Decoding Army Interest in Census

In recent days the army has once again hogged the limelight for wrong reasons - this time relating to the disruption on a training program for the national census process scheduled for later this month. The primary demand given by the soldiers who disrupted and temporarily stopped the census process across the country was that they wanted to play a major role in the enumeration process. SADC leaders, who will meet at the end of this week for their annual summit in Maputo, Mozambique, should rightly be alarmed at such developments which impact negatively on Zimbabwe's preparations to hold credible, non-violent, free and fair elections.


It may appear rather obvious that soldiers would clamour for involvement in the census process primarily for financial gain because hired enumerators, drawn mainly from civil servants, are paid specifically for carrying out the enumeration task. The prevailing precarious economic situation that has seen civil servants emabark on job actions a couple of time this year would be a driving factor for the army the have a stake in the census process where historically they have had no major enumeration role as this was generally reserved for teachers, particularly the census processes of 2002 and 1992.


It is also possible that, beyond financial rewards, participation by the military as enumerators in the census process plays a very political role relating to the control and even manipulation of numbers of the Zimbabwe population for the purposes of managing the forth-coming elections. With direct control over census statistics, it would be easy for the highly politicized and partisan sections of the army to engage in gerrymandering - a practice that attempts to establish a political advantage for Zanu PF by manipulating geographic boundaries to create partisan or incumbent-protected districts.


There has been an outcry against the involvement of the army in the census process, and, reportedly, president Mugabe has supported the calls for the army not to be involved in the enumeration process other that in areas their control such as army barracks. This is a commendable decision that must be closely monitored by government officials and by the representatives of SADC leaders working with the SADC Facilitator for the Zimbabwe peace process, president Jacob Zuma of South Africa, who has travelled to Zimbabwe today to assess Zimbabwe's progress in preparations for elections in order to update the SADC Summit in Maputo at the end of the week.


We expect SADC leaders now to address directly the persisting problem, largely perculiar to Zimbabwe, of the pervasive, partisan and politicized role of the military in national civilian and electoral affairs. If Zimbabwe is to hold genuinely free and fair elections, then SADC must ensure that critical benchmark reforms ahead of elections include ensuring that the army observes a strictly neutral political role. A failure to rein in the army exposes Zimbabwe to a very serious risk of instability that may trigger wider regional instability.

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