Most countries now hold regular elections although there remain lingering obstacles blocking smooth transitions towards democratic dispensations still remain.
The collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989 triggered winds of change across the continent and brought an end to one-party states and life presidents while ushering in political pluralism and regular elections.
If elections are used as a measure of democracy, the 1990s, notwithstanding signs of authoritarian recidivism, was a period of democratic expansion on the continent.
However, there is still a long way to go. Most African countries are still run by self-seeking despots.
Autocrats old and new have proved adept at using elections to legitimise their undemocratic regimes and practices. They have learnt how to use multiparty elections to retain and consolidate power under the cloak of democracy.
President Robert Mugabe is practised and efficient in this. That is partly why Zimbabwe remains democratic in form but autocratic in substance.
Elections are beckoning again. Outcomes of previous polls were disputed due to manipulation, ballot fraud and violence. This is what created this current political stalemate and led to the devastation of the economy and impoverishment of the people. In spite of persistent lies by authors of the problem, who invariably blame foreigners and their actions, including sanctions, for the situation, all enlightened people know their incompetent leadership and policy failures are the root cause of this crisis.
As we move towards new elections, there is need to remember the context and objective of the next polls. The next elections would be about trying to steer Zimbabwe through the transition from dictatorship to democracy.
It must be remembered the GNU was formed as a result of a disputed presidential election. The next vote must resolve the situation.
Mugabe lost the first round of polling in 2008 and the electoral commission, which was clearly acting under his regime’s control and direction, spent more than a month refusing to release the results. When the results finally came they showed there was no outright winner but raised suspicions that Mugabe had lost and needed time to create the smokescreen of an impasse while crafting a fight-back strategy.
Following a barbaric campaign of brutality ahead of the blood-spattered June 2008 presidential election run-off, Mugabe emerged the “winner”. MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai had pulled out of the race due to violence. Mugabe was hastily sworn in as president, just like what happened after elections were stolen by Mwai Kibaki in Kenya in 2007, and now Laurent Gbagbo in Ivory Coast.
Gbagbo lost the November 28 election to opposition leader Alassane Ouattara. Although the electoral commission declared Ouattara the winner, Ivory Coast’s Constitutional Council annulled votes in the country’s north over claims of irregularities and declared Gbagbo as winner. The world was outraged and is up in arms against Gbagbo over his brazen electoral fraud.
The GNU in Zimbabwe was formed to put in place a transitional mechanism to ensure free and fair elections. Sadc leaders must now pressure the GNU leaders to implement the GPA and hold fresh and credible elections as soon as possible. What happened in Kenya and Ivory Coast must not happen here again.