As the rhetoric and clamour for elections gathers momentum, it is convenient to warn fellow citizens of the challenges that lie ahead.
Opinion by William Muchayi
The formation of the inclusive government in 2008 masked deep-rooted decay in the politics of this country and it is these challenges that haunt and will continue troubling citizens as we approach elections and thereafter.
It has been the suspicion of many within and outside opposition circles that MDC-T leader Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai defeated President Robert Mugabe convincingly in the first round of elections in 2008, but was robbed of victory as the latter connived with Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) to create a false scenario in which none of the adversaries scored more than the 50% benchmark to have outright victory, hence the need for a run-off.
Social media reports say Tsvangirai garnered 67% of the vote compared to Mugabe’s mere 28,7% in the 2008 presidential election.
However, with the help of Zec and the military Tsvangirai was robbed of victory culminating in the run-off which he boycotted in protest against intimidation and violence.
Five years after the signing of the Global Political Agreement (GPA), it is regrettable that no meaningful reforms have been implemented. The security sector is still as intact as it was before.
The same generals who were behind the 2008 violence are still fully entrenched in their political war trenches, with some of them even promoted to higher ranks as a reward for the role they played in propping the regime up.
Recently State Security minister Sydney Sekeramayi was quoted as saying calls for the security sector reform are uncalled for as they are tantamount to demands for regime change.
For Mugabe, maintaining the status quo in the security sector is a matter of survival as opposed to luxury. He has lost support among the electorate and for him to maintain power, he needs the backing of the military.
Much is also at stake for the generals. Victory for MDC-T would leave them vulnerable as they would be forced to answer to charges of human rights abuses which hang around their necks.
Also, they cannot afford to let go all the fortune they have amassed throughout Mugabe’s reign. Moreover, they are following events in other parts of the continent, for instance, the surrender of Bosco Ntaganda of the DRC before the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
Because of that, Mugabe will never give in to demands for security sector reforms and the opposition has to live with this reality. Mugabe’s mentality and that of his security chiefs has not changed, hence they will fight tooth and nail to rob Tsvangirai of victory again.
Faced with this stark reality, the MDC-T seems powerless to effect change from within as was the hope when they entered into the government of national unity. The political and electoral playing field has remained in Mugabe’s favour. A relapse into violence as experienced in 2008 is inevitable.
There has been no meaningful reforms, including on the media, since 2008. The clampdown by the partisan police on people using small wind-up radios is an attempt by Mugabe to restrict the electorate’s access to information.
The dysfunctional ZBC that propagates Zanu PF propaganda is viewed by the regime as the right official source of information for the electorate. The awarding of licences to two new players to broadcast is a non-event as they are all linked to the regime.
In a sense, it is just an extension of Zanu PF’s control of the airwaves. The Public Order and Security Act and Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act are still at the regime’s disposal to stifle freedom of speech and expression.
Perpetrators of the 2008 atrocities are still roaming the streets with none of them having been brought before the courts of law. The thugs are well-known, but are protected by those who use them. Most of them are reported to be on government payroll and in wait for a call to unleash terror.
The judiciary, on the other hand, is rendered powerless to prosecute the criminals as it is compromised in favour of the executive. As a result, victims of politically-motivated violence remain vulnerable as they are not protected by the institutions meant to protect them.
Zec as well as the Registrar-General (RG)’s Office have not been reformed enough for the electorate to have confidence in them. As in 2008, Mugabe is likely to rely on these two institutions to rig the forthcoming elections in a smarter way than before. Violence in the forthcoming elections, however, is likely to be on a smaller scale than that of 2008 for a number of reasons.
Firstly, Mugabe is old and tired and these elections are likely to be his last. As such, he may want to leave the stage peacefully. Jerry Rawlings of Ghana left the stage in the same fashion.
Secondly, a repeat of the 2008 violence will not work in Mugabe’s favour especially taking into consideration the pressure from Sadc. Mugabe does not want to be on a collision course with Sadc at a time he is shunned by the international community.
He may appear to be snubbing South African President and Sadc-appointed facilitator on Zimbabwe, Jacob Zuma in public, but privately, he is well aware that being isolated by Sadc will not help his cause.
Thirdly, no one and even Mugabe himself would dream of a return to the economic meltdown of 2008. Because of the above reasons, elections are likely to be rigged in a smarter way with the help of Zec and the RG’s Office.
Instead of withholding election results for ages, this time the shock results are to be announced within days.
Despite reports that Zec is staffed with personnel from the secret service, it would be interesting to note that it is going to be the playground where elections are to be won or lost.
The MDC-T might have played a part in the restructuring of Zec, but it is a fact that theirs was a peripheral role as Mugabe dictated the tempo.
The resignation of Justice Simpson Mutambanengwe and the subsequent appointment of Rita Makarau can best be understood in this context which then tells you who is likely to win the forthcoming elections.
The role of the RG’s Office is also significant in shaping the outcome of the elections. The RG’s Office has been instrumental in the past in facilitating the regime’s rigging mechanism and the same office has been left almost untouched leaving Mugabe with enough room to manouevre.
The recent persecution of human rights activists, NGOs and journalists as well as members of the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission is a clear signal of Mugabe’s intentions.
Although he appears to condemn the arrests and harassment of rights activists in public, in private he approves of them.
If he is to be taken seriously, he should acknowledge that he is now powerless to control his marauding militias. However, reality on the ground seems to imply that he is still in control, but is reluctant to instill discipline in them as they are his source of power. Without them he is finished and they cannot do without him as theirs is a symbiotic relationship.
Mugabe will push for elections before the end of June and his excuse as usual will be the need to abide by the constitution, but at the same time it is a ploy to do away with talk of reforms before elections.
The MDC parties will find it difficult to stop him from declaring elections before June unless pressure comes from Zuma and other regional leaders. Whether Sadc will succeed in forcing Mugabe to implement the remaining reforms before elections remains to be seen. If no meaningful reforms are implemented, a return to the chaotic elections is a possibility.
As advised, Zimbabweans should have Plan “B” on the table. In the event that Mugabe steals the vote again, what can be done? Mugabe will not go peacefully as Rawlings did in Ghana and Kaunda in Zambia. What he and his generals need are guarantees of protection in exchange for leaving office.
If Zimbabweans forgave Ian Smith and his generals, then why not their own wayward sons? If Ghanaians forgave Rawlings and the Pakistanis Pervez Musharaf, why would Zimbabweans deny Mugabe and his generals the same forgiveness? It is guarantees of protection and forgiveness that Mugabe and his generals need before relinquishing power.
However, it is those who acknowledge their blunders who should qualify for an amnesty, but Mugabe and his generals have not shown any remorse at all. Pardoning them without them acknowledging their guilty is like rewarding vice with virtue.
The last question is: who is it they trust if an olive branch is extended to them as a gesture of goodwill? In life, there are some truths we will have to learn to live with although we may not want to think of them as reality but just dreams.
Muchayi is a local political analyst. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org