African “airport election observers” are a strange phenomenon on our turbulent continent, in which serious election monitoring deficits stare us in the face in every country like starving babies in a drought. The observers are more familiar with African airports than the electoral landscape they are supposed to deal with. At airports they receive presidential treatment, with chiefs of protocol from the observed government even daring to give each one of the observers the elevated title of “Your Excellency”.
Their egos thus inflated, they are chauffeur-driven to the most expensive hotels where the only normal voters they access during their “observation visit” are waiters and bartenders employed for the occasion at the hotel, usually the Rainbow Towers or Meikles, with prohibitive prices for everything to scare away any sane citizen and potential voter.
The timing of the arrival of these respectable gentlemen and ladies in suits is also painfully interesting. Two or three days before the elections, the meticulously dressed men and women of goodwill arrive with brand new briefcases probably full of their own countries’ old newspapers alongside some rusty accreditation documents authorised and issued by the same government they are meant to observe.
It is like criminals arriving at the court house in presidential limousines, guarded by the very same police who arrested them. The trial becomes fake and the police institution a mere farce.
In today’s Zimbabwe, speculation is rife that elections will take place in 2011, new constitution or not, even though a new and democratically crafted constitution is an urgent pre-condition put on the table by the leadership of Sadc.
Alongside other crucial conditions clearly stated in heaps of documents for the “unity government” to stick to, Mugabe publicly accepts the requirements in front of the Sadc leadership, only to throw them out of the window as soon as the leaders’ presidential jets take off from Harare International Airport. No questions asked, no heated discussions or even the mildest reprimand. It’s as if nothing was ever agreed and signed.
Meanwhile, not far from the Rainbow Towers, in which the so-called election observers are entertained, militia camps have new political victims who could be murdered and dumped in the nearest stream or forest.
Government-owned newspapers are awash with hate speech and the latest slogans proclaiming Mugabe “the supreme leader” who will rule forever.
Peaceful demonstrators are teargassed in broad daylight in the streets of the big cities. Senior army and intelligence officers have been deployed long back before the “airport observers” were even officially appointed by “friendly” countries to observe from the Rainbow Towers and other expensive centres of Zimbabwean “hospitality”.
Some opposition activists will have been eliminated long before any observers are mentioned in the electoral documents of the so-called independent Zimbabwe Election Commission appointed by The Supreme Commander, His Excellency, Head of State and Government, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, Patron of War Veterans and Father of the Nation, The Dear Leader.
In their posh hotel rooms the “airport observers” busy themselves with preparations for the next official briefing-cum-reception, cum-dinner-or-lunch, courtesy of the intelligence officers and chiefs of protocol. Official speeches of welcome drench their ears like summer thunderstorms while intelligence chiefs order more imported whiskies, wines and caviar.
The observers are no longer shy to forward their congratulatory messages to the head of state for the peacefully conducted, free and fair elections.
Their visit has been as memorable as the elections, the result of which is already clear for all fair-minded people to see.
“Zimbabwean electoral authorities use too much ink for voters to dip their fingers in,” some observers will bravely reveal; the only fault they observe in these elections, the results of which are “absolutely credible beyond reasonable doubt”.
Thus, the reports the “airport observers” generate in their countries on their return do not go beyond primary school children’s classroom debates, the sound and fury of which do not even stir a mosquito.
I always wonder if these observers are given rudimentary training in matters pertaining to their grave missions and moral responsibilities.
During one Zimbabwean election saga, some constituencies recorded a turnout of more than 120%, and the “airport observers” were quick to clap hands for a job well done by Mugabe’s personally appointed election commission. Under such circumstances, with such an alarming turnout, it would seem even cows, donkeys and roosters voted.
The only free and fair elections in Zimbabwe are those which have not yet been conducted or imagined. During election campaigns, Mugabe has proved to be one of the most foul-mouthed leaders on the continent. The word “persuade” does not exist in his election vocabulary. I am reliably informed that the vulgarity of his electoral language is surpassed only by President Yayah Jammeh of The Gambia.
He will call his political opponents “traitors”, “puppets of the West”, “poodles of imperialist forces”, “political prostitutes”, “mangy dogs”, “unpatriotic hooligans”, “friends of homosexuals”, “tea-boys of the West”, “sellouts”, “colonialist puppets”, “enemies of the state” and other unrepeatable curses and insults.
It seems the Sadc electoral guidelines on democratic elections forgot to include a clause on the necessity for courteous, polite language in the campaign processes of Southern African states. In normal countries political candidates who use vulgar, insulting language are penalised by disqualification from the elections.
But in Zimbabwe, Mugabe receives thunderous applause when he calls the former
British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, “a toilet” and former US ambassador Christopher Dell, “hell”, without realising that he has a delegation in those countries begging for money to buy Chinese arms of war.
“There will be war if we lose this election,” Mugabe said in the 2008 elections, without clarifying who the guns were going to target. But the observers ignored such outrageous language, which eventually led to political death, torture and pain among innocent citizens. Zimbabwean villagers now hate elections with a passion.
Election time is torture time, instead of a glorious time to celebrate the right to choose dignified
leaders for a positive vision of the land of their birth.
In Zimbabwe the law protects Mugabe from being insulted by the voters, but it does not protect the voters from shameless presidential insults. — M&G.
Chenjerai Hove is a Zimbabwean writer living in exile.