THE conduct of Zimbabwe’s general elections last week is yet another illustration that the post-colonial African state is inherently incapable of measuring up to the bourgeois democratic credentials upon which it has been modelled and against which it is also implicitly assessed.
Opinion by Ibbo Mandaza
This is why, more than in any other region of the world, the institution of the electoral “observer mission” has developed pari passu Africa’s legacy of disappointing democratic transitions, not to mention the accompanying and now proverbial set of criteria, invented by the referees from contemporary Western societies but invariably applicable to post-colonial Africa: whether an election has been “peaceful, free and fair”; and, over the last decade, the new criterion, “credible”, an acknowledgement, even by the Africans themselves, that the bar had to be lowered if any African election experience has to pass the test.
So, do we have to await another of such farcical electoral rituals as we witnessed in Zimbabwe last week before Africans themselves begin to examine the underlying reasons for such failures and acknowledge the need to reform the contemporary African state? Can there be an alternative, better than this one which reduces our societies to war zones each time an election is called?
That the Africans have reproduced their own versions of “observer missions” through such continental (African Union) and regional bodies (Sadc and Comesa) is hardly an improvement to celebrate; it constitutes a mere institutionalisation of failure, a glaring illustration that, throughout the continent, there is hardly any state nor leader with the moral authority to judge or assess another’s election.
Hence the inevitable and predictable blessing that has to greet every electoral ritual: today, it is Zimbabwe; next month it will be Swaziland. Yesterday it was DRC.
The case of Zimbabwe stands out like a sore thumb only because of the country’s uniqueness as a former white settler colonial state, the consequent disproportionate attention and interest of the West, and its pivotal geo-political position.
But these are also the factors that have made Zimbabwe the theatre of a protracted transition and bloody struggles, from settler colonialism to national Independence in 1980, and, in particular focus, over the last five of its electoral experiences: 2000, 2002, 2005, 2008 and now 2013.
With the benefit of a brief hindsight and the assistance of computer technology, it is not difficult to recognise why all five elections were flawed in favour of incumbency, nor to highlight the extent to which the 2013 one in particular demonstrates the level of impunity, on the part of the state, in manipulating an outcome that also smacks of cynicism in the face of its citizens.
The revelation, for example, that, like a number of other African states, Zimbabwe has engaged the services of the infamous Israeli security company, Nikuv International Projects — which by its own admission handles voters’ rolls and elections results — should awaken us to the reality that manipulation of the voters’ roll and outright rigging have become so institutionalised in the post-one-party states in Africa. It is the ugly and cynical face of the so-called multi-party democracy in Africa!
Only a brief reference to the political economy of elections will help to illustrate the point. First, the burden of incumbency, particularly in the context of declining and deteriorating political, economic and social conditions: this means that, in developing countries in particular, but the world over in general, it is always difficult for the incumbent to fare well in an electoral contest; and even in the best of bourgeois democracies, an incumbent either fails to secure a second term or does so with diminished returns at the polls.
So, why should the case of President Robert Mugabe and his Zanu PF steadfastly defy this trend, not least in the face of the political and economic tribulations that the country has experienced in the period since 2000 and against the background of an incumbent so old and politically vilified across the board that it defies logic as to why he secured a landslide with a record like his and in such conditions.
But then here is the fraud quite apart from the plethora of the now well-known reasons why the conditions of free, fair and credible elections were not present before and during the electoral process. Compare, for example, the presidential vote for 2008 and 2013, in relation to the traditional Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC-T strongholds: an average increase of nearly 20% for Mugabe and a corresponding decline for Tsvangirai in Bulawayo, Harare, Manicaland, and Masvingo; and a 12% swing in favour of Mugabe in Matabeleland North and Matabeleland South. How, given the marginalisation and Gukurahundi backdrop, which have created perennial discontent there, is this possible in these two Matabeleland provinces in particular? While Bulawayo maintained the trend in those regions, why the vast change in two Matabeleland provinces?
In general, how can such a vast increase, from the reported one of 43% in 2008 to 61% in 2013, be justified for Mugabe, even accepting that his rival will have lost some of his gloss over the last five years?
And, likewise, the parliamentary seats which were almost even between the Zanu PF and MDC-T in 2008 but in 2013 a whopping two-thirds majority for Zanu PF. For this to happen there must be some big shift and improvement on people’s socio-economic conditions credited to Mugabe and Zanu PF. Given the situation in Zimbabwe and how things evolved since 1980, and indeed 2000, who in their right minds would believe this outcome? Something is fishy in all this.
That is why the state media is at pains to demonstrate a close correlation between the Freedom House survey of 2012 and the 2013 elections results.
A flawed survey as it was, given its failure to apply even the basics of political economy, its authors, Freedom House, were this week anxious to distance themselves from the Zimbabwe’s elections outcome:
“Freedom House calls on the international community, particularly the Sadc, to condemn as deeply flawed Zimbabwe’s July 31 elections. These elections were plagued with voters’ roll manipulation and widespread intimidation from the ruling Zanu PF, and were therefore neither free nor fair.Local NGOs noted systematic disenfranchisement during the election process, with significantly more voters being turned away in urban strongholds of the opposition MDC than in rural Zanu PF strongholds.The fact that Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai won the same amount of votes this election as he did in 2008, while President Mugabe received one million more than he did in 2008 raises serious suspicions”, stated Vukasin Petrovic, director of Africa programmes at Freedom House. “However, reports of vote rigging should not come as a surprise. Elections results were decided long before elections day.”
Second, the problems surrounding elections in Zimbabwe have to be understood less in the context of a contest between Zanu PF and the MDC, than in relation to a state which, while its central actors hide behind the garb of well-worn and diminished liberation credentials (aka Zanu PF), has become a function for itself, committed to self-preservation at any cost, gone for broke, regardless of the consequences to Zimbabwe and its people.
It is now the state versus the people. The person of Mugabe has therefore, become an indispensable symbol — even victim — in the hands of a small cartel of securocrats and their civilian hangers-on who, in the face of a Zanu PF movement which has become fractious and ideologically and organisationally vacuous over the last three decades, have quickly moved in to fill the void, through an elaborate militarised operation, overtaking and overwhelming an increasingly nominal Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec).
What happens after Mugabe’s imminent departure from the scene is not difficult to surmise. For what we have here, in the form of an outcome so engineered by the securocrats, is a subversion of the people’s will which seeks to legitimise itself through an election.
No doubt, it was the fear of an actual coup, as a possible option on the part of these securocrats, that will have prompted Olusegun Obasanjo into a hurried — and even unceremonial approval of an electoral process so inherently flawed.
Likewise, South African President Jacob Zuma’s “profound congratulations” to Mugabe for his “successful” re-election.
But, it is not game over yet! First, the elections outcome still begs legitimacy: notwithstanding what most observers predict as inevitable that Tsvangirai’s appeal to the Constitutional Court will be in vain, the compelling evidence and data is already building up, not to mention an untidy pre-elections process on the basis of which the MDC-T might have been justified in withdrawing from the contest.
This is what will fortify and galvanise the growing condemnation of the electoral process and undermine, not only the legitimacy of the new government but even the economy which was already under serious strain in the run-up to the election.
The reaction of the markets after the results shows the growing economic uncertainty and anxiety about the future.
Indeed, there is little to inspire confidence in such circumstances: how to replace such of the technocrats — Tendai Biti, Elton Mangoma, Welshman Ncube or even Arthur Mutambara — who provided the cutting edge in an otherwise dysfunctional administration; and how to retreat from the self-defeating rhetoric of “indigenisation and empowerment” in favour of pragmatic and realistic best practices in the contemporary world.
Second, the need for the region, the continent and the international community to remain engaged with Zimbabwe. Even as Zuma sought, in vain obviously, to wash his hands off the Zimbabwe crisis, others — like Botswana and Tanzania — have no such illusions.
For example, Botswana on Monday called for “an independent audit of Zimbabwe’s disputed vote last week, saying the elections could not be considered acceptably free and fair in the region of southern African community.”
So, perhaps, this heralds the possibility of another form of facilitation from the regional body: a broader team such as the troika format as opposed to a single facilitator?
Third, the key factors in the international community have already said their bit on the latest elections in Zimbabwe. But this is not the occasion to disengage nor return to the punitive campaign of yesterday. On the contrary, the US, Britain, EU and the Commonwealth should find common cause with Sadc towards a new negotiation framework for the resolution of the Zimbabwe crisis.
Obviously, much will depend on the dynamics at home, in the weeks and months ahead. Mugabe and Zanu PF will soon wake up to the realities that confront them in the form of another disputed election and thereby re-engage Tsvangirai and the MDC.
While it is almost a foregone conclusion that there will be no re-run (as the best option is such a situation), there could be at least a transitional programme (2013–2018), similar to a Government of National Unity, but one premised on a requisite technocratisation of the cabinet and its administration, the restoration of national institutions, an economic recovery programme, and the consolidation of the constitutional reform process, including the refinement of the electoral laws, reform of the Zec and the cleansing of the voters’ roll.
Indeed, the stand-off in Zimbabwe will be very long and drawn out, again, depending on how soon Mugabe departs from the scene, triggering, at least, the demise of that clique of securocrats; and thereby providing the basis upon which the country might begin to institute a new and better dispensation.
Dr Mandaza is a Zimbabwean academic, author and publisher. He is currently the convener of the Policy Dialogue Forum at the Sapes Trust, a regional think-tank, based in Harare. — firstname.lastname@example.org