Who Guards the Guards: Monitoring Crime and Security Forces Involvement in Crime

Who guards the Guards? This age old political question is interrogated in the latest joint publication by the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum, RAU, Heal Zimbabwe, Veritas and the Counselling Services Unit. The publication explores and highlights how Zimbabwe is drawing towards greater state fragility. Read on for greater perspective!


Zimbabwe is one of the most fragile states in the world, according to the Fragile States Index (FSI). One of the worrying features of fragility is the possible decline into a failed state, essentially meaning that government institutions no longer work or even an absence of government in any real sense. Now, whilst we do not assert that Zimbabwe is a failed state, there are some indications that the direction the country is taking is towards, rather than away from greater fragility.

Within the context of fragility, greater attention is being paid to the relationship between fragility and Transnational Organised Crime (TOC). This also falls within the greater concern about Illicit Financial Flows (IFF) and, of course, the relationship between TOC and IFF. For example, the East and Southern African Anti-Money Laundering Group (ESAMLG), a well- established African body, to which Zimbabwe has membership, has pointed out, in respect of Zimbabwe, that there are several areas in which there needs to be established preventative controls:

  • Drug trafficking;
  • Illegal trade and smuggling of precious minerals, metals and stones;
  • Parallel market activities involving foreign currency and commodities by individuals and companies;
  • Corruption in particular practices in the fuel industry involving both private and public institutions;
  • Misrepresentation of quality, nature and value of exports; and
  • Armed robbery and theft of motor vehicles and stolen vehicle re-registration.

Most of these activities have been well-described in recent reports, such as the cartel report published by the Daily Maverick, and the corruption and IFFs resulted in Zimbabwe (as well as Botswana and Ghana) being placed on the European Union’s Financial Crimes Watchlist.

When crime starts to increase in a fragile country, it is important to see whether this has links to TOC, or is merely one of the many manifestations of fragility and the economic deprivation that usually accompanies fragility.

Security Force Involvement in Crime

One serious aspect of the trend in crime is the increased involvement of members of the security forces becoming involved in criminal activities, and, when senior government officials admit the involvement of security force members in the commission of violent crimes, this is a cause for deep concern. The involvement of members of security forces was admitted in parliament by the Minister of Home Affairs, Kazembe Kazembe:

“It is, indeed, true that most of these cases of armed robberies are being done by armed men and women from the police force as well as the army. I would like to emphasise and indicate that government is, indeed, working on that, but I would also like to indicate that such cases have decreased.”

This view was endorsed by Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA) spokesperson, Colonel Alphios Makotore:

“The ZNA has noted with concern the increasing number of incidents where some rogue and undisciplined members of the force deployed on various duties around the country are wantonly engaging in criminal activities, thereby bringing the name of the organisation into disrepute.”


In the absence of official statistics, and much more detail about both offences and offenders in the press reports, our conclusions can only be tentative, but, nonetheless, do paint a sombre picture. The trend for crime to be increasing over the past four years, 2017 to 2021, seems clear, and it can be argued reflects the increasing fragility of the country, the rising poverty, and the desperation of the citizenry. Here it is sufficient to point to the most recent Afrobarometer Round 8 (2021) survey, where citizens report increased poverty from 2017, worsening service delivery from the state, and diminished trust in virtually all officials and official bodies.

As pointed out in the beginning, these are the conditions in which a resort to crimes commonly occurs when citizens get desperate. There are also the conditions in which a “youth bulge” may begin to result in crime and civil disturbance. It is evident from multiple reports that high-level corruption is becoming an increasingly serious problem, yet another feature of fragility, but the question to be raised is about the knock- on effect, and whether the crime statistics are showing a trend to lower level cartels. Here the data available is nowhere near conclusive, but there are cases showing collaboration between state and non-state actors in criminal activities: not merely robbery and armed robbery, but also in smuggling and firearms offences. All of this suggests an urgent need for better research and the availability of crime statistics from the state.

It is imperative that the government demonstrate a willingness to manage the problem and discount the kind of alarm created by senior officials’ statements. To assert that security forces are the major perpetrators in serious crimes undermines the confidence of the citizenry in those that are supposed to protect them. The government needs to move beyond rhetoric and generalised statements to provide hard data and a clear policy to deal with this if it is a major problem.

Read the full publication here (519KB PDF)

Source: Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum

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