Zimbabwe’s first presidential elections without Robert Mugabe on the ballot are likely to end in a crisis requiring mediation by Canada and other neutral members of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the international community.
The harmonized elections, set for Monday, July 30th, are already rigged in favor of President Emmerson Mnangagwa and his ruling Zanu PF party. They’re already a mockery of Zimbabwe’s constitution, international norms, and standards set in the African Union Charter on Democracy Elections and Governance. The opposition already has a solid case against an outcome giving the incumbent outright victory.
A recent African survey found that Nelson Chamisa, 45, the MDC Alliance presidential candidate, now trails the incumbent by 3 points in opinion polls, up from 11 points in May. On Saturday, Chamisa addressed a sea of red at Freedom Square in Harare. Zanu PF bussed and commandeered thousands to the nearby National Sports Stadium . As J Sparks of SkyNews reported from the stadium:
The atmosphere inside was subdued. When Robert Mugabe held rallies in this place, it was packed by 8am. But Mnangagwa has got a sea of empty seats staring right back at him. The limitations of his democratic experiment are on display here.
Chamisa’s momentum points to either opposition victory or a presidential runoff.
Zimbabwe’s Mugabe-era history of election fraud, voter suppression, and Mnangagwa’s undemocratic path to power suggests that a ballot victory on Monday may not automatically take Chamisa to State House in Harare.
Mnangagwa, 75, assumed power last November through a military coup that toppled Mugabe after 37 years of bloodstained rule. His promise of free and fair elections rings hollow.
The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC), the supposedly independent body constitutionally mandated to manage Zimbabwe elections and referendums, is too close to the ruling party, military, and government. The commission has steadfastly dismissed opposition parties’ justified concerns regarding transparency, impartiality, ballot secrecy, and the voters’ roll.
In contravention of Zimbabwe’s election law, ZEC designed a presidential ballot paper that openly favors the incumbent.
A recent investigation by rights experts and data scientists concluded that the commission’s biometric voters’ roll was “fraught with errors and omissions, along with instances that lead to the assessment that ‘ghost voters’ do exist”. At least 250 000 ghost voters were found. Ghost voters have always voted for the ruling party.
During the Mugabe era, shambolic voters rolls were central to Zanu PF’s voter suppression tactics. They helped the ruling party deny thousands of qualified opposition supporters the vote.
So much has been written about the so-called “widening of the democratic space” under Mnangagwa. The anti-Mugabe coup introduced a new form of mass voter intimidation. Mugabe used to be invincible. Many Zimbabweans now believe the military did not engage in such an unprecedented show of force only to allow the opposition to take over eight months later.
That belief is strengthened by the fact the coup leaders are now part of Mnangagwa’s post-coup government, where they’re “exerting overbearing influence“. Retired Gen. Constantino Chiwenga, the former commander of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces, is now Mnangagwa’s vice president. Perence Shiri, the former commander of the Air Force of Zimbabwe, serves Mnangagwa as agriculture minister.
During the Mugabe era, Chiwenga and Shiri were part of hard-line military leadership that repeatedly vowed to never salute a non-Zanu PF president.
Meanwhile, Zimbabwe’s security forces have a terrible history of violence targeting the rural populace. For example, in a 2009 report, Human Rights Watch accused the military of killing “more than 200 people” while seizing control of diamond fields in eastern Zimbabwe in October 2008. The report implicated Chiwenga and Shiri.
The Zimbabwe Democracy Institute recently reported increased military presence in the countryside, creating “a climate of fear that undermines the holding of free and fair elections.”
A retired soldier recently reminded a gathering “not to forget the violence” of the 2008 presidential election. Then more than 200 opposition supporters were murdered because the late Morgan Tsvangirai had trounced Mugabe in the first round of the election. When you live in a remote village and a Zanu PF official reminds you of the state-sponsored violence of the past, you can’t help but feel the intended chill.
But why should Mnangagwa worry? The so-called international community has set the bar so low Zimbabwe’s 2018 elections need only surpass the flaws of the past. Democracy, human rights, and justice for hundreds of thousands who either perished or suffered gruesome violence under Mugabe, are secondary concerns.
Mnangagwa and his military benefactors are implicated in Mugabe’s 1980s Gukurahundi massacre of 20 000 members of Zimbabwe’s Ndebele-speaking minority. As national security minister between 1980 and 1988, he oversaw the Central Intelligence Organization, Zimbabwe’s dreaded secret police. Shiri, Mnangagwa’s agriculture minister, commanded the Fifth Brigade, Mugabe’s killing machine.
The government’s military-led Operation Murambatsvina of 2005 destroyed the properties and livelihood of hundreds of thousands of black Zimbabweans. Condemned by the UN, the operation displaced more than 700 000 families.
Mnangagwa has steadfastly refused to acknowledge his confirmed role in the Gukurahundi massacres, Operation Murambatsvina, and other pre-coup government-sponsored human rights violations.
Often, foreign elites create their own comforting narratives regarding African leaders who prioritize their economic and strategic interests over the humanity of black Africans. Gullible sections of the West embraced some of Mnangagwa’s ridiculous clichés, such as “new dispensation” and “open for business“. Foreign officials based in Harare often characterize Mnangagwa as “not as feared as Mugabe”. Zimbabwe is said to be “better off now“.
Importantly, since assuming power, Mnangagwa prosecuted an international PR campaign that strenuously presented him as the anti-Mugabe. Then he announced he’d compensate the white farmers whose land his Mugabe-era Zanu PF government has confiscated since 2000. Since the announcement, the British government has reportedly been “banking on Mnangagwa rule“. It will normalize relations with its former colony if only the 2018 elections are “good enough”.
Zimbabwe’s former colonizer’s willingness to jump into bed with Mnangagwa and the bloodstained party of Mugabe is disturbing but not surprising. A history of racial double standards is repeating itself here.
I grew up in a place and moment western countries coddled one of Africa’s most bloodthirsty tyrants.
A recent report by British academic Hazel Cameron, published in The International History Review journal last April last year, details the British government’s complicity in Mugabe’s Gukurahundi massacres. British authorities based in Harare were not only “intimately aware” of the genocidal violence. They actively thwarted Canadian and media efforts to help the international community get a deeper understanding of the atrocities.
According to Cameron’s report, in March 1983, the Canadian embassy in Harare organized a meeting where western diplomats would have compared notes on the unfolding atrocities. Robin Byatt the British high commissioner to Zimbabwe during this moment of darkness, boycotted the meeting. At the time, Canada, the U.S., and other western countries followed the UK’s lead on Zimbabwe. For Byatt, Mugabe’s genocidal Zimbabwe was “important to us primarily because of major British and western economic and strategic interests in southern Africa”.
The West’s racial double standards found eloquent expression through the numerous accolades Mugabe received from leading western institutions after his Gukurahundi killings. For example, the fallen dictator bagged honorary degrees Scotland’s University of Edinburgh, University of Massachusetts, and Michigan State University. In 1994, Mugabe became the Knight Commander of the Order of Bath, knighted by Queen Elizabeth II.
Mugabe only became a pariah around 2002-03. Then his violence had claimed the lives of white Zimbabweans. He’d also confiscated so-called white-owned farms.
Even then, Mugabe’s Zimbabwe remained good for western and Chinese businesses, which have always prioritized their economic interests over the humanity of black Africans. The commercial section of the Canadian Embassy in Harare never stopped promoting Canada’s trade and investment interests in Mugabe’s Zimbabwe. At the beginning of 2017, the Canadian Trade Commissioner Service website listed mining as one the sectors offering “the greatest opportunities for Canadian companies” in Zimbabwe.
Mnangagwa recently made Time Magazine‘s list of “100 most influential people” of 2018, alongside Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Tarana Burke, Oprah Winfrey, and other titans.
Through the 2018 elections, Zimbabweans will challenge these racial double standards – by rejecting Mnangagwa and his overstayed Zanu PF party. The opposition’s resurgence is a silent rebuttal of the international community’s apparent willingness to legitimize a dangerous Zanu PF thug who used “to bide his time before suddenly crunching Mr Mugabe’s enemies“. On Monday, the power Mnangagwa grabbed through the barrel of the gun will not be legitimized.
A runoff will unite Zimbabwe’s fragmented opposition around a collective desire for real change from 38 years of corrupt and bloodstained Zanu PF rule. Against all odds, a Zimbabwe free of Mnangagwa and the party of Robert Mugabe will emerge on Monday.
So far, Canada has positioned itself as a potential arbiter in the event of a post-election crisis in Zimbabwe. Ottawa has remained impartial. Should Zanu PF or the military block Chamisa from assuming power if he wins on Monday, Canada should side with the long-suffering people of Zimbabwe.
Zimbabwe’s first election without Mugabe on the ballot must pass the democracy test.
Obert Madondo is an Ottawa-based blogger, activist, photographer, digital rights enthusiast, former political aide, and former international development administrator. He’s the founder and editor of these blogs: The Canadian Progressive, Zimbabwean Progressive, and Charity Files. Follow him on Twitter: @Obiemad
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