The Zimbabwe Peace and Security Programme

Zimbabwe Peace and Security Programme - Building change through dialogue

Global development agendas increasingly accept the need for tackling security and justice reforms. Yet, security and justice provision are at the core of how a State defines its relation with its citizens. How to bring about change in contexts hostile to Security Sector Transformation (SST)? The Zimbabwe Peace and Security Programme (ZPSP) provides relevant contributions to this debate.

I - Reclaiming the SST agenda

After a few years working on conflict resolution elsewhere in Africa, in 2009 Jeremy Brickhill and Nyasha Masiwa decided to return home to Zimbabwe to address the challenges of peace and security in their country.  They rallied support from fellow war veterans from different political parties and strategised how to engage constructively in matters of security sector transformation (SST).  It was a risky enterprise, shortly after security sector reform (SSR) had been declared by the Zimbabwean ruling authorities as an avenue for externally induced regime change.  The formation of the Government of National Unity between ZANU-PF and the MDC in 2009 provided an opening in the political arena; however, any meaningful security sector reform agenda was ruled-out by the security forces.  Since then the state media have also contributed to a negative public perception of the meaning of SSR, by reporting on it from the stand-point of the regime-change agenda.

Nyasha and Jeremy decided, nevertheless, to forge ahead with an initiative to start sensitising security stakeholders about what a Zimbabwean agenda for SST means. The trustees of the Zimbabwe Peace and Security Trust (ZPST) provided key guidance in the creation of the Zimbabwe Peace and Security Programme (ZPSP) which was born aiming to:

"contribute, through the provision of impartial and professional technical assistance, to effective and sustainable modernisation and transformation of the security sector in order to enhance the democratic governance, security and the national sovereignty of the people of Zimbabwe."

This was quite an ambitious statement considering the adversity arising from political instrumentalisation of SST. Coupled with this was the unwillingness of the security forces to engage in any exercise that would involve reconsidering its institutional tenets.  Nonetheless, the ZPSP has succeeded in creating space for dialogue around matters of SST.  How have they done this, despite the odds? 

Basically, somebody from the military won’t listen to someone that has not liberation struggle credentials. That is the reality on the ground. They will tell you: ‘You never fought for the country’

II - The pillars of legitimacy and inclusivity

The legitimacy held by the trustees of the programme and both directors, deriving from their past as liberation war fighters, has been key.   Legitimacy alone, however, was never going to be enough; political inclusivity - reflected in the composition of the board of trustees - and impartiality have been essential, and remained non-negotiable in the way the ZPSP conducts its business. 

The ZPSP began with an inclusive consultation process led by a group of Zimbabweans, implying that local design preceded and shaped the programme, including its relations with foreign partners and funders. The core principles that ZPSP set out - national ownership, inclusiveness and impartiality - were not amenable to compromise, and therefore, the partners and funders that engaged with the programme had to respect this stance.

Also, the ZPSP has equally engaged state and non-state security stakeholders in this endeavour to facilitate dialogue for transformation; hence, ownership of intent coheres with ownership of the process. Clifford Sibanda, Chairman of the Committee on Defence, Home Affairs and Security Services, Parliament of Zimbabwe, was initially doubtful about the viability of the ZPSP given the “hardness” of the security sector. He admitted later that one of the strengths of the ZPSP was their unequivocal stance on national ownership because:

"The process [SST] should be owned by the people of that country, in that way it will be respected, it should not be superimposed from elsewhere"

National Ownership (see also our principles in practice page) has therefore been a hallmark of the ZPSP. The good practice in this area makes it stand out when compared to other African and international SSR programmes, which have tended to include implementation through a considerable degree of external agency.

 When you talk about the security sector transformation in Zimbabwe, why will you might want to see everything on social media? It’s also strategic not to, because we are dealing with a delicate topic and subject.

III - Navigating discretion and disclosure

The ZPSP has developed a clear vision, strategy and objectives, and continuously works to leave no room for ambiguity. That has been vital because it enables transparency as a principle which is mirrored in its intentions and activities. Clarity of purpose and process applies both to its national stakeholders and to external partners. The security and political actors know who funds the programme, why and what for; donors know why and what they are asked to fund.

Yet, ZPSP work has not been widely featured in the media, nor is known by the general public and the community. In fact, one of the few criticisms that ZPSP commonly receives is that its work is too focused at the strategic level, and needs to engage more at the operational level. Reaching out to the common citizen would build even wider inclusive ownership for a potential SST process. Ideal as it may be, at the moment such a decision has its pros and cons in a Zimbabwean context where SSR has been instrumentalised and demonised in the public domain. The low profile adopted by the ZPSP has clearly worked as a risk mitigation strategy, since as Chief Fortune Charumbira, Senator and President of the Chiefs Council, expressed:

"They have to keep explaining themselves that there are no ulterior motives or regime change agendas […] it is a challenge in their mission […]  that one can choose to perceive them in a different way than they have intended to"

The programme has also been aware of the inescapable reality of how much a small organisation with limited resources can achieve. Therefore, it was not a short-sighted understanding of the concept of ownership that led ZPSP in the direction of not immediately engaging with the public and the communities. “The ZPSP has no deficit of strategic foresight“, according to Davidson Gomo, CEO of the African Leadership Convention. 

They have to keep explaining themselves that there are no ulterior motives or regime change agendas […] it is a challenge in their mission […]  that one can choose to perceive them in a different way than they have intended to

Instead of understanding SST as a project or a programme, ZPSP sees it as a transformational process in which different actors have a role to play.  Thus, it has expanded its reach through forging national strategic partnerships, which it calls boundary partnerships.  Sally Dura, the National Coordinator of Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe, articulated the following:

"when you work with civil society partners like that, where everyone places their cards on the table, there is trust, there is collective ownership, and you feel the credibility of the partnership […] through the process that ZPSP is making us engage […] we have a collective ownership of SST as an initiative, and it’s bringing together all stakeholders"

ZPSP has been building a multiplier effect to the SST debates, working with and through its partners. An additional advantage is that many of them have been embracing relevant elements of the SST agenda as part of their own work programmes vis-a-vis different communities. Amongst such partners are instrumental actors such as civil society organisations, the chiefs and academia.  These have been roped into the programme in a considerate sequenced manner, i.e. only after the ZPSP had gained acceptance of its own existence and activity from the political and security authorities.  ZPSP is lucid about the fact that any formal SST in Zimbabwe will have to stem from state authorities; albeit it remains unabated in its efforts to engage and not impose any particular approach of SST to state security institutions. The programme does not avoid the hard questions that need to be addressed, but it does so in a sensitive manner” through centrally involving them in the discussions, explains Paul Nyathi, Trustee of the ZPST. The benefits were also recognised by the ZPSP boundary partners, as highlighted by Debra Mabunda, Director Radio Dialogue in Bulawayo:

"As an organisation, we have always wanted that direct link with Government that is not confrontational, and ZPSP actually provides that link […] and that link has also helped to authenticise the other CSOs that are working on the ground […] and which have been discredited for being associated with regime change"

You can’t afford to go for whole six months without having to assess and review the stakeholder interests. This is why you have to constantly undertake some consultation and dialogue.

IV - Building trust and resilience

This speaks to one of the main outcomes from ZPSP’s work: trust. Trust comes, however, through a combination of factors that go beyond having a platform for dialogue and interaction.  Equally important are the methodologies that ZPSP employs in the endeavour to build consensus. The leadership of the ZPSP holds specialised mediation skills which became an asset to manage the consultations, the dialogue and the capacity-building workshops. The quality and experience-based knowledge of the experts that ZPSP utilises in the trainings have been essential for the credibility and acceptance of the messages that were conveyed. The use of a human security lens has been instrumental to demystify security, and revealed a didactic approach to support the different stakeholders in understanding their role, and identifying specific entry-points to their own work on SST.

Stakeholders’ knowledge on SST has been also advanced through specialised trainings, contributing to mainstream, amongst diverse actors, a common understanding and grammar concerning SSR. Academic training in South Africa, facilitated by the ZPSP, further enabled the development of national capacity for technically and empirically sound research, relevant to inform policy development in the security sector. The ZPSP was also instrumental in the creation of the Zimbabwe Peace and Security Education and Training Network (ZIPSET), a network of academics and researchers that has devised a curriculum for a module on SSG to be incorporated by several universities. ZIPSET has the potential to promote SST in higher education strata, including security officials. 

Building trust, above and beyond the knowledge imparted, the quality of the materials shared and of the discussions held, has relied in continuously nurturing the relationships between the ZPSP, the state and the non-state security stakeholders. Sobusa Gula-Ndebele, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the ZPST, reminded us however that “while there has been some improvement there is still a degree of resistance in some other areas”.   

Faced with this challenge, the ZPSP adopted conflict sensitivity and regular stakeholder analysis as integral to its modus operandi. These tools allow them to continuously assess the environment and the changing position of security stakeholders, in order to minimise any eventual negative consequences for the programme and its activities. Building the resilience of the ZPSP has meant also the ability to identify what at times are thin opportunities and build from there. In practice, the programme realises that incrementalism deriving from minimal reforms in a determined security area may provide an avenue for progress. This doesn’t preclude it to follow the notion of SST as a comprehensive agenda anchored in the goal of human security. Hence, debate on cross-cutting issues like gender and cross-border dynamics have provided useful entry-points for further exploration with security agencies, given that they have, thus far, remained outside politicised and partisan discourse.

The interpretation with the liberation struggle, if not carefully dealt with, becomes hostile to security sector transformation […] the history that says we fought for this country, we transformed it, and there is no need to do anything else.

But it is also from within these cross-cutting themes that emerge some of the most difficult issues ­- such as the need to deal with the past - that will impinge on any eventual future SST process in Zimbabwe.  The colonial and liberation war struggle have left a legacy of structural and direct violence, including operations such as Gukurahundi and Murambatsvina, which cannot be ignored if Zimbabwe is to move forward. The entities that were rendered hostile to each other by the history of the country need to exorcise their traumas and work towards reconciliation. The road ahead is challenging given the prominent legacy of a militaristic political and societal culture, and the current tension opposing the liberation war veterans’ generation and the “new-borns” (the generation born after independence). The struggle is also about reconciling the legitimacy of the birth of an independent Zimbabwe with that of a democratic Zimbabwe. Without euphemisms, Chris Mutsvangwa, Minister of War Veteran Affairs of Zimbabwe, told us that:

"there was no democratic tradition before we fought […] democratic ethos was already embedded in our approach to the building of the new nation"

Yet, he also acknowledged what has not followed, especially with regards to addressing the economic and social components that should accompany democracy. This difficult legacy presents additional shortcomings that impact any eventual SST, and which Paul Nyathi articulated as following:

"The interpretation with the liberation struggle, if not carefully dealt with, becomes hostile to security sector transformation […] the history that says we fought for this country, we transformed it, and there is no need to do anything else."

[ZPSP] brought in the capacity building of these portfolio committees and the understanding of members at the moment is high enough for them to be able to critically analyse [...]

V - Addressing the deficits

ZPSP’s work in trust building has not escaped the reality of having to deal with these historical and societal conflict legacies. These involve economic and cultural dimensions which are important in forging a historical narrative that is acceptable to everyone and in forging a common vision for the future of the country.  Its work cannot be removed from the wider challenge of fostering bottom-up and top-down convergence. Bringing the two together implies horizontally bridging the views of the different actors in the polity of the country, whilst vertically addressing the lack of access to policy and decision-making by the populations; even if that is done through their boundary partners.

Tolerance of pluralism remains elusive in the Zimbabwean landscape but is a pre-condition for an SST geared to achieve democratic governance.  In this regard, the Parliament plays a central role. It is striving to move beyond being a ‘rubber stamp’ entity into being an institution that plays its watchdog role in a constructive manner, according to Clifford Sibanda. The new Constitution offers opportunities in this field and ZPSP, through the MoU signed with Parliament, intends to build on earlier contributions to reinforce parliamentary oversight.

A focus on oversight represents another distinctive approach of the ZPSP.  Security reform programmes that include democratic governance in its design, and that, in particular, focus on strengthening parliamentary oversight of the security sector from the start, are rare.  Despite strong rhetoric around this goal, in practice, limited funding has been committed, when compared, for example, to approaches of train and equip.  

If you put money into a programme and you introduce into that programme elements that set it up for failure, then you are throwing your money into a bottom-less pit.

VI - A learning curve for donors

It remains to be seen whether ZPSP’s external funding partners will continue to support the programme whilst respecting the principles of the Paris Declaration[1].  Sustainability is the major weakness of the ZPSP, recognised by the programme and donors alike.  The dilemma as portrayed by Paul Nyathi is that “real human beings don’t exist in projects, they live broader lives”. The implication is that there is a human dimension to the change of individuals and institutions, and therefore change requires time.  This exposes the fragility of bridging short-term funding with the longer-term goal of SST.  In Zimbabwe, as in the majority of countries, supporting a programme on security reforms is similar to investing in some form of risky venture capital, a donor representative commented.

ZPSP progress stands out against the background of the environment and the contextual departure point, and it is undeniably outstanding when examined in light of other endeavours at a global level. Yet, an idealist vision should not capture our imagination: the progress is based on detecting and seizing thin opportunities in a moving context.  It has to be admitted that the learning curve in the five years of its existence has been as steep as the country’s history since independence, but the programme has withstood.  Nonetheless, its achievements may be easily unravelled, and the time, stamina, commitment and hard work wasted. The success of the programme, and its very survival, rests largely on contextual factors beyond its control.

The traps appear to be everywhere. In the mid-term, the risks of instability and fragmentation—hence of increased challenges to security transformation—relate mostly to intra-party politics, with the divisive issue of succession in the background. The process has been dramatised since late 2014, with purges at the top of the ZANU-PF and the cabinet, further political fragmentation, and the repositioning of alliances in which security leaders play an important part. Even for insiders like ZPSP trustees and directors, the danger of a costly misstep or misperception from those in power demand even more careful analysis and focused dialogue from the programme, while intra-regime polarisation defies ZPSP’s ability to continue to foster inclusivity.  Coupled with this, the jury is still out as to whether external partner funders will rise-up to the risk of continuing to provide a lifeline to the programme.  Yet, setbacks from discontinued support might become more tangible and costly when compared to the incremental gains of sustained commitment. 

[1] - The Paris Declaration is a landmark international agreement that was endorsed in 2005, after several decades of attempts to improve the quality of aid and its impact on development. The Declaration commits international development aid donors and recipients to act in accordance with five principles: ownership, alignment, harmonization, results, and mutual accountability.