Harare — PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe's unilateral promotion of Douglas Nyikayaramba to the rank of Major-General in the Zimbabwe National Army is a move aimed at strengthening Zanu PF's position ahead of crucial elections set for this year and a clear manifestation that security reforms are now off the GPA agenda, political analysts have said.
Nyikayaramba's promotion smacks of Mugabe's insincerity over full implementation of the GPA which calls for, among other things, security sector reforms, particularly in light of uniformed forces who make public political statements.
The elevation further reaffirms Zanu PF politburo member and Justice minister Patrick Chinamasa's statement at the United Nations Working Group of the Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland, in October last year that security sector reforms were a no go area.
Chinamasa said: "Madam President, on security sector reform, Zimbabwe will not even entertain the recommendation. Reform for who; for what?"
The promotion seems as a thank you gesture to the outspoken soldier who has served Zanu PF well in past elections since 2000, either as part of the Electoral Supervisory Commission (ESC) or Zanu PF administration and strategist in the disputed 2008 harmonised elections.
Nyikayaramba was the ESC's chief elections officer in the bloody 2002 presidential poll. He was at the election body on the pretext that he had resigned from the army.
Ironically, in 2002, the service chiefs, comprising heads of the army, air force, police, prisons service and Central Intelligence Organisation, issued an unprecedented "straitjacket" statement categorically stating that the defence forces were not ready to salute any president without liberation war credentials. Analysts and observers interpreted this statement as a veiled threat of a coup if MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai had won the poll.
Nyakayaramba has also previously represented Zanu PF as an election agent in the 2008 elections, and most recently, in the Constitution Parliamentary Select Committee (Copac) before he was flushed out by the MDC-T.
The constitutional review process has encountered many political challenges and is now more than a year behind schedule. The delays have largely been blamed on Zanu PF hawks who are opposed to reforms.
The MDC successfully removed Nyikayaramba from the constitutional review panel where he had entered masquerading as a civilian expert, yet he was still a serving soldier.
Nyikayaramba told the Zimbabwe Independent earlier in 2011 that elections should be held that year and that Mugabe should die in office. He vowed to resign from the army if the MDC won elections or Tsvangirai secured the state's presidency.
Nyikayaramba said then: "President (Robert) Mugabe must remain in office for life and elections must be held this year to ensure political stability in the country."
He also courted further controversy when he said Tsvangirai was a "national security threat rather than a political one" and ruled out the army ever recognising an MDC election victory or Tsvangirai as president.
Nyikayaramba's loyalty and support for Mugabe to die in office has not only confounded the MDC but has also prominent Zanu PF factions fighting to take over the mantle from the ageing Mugabe.
The MDC has cried foul over the promotion and warned of Nyikayaramba's history of "vote-rigging and violence". The MDC fears he could tip the scales against it in the next elections.
Mugabe and his Zanu PF are in election mode after their annual conference in Bulawayo in December resolved to force the government to hold elections in 2012 with or without completion of GPA reforms.
MDC spokesman Douglas Mwonzora said Nyikayaramba's promotion was part of a "grand plan" by Zanu PF to unleash violence against the opposition.
"He (Nyikayaramba) has been involved in elections before and inevitably the coming elections will be violent. His promotion is not based on merit, but a political appointment and a reward for his diatribe against Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai," said Mwonzora.
Nyikayaramba's statements in support of Mugabe have also placed him at loggerheads with Zanu PF's internal rival factions, headed by Vice-President Joice Mujuru and Defence minister Emmerson Mnangagwa.
Mnangagwa has since congratulated Nyikayaramba on a "well-earned promotion" as he presided over the ceremony in place of Mugabe who is on his annual vacation in the Far East.
An ageing and increasingly frail Mugabe has managed to retain loyalty in his party through a system of patronage. The support from the military is a key factor in Zanu PF's grip on levers of state power.
Trevor Maisiri, a political analyst with the International Crisis Group, said: "Nyikayaramba's appointment sends a clear message from Zanu PF that there will be no security sector reforms at all. Mugabe will keep his backers in the military and even if their terms of office expire, he will simply reappoint them so as to maintain the status quo."
Mugabe has in the past rewarded his backers with commercial farms grabbed from the white-farming community and is set to further reward them with shares in mines and other foreign-controlled firms under the controversial indigenisation and economic empowerment policy.
University of Zimbabwe political science lecturer John Makumbe said the patronage system within Zanu PF was not new and would continue to be a feature of the party.
Analysts agreed that Nyikayaramba's elevation signalled the last nail in the coffin from Zanu PF that there would be no security sector reforms.
This means the MDC formations have an arduous task of creating a level political playing field before the next election. -- Staff Writer/Business Day.