ALTHOUGH President Emmerson Mnangagwa has travelled to 12 countries since his seizure of power in a bid to engage, seek legitimacy, bring investment and source funds for polls, his efforts will come to naught if he fails to deliver free, fair and credible elections by July this year.
By Hazel Ndebele
Mnangagwa also needs to resolve or at least demonstrate that he has the capacity to tackle the plethora of problems affecting Zimbabweans to gain the trust of troubled citizens. Although Mnangagwa has been making the right noises on the economy to attract investment, the international community sees the holding of free, fair, transparent and credible elections as a crucial step towards stability and recovery in Zimbabwe.
Mnangagwa came to power in November last year after a military coup which ended former President Robert Mugabe’s 37-year grip on power. He has so far travelled to South Africa, Namibia, Angola, Zambia, Democratic Republic of Congo and Mozambique. He has been to Botswana twice.
He has also been to the African Union (AU) headquarters in Ethiopia where he attended the AU summit and went to the AU extraordinary summit in Rwanda. In addition, Mnangagwa attended the World Economic Forum annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, and recently attended the African Chief Executive Officers Forum in Ivory Coast. This week he travelled to China with a 90-member delegation. Zimbabwe is desperate to mend its relations with the global community, including international financial institutions, to ensure recovery.
While taking note of Mnangagwa’s overtures, members of the international community and investors have adopted a cautious approach to Zimbabwe, having made the decision to wait for elections before deciding what course of action to take.
Besides free and fair polls, the international community is also keen to see which route the government will take on economic policy reforms and the rule of law, as well as property and human rights.
The United States, a fortnight ago tabled a raft of conditions linked to elections, which it sees as crucial for the removal of sanctions. These include a reconstitution of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) with the involvement of the opposition.
US also demanded the flushing out of military personnel in the electoral body and the prohibition of soldiers from campaigning for the ruling party.
Opposition parties under the MDC Alliance banner have also demanded electoral reforms before going for elections, including hiring external chartered accountants to audit the voters’ roll although the electoral body has since turned down the demands.
In January the EU Foreign Affairs Council, which represents 28-member states, said elections will be crucial in determining relations between Harare and the bloc.
“The upcoming electoral process will be an essential step. The EU welcomes the commitment of the authorities to hold elections in line with the constitution, and underlines the importance that the conditions are in place to allow those elections to be peaceful, inclusive, credible and transparent,” the EU said. “The EU stands ready to review the whole range of its policies towards Zimbabwe at any moment to take into account the progress achieved in the country.”
Mnangagwa has repeatedly assured the nation and stakeholders that he will deliver credible, peaceful, free and fair elections monitored by international observers, but he has the task of walking the talk.
The business community has always insisted that investors need policy consistency, realignment of investment laws, adequate liquidity in the market, availability of cash and removal of red tape, among other issues. Even Mnangagwa’s supporters on the international stage, including Britain and China, want credible elections and reforms which will ensure there is political and economic stability in the country.
Mnangagwa met British minister of State for Africa Harriet Baldwin in February who delivered the same message.
“I brought a message (from Prime Minister May) that the UK government welcomes the messages we heard from the new President in terms of his programme for economic and political reforms and we are very pleased to hear that the plans are to hold free and fair elections in Zimbabwe later this year,” she said.
“Obviously, we share with the government of Zimbabwe our desire for there to be a situation where there is no violence at all on the ground. We condemn all violence and we are keen to see that all perpetrators of any violent activities are pursued with the full force of the law.”
Britain’s ambassador to Zimbabwe Catriona Laing, in an editorial in a state-controlled local weekly this week, reaffirmed Baldwin’s words by saying that a lot of investors have told her that elections will be a key test for them. “If elections go well and are endorsed by the international monitors, that will send a very positive signal to United Kingdom investors that the government is fulfilling its obligations and is committed to the rule of law, human rights and good governance,” said Laing.
“So, what I am expecting following the elections is that companies that are in exploratory mode at the moment will move into more accelerated mode to actually start looking at prospects for real investment.”
Political commentator Pedzisai Ruhanya said the key to addressing the two-decade-long governance crisis in Zimbabwe is to simultaneously address the political and economic questions substantively.
“Elections are key signifier of a democratic process and how they are held to determine the leadership of the country is important to address the economic and social questions of the day. The key signpost to deal with that is to liberalise, open up and democratise the electoral process to allow an unquestionable and legitimate process on how the leadership of the country is chosen. This entails the demilitarisation of both the election management body and the political environment where deployed soldiers should be recalled,” Ruhanya said.
“Technically, transparency in the printing of the ballot papers and their security throughout should be guaranteed to all players to limit the scope of manipulation. These are minimum key reforms that do not need any money, but simply commitment to holding free and fair elections. The marshalling of villagers by traditional leaders and the army is again very low cost, but we know that is the key to a manipulated victory for the system.
“This far President Mnangagwa appears not interested in opening up the electoral system, liberalising the media, repeal repressive laws and ensuring the military desist from interfering in electoral and public affairs. Hence, it is most likely that his efforts to liberalise the economy without electoral democracy will fail in the end,” Ruhanya added.