authoritarianism." (54) Though Mugabe's Machiavellian personality and political skills are recognized as important, they are not paramount in explaining regime durability. Despite Mugabe's looming presence, the ZANU-PF regime is more than a one-man regime. It is an institutionalized system of rule and it is highly unlikely that the ZANU-PF will be buried with him.

Further, the analysis by Bratton and Masunungure confines itself to factors that are internal to the regime and leaves out external variables that are just as relevant to the question of regime survival. A subdued political culture now characterizes the class of Zimbabweans most likely to rebel against the regime, and their ranks have been further decimated by mass migration. These two factors--exit and dampened political voice--have significantly contributed to the perpetuation of Mugabe's rule. Had the three million or so of Zimbabwe's best and brightest not left the country, anti-regime protests would be much more likely. Similarly, if remittances from abroad had not cushioned many households from dire economic conditions, members of these households might have been more likely to rebel. Furthermore, the regime was happy to receive the remittances and to celebrate the exit of would-be troublemakers, though this question has not been studied systematically and merits more attention in future research.

The factor that best explains the ZANU-PF regime's durability is the symbiosis between the party and the security apparatus. Without the active support of the security sector, it is inconceivable that the regime would have survived the economic and political crises for as long as it has. In 2008, Zimbabwe demonstrated how the alliance between these pivotal regime players, buoyed by their determination and willingness to take risks to pursue their interests, can contribute to regime longevity in particularly horrifying ways. However, these actions come at

increasingly higher costs.

The Global Political Agreement and the coalition government have placed Zimbabwe at a crossroads. Hard-line ZANU-PF elements and their security backers view the power-sharing arrangements as an interlude after which they will recapture power--by whatever means--and reestablish the old order. Their MDC rivals view the same power-sharing deal as an intermediate step to a complete transfer of power. It is these competing interpretations that have injected fragility and uncertainty into the coalition government since its formation. However, whatever the final outcome, the militarized, electoral authoritarianism that has characterized Zimbabwe for the last decade is unlikely to be the same again. This puts the country on a transition path away from resilient authoritarianism to a more open and democratic political order. Despite this, the transition will, in all likelihood, be a protracted, halting and violent one.


(1) Strictly speaking, Zimbabwe was never a de jure one-party state, though it was a de facto one-party state for the greater part of its political life, even before independence in 1980.

(2) Steven Levitsky and Lucan A. Way, "Beyond Patronage: Ruling Party Cohesion and Authoritarian Stability" (paper prepared for the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association, Washington, DC, 1 September 2010), 2-5.

(3) Thomas Carothers, "The End of the Transition Paradigm," Journal of Democracy 13, no. 1 (January 2002): 5-21.

(4) Francis Fukuyama, "The End of History?" National Interest 16 (Summer 1989): 3-4.

(5) Carothers, "Transition Paradigm," 5-21. Andreas Schedler, "Authoritarianism's Last Line of Defense," Journal of Democracy 21, no. 1 (January 2010): 69.

(6) Andreas Schedler, "Authoritarianism's Last Line of Defense," Journal of Democracy 21, no. 1 (January 2010): 69.

(7) Guy Hermet, "State-Controlled Elections: A Framework" in Elections Without Choice, ed. Guy Hermet, Richard Rose and Alain Rouquie (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1978), 1-18; Richard Joseph, "Democratization in Africa after 1989: Comparative and Theoretical Perspectives," Comparative Politics 29, no. 3 (April 1997): 363-82; Adam Przeworski and Jennifer Gandhi, "Dictatorial Institutions and the Survival of Dictators" (paper presented at the American Political Science Association Annual Meetings, San Francisco, CA, 30 August to 2 September 2001).

(8) Barbara Geddes, "What Do We Know About Democratization after Twenty Years?" Annual Review of Political Science 2 (1999): 115-44; Barbara Geddes, "Why Parties and Elections in Authoritarian Regimes?" (revised version of a paper prepared for presentation at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association, Washington, DC, 2005); Jason Brownlee, "Ruling Parties and Durable Authoritarianism," CDDRL Working Paper No. 23, Stanford Institute on International Studies, Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law, Stanford University, Stanford, CA, 28 October 2004,; Beatriz Magaloni, "Credible Power-Sharing and the Longevity of Authoritarian Rule," Comparative Political Studies 41, no. 4/5 (April-May 2008): 715-41; Levitsky and Way, "Beyond Patronage."

(9) Larry Diamond, "Introduction," in Democratization in Africa: Progress and Retreat, ed. Larry Diamond and Marc F. Plattner (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010), xi.

(10) Richard Joseph, "Challenges of a 'Frontier' Region," in Democratization in Africa: Progress and Retreat, ed. Larry Diamond and Marc F. Plattner (Baltimore: the Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010).

(11) Jonah Hull, "Zimbabwe's Million Citizen March," Al Jazeera, 1 March 2011, http://blogs.aljazeera. net/africa/2011/03/01/zimbabwes-million-citizen-march.

(12) Eldred Masunungure, "Why Zimbabweans do not rebel: Part 1," ZimOnline, 22 September 2006,

(13) Ibid.

(14) Albert Hirschman pioneered the exit-voice approach in Exit, Voice and Loyalty: Responses to Decline in Firms, Organisations, and States (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1970). In a later article, Hirschman said: "Exit is the act of simply leaving, generally because a better good or service or benefit is believed to be provided by another firm or organisation.... Voice is the act of complaining or of organizing to complain or to protest, with the intent of achieving directly a recuperation of the quality that has been impaired." Albert Hirschman, "Exit, Voice, and the Fate of the German Democratic Republic: An Essay in Conceptual History," World Politics 45, no. 2 (January 1993): 173-202.

(15) "Comprehensive Economic Recovery in Zimbabwe: A Discussion Document," UNDP Zimbabwe, Harare, 2008, 109.

(16) Daniel Makina, "Survey of the Profile of Migrant Zimbabweans in South Africa: A Pilot Study," 26 September 2007, 20migrant%20Zimbabweans%20in%20South%20Africa%20-%20A%20Pilot%20Study.pdf.

(17) "Comprehensive Economic Recovery in Zimbabwe," 110.

(18) Wade C. Pendleton et al., eds., "Migration, Remittances and Development in Southern Africa" (Migration Policy Series No. 44, Southern Africa Migration Project, Southern African Research Centre, Queen's University, Cape Town, 2006), 17.

(19) Daniel Makina, "Zimbabwe in Johannesburg," in Zimbabwe's Exodus: Crisis, Migration, Survival, ed. Jonathan Crush and Daniel Tevera (Cape Town: Southern Africa Migration Project, 2010), 225-43.

(20) This author has argued that "the MDC caught the imagination of most Zimbabweans, especially the urban youth, workers, and middle and professional classes." Eldred Masunungure, "Travails of opposition politics in Zimbabwe since independence" in The Past is the Future: Rethinking Land, State and Nation in the Context of Crisis, ed. David Harold-Barry (Harare: Weaver Press, 2004), 178. Survey evidence also consistently shows that Zimbabwe's youth disproportionately support the MDC party. Obert Ronald Madondo, "The problem of youth in Mugabe's Zimbabwe," Africa Files, 30 August 2004, http://www.a

(21) Andreas Schedler, "Elections Without Democracy," Journal of Democracy 13, no. 2 (April 2002): 36-50.

(22) This figure is based on the author's observations and computations.

(23) "Zimbabwe introduces $50 billion note," CNN World, 10 January 2009; Steve H. Hanke, "New Hyperinflation Index (HHIZ) Puts Zimbabwe Inflation at 89.7 Sextillion Percent," Cato Institute, 2008,

(24) Other estimates put remittances to Zimbabwe from expatriates in Britain alone at about $1 billion annually. "Zimbabwe: Remittances saved the country from collapse," Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), 20 February 2009,

(25) Eldred V. Masunungure et al., eds., "From Despair to Hope: Findings of the Study on the State of the Zimbabwe Economy and People's Survival Strategies, 2009" (Harare: Mass Public Opinion Institute, July 2009), 32.

(26) "Violence and coercion mark Zimbabwe's election," Amnesty International, 27 June 2008; "Bullets for Each of You": State-Sponsored Violence since Zimbabwe's March 29 Elections (New York: Human Rights Watch, 2008),; Punishing Dissent, Silencing Citizens: The Zimbabwe Election 2008 (Harare: Solidarity Peace Trust, 2008), http://www.solidaritypeacetrustorg/download/report-files/punish-and- science.pdf; David M. Crane, Desmond De Silva and Tom Zwart, Seeking Justice for Zimbabwe: A Case for Accountability Against Robert Mugabe and Others, 1981-2008 (Washington, DC: Impunity Watch, 9 July 2008),

(27) The MDC in 2005 split into two wings: the MDC-Tsvangirai (MDC-T), led by its namesake, and the MDC-N, currently headed by Welshman Ncube, according to the MDC-T's website. "Our History," Movement for Democratic Change, 19 November 2009,

(28) The regime then coined the slogan "Zimbabwe will never be a colony again," which has become the ZANU-PF's loudest rallying cry. Tony Hawkins, "Mugabe accuses Britain of paying rivals," Financial Times, 18 April 2008.

(29) For the two-chamber parliament, the contest was for 210 House of Assembly seats and sixty elective seats in the ninety-three-member Senate. The MDC-T won ninety-nine seats in the House of Assembly, the ZANU-PF won ninety-seven and the MDC-N won ten. In the Senate, the MDC-T won twenty-four seats, the ZANU-PF won thirty and the MDC-N won six. Report on the Zimbabwe 29 March Harmonised Election and 27 June Presidential Run-off (Harare: Zimbabwe Election Support Network, August 2008).

(30) Samuel Huntington, The Soldier and the State: The Theory and Politics of Civil-Military Relations (New York: Belknap Press, 1957), 80-97.

(31) Robin Luckham, an authority on civil-military relations, sees objective control as "based on a balance between strong civilian political institutions and an autonomous, professional military establishment," in contrast to subjective control, which is exercised "through civilian political penetration of the armed forces (via patronage networks, corruption, or political party penetration in socialist regimes)." Robin Luckham, "Democratic Strategies for Security in Transition and Conflict," in Governing Insecurity: Democratic Control of Military and Security Establishments in Transitional Democracies, ed. Gavin Cawthra and Robin Luckham (New York: Zed Books, 2003), 28n2.

(32) "Zimbabwe Opposition Leader Says Country Run by Military," Voice of America, 10 June 2008; David Blair, "Zimbabwean generals have 'taken Robert Mugabe's power'," Telegraph (London), 5 June 2008; "'Military coup' in Zimbabwe as Mugabe is forced to cede power to generals," Times (London), 9 June 2008; "Mugabe Orders 'warlike' Campaign," Zimbabwe Independent, 22 May 2008; "Bullets for Each of You."

(33) At a post-election party meeting, Mugabe was livid at his party's loss in the three elections: "We went to the election completely unprepared, unorganised and this against an election-weary voter. Our structures went to sleep, were deep in slumber in circumstances of an all-out war.... It was terrible to see the structures of so embattled a ruling party so enervated .... Hence the dismal result we are landed with." "Unite for victory: President," Herald, 17 May 2008.

(34) Eldred V. Masunungure, "A Militarized Election: The 27 June Presidential Run-Off" in Defying the Winds of Change: Zimbabwe's 2008 Elections, ed. E. V. Masunungure (Harare: Weaver Press, 2009), 81, 84.

(35) "Mugabe orders 'warlike' Campaign."

(36) Robert Mugabe, Our War of Liberation: Speeches, Articles, Interviews (Gweru: Mambo Press, 1981), 12.

(37) "Politicians threaten to wage post-election war," Financial Gazette, 19 June 2008.

(38) "Mugabe's brutality to force election victory is revealed," Independent (London), 9 June 2008.

(39) "Robert Mugabe warns Zimbabwe's voters: 'How can a pen fight a gun?'," Times (London), 17 June 2008.

(40) Craig Timberg, "Inside Mugabe's violent crackdown," Washington Post, 5 July 2008.

(41) Zimbabwe 29 March Harmonised Election, 9.

(42) Report on the Zimbabwe Presidential Run-off and House of Assembly By-Elections Held on 27 June 2008 (Harare: Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops' Conference, n.d.), 5.

(43) Joshua Hammer, "The Reign of Thuggery," New York Review of Books, 28 May 2008; "Zimbabwe: Prospects from a Flawed Election," International Crisis Group Africa Report 138, 20 March 2008, http:// Zimbabwe%20Prospects%20from%20a%20Flawed%20Election.pdf; "Negotiating Zimbabwe's Transition," International Crisis Group Africa Briefing 51, 21 May 2008, zimbabwe/B051-negotiating-zimbabwes-transition.aspx; "Bullets for Each of You."

(44) "Zimbabwe: Morgan Tsvangirai withdraws from poll, citing Robert Mugabe's reign of terror," Telegraph (London), 22 June 2008; Farai Sevenzo, "Day of drama in Harare," BBC News, 22 June 2008; Alex Perry, "Tsvangirai Pulls Out of Election," Time, 22 June 2008; Zimbabwe 29 March Harmonised Election, 180.

(45) Michael Bratton and Eldred Masunungure, "The Anatomy of Political Predation: Leaders, Elites and Coalitions in Zimbabwe, 1980-2010," Development Leadership Program Research Paper 9 (January 2011), The%20Anatomy%20of%20Political%20Predation.pdf.

(46) These liberation movements have created an informal gathering that meets annually to strengthen ties among each other. Felix Njini, "Liberation movements want closer SADC links," Southern Times, 15 August 2011.

(47) For instance, Mugabe received a hero's welcome at a SADC meeting in Zambia in August 2007. "Timeline: Robert Mugabe in power," Telegraph (London), 23 September 2007; "Mugabe Gets Heroes Welcome at Ubuntu Village," AllAfrica Global Media, 4 September 2002,

(48) Simon Badza, "Zimbabwe's 2008 Harmonized Elections: Regional & International Reaction," in Defying the Winds of Change: Zimbabwe's 2008 Elections, ed. Eldred V. Masunungure (Harare: Weaver Press, 2009), 149-75.

(49) John Blessing Karumbidza, "Can China save Zimbabwe's economy?" Pambazuka News, 11 December 2006.

(50) Jeremy R. Younde, "Why Look East? Zimbabwean Foreign Policy and China," Africa Today 53, no. 3 (Spring 2007): 3-19; Tendai Chikukwa, "No Support for UN Arms Embargo by China," Zimbabwe Guardian (London), 30 June 2008; Badza, "Zimbabwe's 2008 Harmonised Elections."

(51) Karumbidza, "Can China save Zimbabwe's economy?"

(52) Nkululeko Ndlovu, "Mugabe ruthless politician--Dell," Zimbabwe Mail, 18 July 2011.

(53) Gukurahundi is a Shona term used to describe "the early rain which washes away the chaff before the spring rains." The term refers to a military operation against so-called dissidents who were causing disturbances in the Matabeleland and Midlands provinces of the country conducted by the Joint Operations Command, the hard-line security-sector organ that best reflects Mugabe's personality. Knox Chitiyo, "The Case for Security Sector Reform in Zimbabwe" (Royal United Services Institute Occasional Paper, September 2009),; Wilfred Mhanda, Dzino: Memories of a Freedom Fighter (Harare: Weaver Press, 2011), ch. 9.

(54) Michael Bratton and Eldred Masunungure, "Zimbabwe's Long Agony," Journal of Democracy 19, no. 4 (October 2008): 41-55.

Eldred V. Masunungure teaches political science in the Department of Political and Administrative Studies at the University of Zimbabwe.
Table 1: Zimbabwe's Economic Performance, 1998 to 2008

 GDP per
Year GDP in Growth capita Annual inflation
 billions (USD) (percent) (USD) (percent)

1980-1998 $7.0 3.9 $740.4 20.5
1999 $6.0 -3.6 $508.0 56.9
2000 $5.7 -7.3 $489.0 55.2
2001 $5.7 -2.7 $490.0 112.1
2002 $5.6 -4.4 $478.0 198.9
2003 $5.1 -10.4 $433.0 598.7
2004 $5.0 -3.6 $430.0 132.7
2005 $5.0 -4.0 $427.0 585.8
2006 $4.9 -5.4 $417.0 1,281.1
2007 $4.7 -6.1 $403.0 108,844.1
2008 $3.2 -14.1 <$402.0 489 billion

Source: Adapted from Albert Makochekanwa, "State Fragility:
Zimbabwe's horrific journey in the new millennium" (research
paper presented at the European Report on Development Conference,
Accra, Ghana, 21-23 May 2009), 8.
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Title Annotation:Inside the Authoritarian State
Author:Masunungure, Eldred V.
Publication:Journal of International Affairs
Geographic Code:9CHIN
Date:Sep 22, 2011
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