"Americans Say We Can Appoint Ex-Army People To Run Civilian Companies"
The elite Presidential Guard stands guard, watching the Independence flame burning during celebrations in Harare earlier this year. The army is Mugabe's principal source of power and he has rewarded them very well, to the extent that retired personnel are deployed into the boards of civilian companies owned and run by the government. The State now says this is ok and points to comments by an American Defence Attache as proof that this is accepted practice worldwide, even in the States
Harare, Zimbabwe, 04 November 2009
It is called clutching at straws.
State media has been sent in to try and dampen criticism of the militarisation of Zimbabwe's government companies by using the statements of a former American soldier as a crutch to support Mugabe's patronage system.
Lieutenant-Colonel Patrick Anderson, the Defence Attache at the American Embassy, delivered a speech at the Food For Thought workshop run by the American Embassy in Harare yesterday. He spoke about former American soldiers going into civilian jobs and running private companies.
The Herald, the main and so far, only daily newspaper in Harare, duly reports today that he endorsed the appointment by Mugabe of former military men to boards of directors of government-run companies, known as parastatals in Zimbabwe.
What the paper fails to mention is that the question was a hostile one, which sought to accuse the Americans of double standards by pointing to the fact there are former soldiers running companies in America and therefore the running of government companies by soldiers in Zimbabwe should not be condemned.
His actual point also seems to have been lost on the reporters from the State newspaper.
Anderson was speaking of former soldiers who retire and then use their impressive CVs to join the private sector, where the make valuable contributions. They are, as Anderson said, citizens first, who would have gone to school to study engineering, medicine and even law.
He could also have mentioned the fact the American army does not appoint people to senior positions on the basis of their political affiliation, as is the case in Zimbabwe. In fact, the army routinely goes outside the army to try and poach lawyers and other professionals to serve in their ranks, with outstanding packages. Once they retire, they can go back to their professions and this is not militarisation of civilian companies.
In Zimbabwe, it is an entirely different kettle of fish.
Here, Mugabe takes retired military men and appoints them to the boards of companies that are industries where the appointed military men have no experience whatsoever. Right now, we have men sitting on the boards of the very same newspaper that carries this report even though they have no training whatsoever in media studies.
They do not even have practical experience in the field. Previously, we had another military man running the company that is charged with maintaining the strategic reserves of grain in Zimbabwe. He promptly sent the country into famine by poor planning and was dragged before the courts on charges of corruption. Even through all this, he was not asked to step down while the charges against were investigated. He continued in his post throughout.
When I broke the news of the appointment of retired senior military personnel to boards of state companies in Zimbabwe a few weeks ago, the first thing I had done upon getting the list was go through the CVs of the military guys to see if they could possibly be qualified in any way to sit on these boards. Most were not and it was clear that this was simply a way to keep the army sweet.
There are instances when it is justifiable, just as it is in the private sector, to appoint or hire people who do not really have the paper qualifications for the job at hand, but then their experience clearly stands out.
For instance, not many people objected to having the military guy at the Grain Company because it was assumed that as a former leader in the army, he would know about logistics, which is a required skill if you are marshaling the harvest from across Zimbabwe, allocating transportation and the funds to buy up that harvest.
But when he failed dismally, he was still kept on in the job. Which proved that this was never about competence.
In America, former soldiers use their paper qualifications and their experience to get back into the private sector after leaving the Armed Forces. They do not get appointed by the American president to plum positions created simply for the purpose of greasing palms and spreading patronage.