Authoritarian regimes often use brute force to control citizens but may also use co-optation to contain opponents.
UK-based Zimbabwean law lecturer, Alex Magaisa considered the current government an authoritarian regime. In his blog Magaisa based his argument on a study by political scientist Milan W Svolik.
Writing in the his “Big Saturday Read“, Magaisa argues that President Emmerson Mnangagwa has used co-optation to control business elites through the Presidential Advisory Council (PAC), and political opponents through the Political Actors Dialogue (POLAD). He writes:
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While repression is a dominant feature of authoritarian rule as a means to control citizens, political scientists also recognise that authoritarian regimes use co-optation as a way of containing potential opponents.
The ruler who has come to power through a coup knows he has also created opponents within. He might eliminate them through violence or the threat of it or he might co-opt them.
Leading members of the ZANU PF faction which opposed Mnangagwa’s bid for the presidency had to flee the country in the aftermath of the coup fearing physical elimination and other forms of retribution. They remain in exile.
Old opponents and critics were co-opted into the regime. Some elites from business and academia such as Professor Mthuli Ncube were co-opted as Cabinet ministers.
The Presidential Advisory Council (PAC) is one such institution of co-optation with business elites co-opted as advisers to the President.
Boards of state institutions and parastatals such as the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe and the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission are also platforms of co-optation.
The Political Actors Dialogue (Polad) is another zone of co-optation where a group of opposition parties, except the main opposition party, the MDC Alliance, are supposedly taking part in the dialogue with ZANU PF.
Others are co-opted by offers of diplomatic posts or as judges or technical advisers.
All these co-opted elites are made to feel very important and in their naivety, firmly believe that they can make a difference.
They have not read the manual of authoritarian rule to enable them to see that they are merely of ornamental value to the regime.
They are oblivious to the fact of their co-optation and if questioned, in their naivety they are more likely to protest their independence and to declare love for their country.
The regime has no interest in these niceties. Co-opted elites are few less opposition and serve to confer some respectability to the regime.