Foreign Policy Blogs

Police Dissent in Zimbabwe?

Reports of dissent within Zimbabwe's security forces represent hope for change in Mugabe's regim Hints of police dissatisfaction are not new — back in December and January similar rumors circulated. Here is what I wrote about the possibility of police backlash then:

[The recent revelation] represents an interesting development inasmuch as Mugabe relies on both the police and the military to prop up his regime. If he loses the former he will have to trust the latter increasingly. This will prove bad for Zimbabwe's citizens, but also could make Mugabe's control more tenuous even if in the short-term it becomes more draconian.
Tellingly, no one in the police is speaking. Mugabe has shown a willingness to crush dissent. The country's journalistic institutions, especially the newspapers, have been under a state of virtual siege for years. Mugabe and his minions have forced the closure of newspapers, arrested editors and reporters, and generally made a mockery of the idea of a free press. Will a similar purge of the police follow? And if so, what might the consequences be? For too long observers of Zimbabwe have wondered if there might be a tipping point that could lead to the downfall of Zimbabwe's biggest of Big Men. Perhaps this seemingly small story represents a shift in weight. Or, as is likely, [the news] may represent just another muffled lamentation of the sad state of affairs in tragic Zimbabwe.

There is little doubt that continued dissatisfaction among the security forces is not good for Mugabe. And while a positive outcome might be that the police either refuse to crush opposition or even join in with them, eventually leading to a toppling of Mugabe, there are other, less rosy possibilities. One need look no further than the Democratic Republic of the Congo to realize that security forces, rather than acting politically, might in fact work to foment anarchy. While Mugabe relies on the police to enforce his will, it might be just as effective for him if they simply allow anarchy, a reign of all against all, to prevail.

Nonetheless it seems apparent that the police at least theoretically could provide another pressure point against Mugabe. Having such a vital institution of control waver might provide the tilt that leads to Zimbabwe's tipping point. Only a fool maintains optimism in the face of Zimbabwe's plight, but surely there is some small room for hope even among realists.