The role of military and security forces in transition from dictatorship to democracy
By Fesseha Nair
The role played by the Zimbabwe military and security forces shows that how much the military leadership who led the downfall of the Mugabe dictatorship were professional and preserving national interests instead of serving the dictatorship. This shows that Zimbabwe military was not corrupted by bribes, spoils of office, ethnic manipulation of appointments and promotions. Comparing the Eritrean military and security forces with that of Zimbabwe, the Eritrean military is not professional but enforced paramilitaries loyal to the regime or serving the interests of the regime.
When one country's military is less professional, it is less likely to act in pursuit of national interests and distance itself from the regime. Zimbabwe's military action was not coup but was very skilled and wise peaceful method of toppling the regime of Mugabe unlike many of the previous coups in African countries.
It is essential that the Eritrean Democracy Activists be concerned on the relation between the civil society movements and the military in Eritrea because several studies pointed that the coercive strength of the military is a great hinder for democratization.
One of the most important aspect of the struggle from dictatorship to democracy is to subordinate the military under civilian rule and be under democratic rule. The military's role is to make the process of democratization peaceful and guarantee security and stability of the people.
The great majority of the post -colonial African states began by constituting states based on constitution and election but later transformed to dictatorship, but in case of Eritrea, after independence is unique than the other post-colonial states of Africa, the EPLF/PFFDJ failed in all aspects to fulfil the criteria of state building based on constitution and institutions.
Under what conditions can the military in Eritrea facilitate a democratic transition like that of Zimbabwe? When can it happen? How can it happen?
In this article I will attempt to focus on the above mentioned questions. The regime in Eritrea is weak in all aspects of governance, its only institution is the military and security to unite and control the country through the methods of repression. Both the military and the civilians have been suffering under the authoritarian rule of the regime. In the past years the military and security in Eritrea have been opposed to democratic change and taken side with the dictator like many other African countries, for example in Togo, Zaire, Congo, and Niger.
Among many other reasons, the main condition was that the popular movements for democratic change was lack of policy and no attention given to the military and security forces in Eritrea. According to Luckham, the military establishment and other repressive organs in any dictatorship are the single most important obstacle to democratisation, and Monshiopouri argues likewise that, " the active support or acquiescence of the military is the key to any viable and sustained political transition to democracy." Hutchful argues that, paying to little attention to the military dimension of democratisation might prove " a crucial and potentially costly omission." There can be no transition or consolidation of democracy unless the military takes the side of the democratic transition. As in our case, both the military and the security forces, through their current control over the state's coercive apparatus are the necessary means to carry out its political agenda.
In case of the Eritrean military, it is equally oppressed and is suffering under crisis for so many years and in this situation it can be motivated to work for democratic transition in Eritrea. For example in 1994, in Malawi the military joined the forces for democratic change, and in Benin in 1990, the military refused to face down popular protests against the authoritarian regime. In Mali, a reform- minded faction of the military even decided to intervene actively to terminate the regime itself and facilitate the transition to democracy. The common condition in all these countries' is the same like that of our Eritrea. It is oppression in all spheres of their lives. What the Eritrean forces for democratic change need is to prepare for creating conditions where the military and security forces in Eritrea can facilitate democratic transition like that of Zimbabwe or other like the Benin or Malawi methods of transition.