Academic journal article Journal of International Affairs

Zimbabwe's Militarized, Electoral Authoritarianism

Academic journal article Journal of International Affairs

Zimbabwe's Militarized, Electoral Authoritarianism

Article excerpt

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. …

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