Unpacking election economics

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Win or lose, I wanted to do something for my election campaign team last week after the polls. I love to cook but as I was thinking about what to do while I rested last week Wednesday, Harare was suddenly thrown into chaos.

Deborah Peters,consultant

By afternoon, on international news networks like BBC and CNN, the city looked like Sierra Leone or Liberia at the height of their civil wars. The South African news networks such as eNCA and SABC had a field day. They quickly dispatched their Zimbabwean born anchors such as Peter Ndoro to the scene.

I had some business meetings scheduled for the day following the outbreak of violence. I had just run for Harare council, but based on my V11 forms from the polling station agents, I knew I had lost it. I had run a tight ship around my votes on election day so I was a happy loser and ready to move on.

In fact, my bid for local government had started impulsively three months prior when I had decided to run as an independent. I had always advised anyone who wanted to get into politics to do so through a political party because it would be easier through their party machinery.

The elections proved my point and that people in Zimbabwe vote according to a political party because all independents lost resoundingly. The cities voted for the MDC Alliance, while the rural areas preferred Zanu PF.

However, it was interesting to note that in Harare Ward 7, where I ran, the uniformed forces voted for the opposition party.

The big cities just voted for change, while the rural folks voted for the ruling Zanu PF party which continues to feed them through command agriculture and food programmes. I had wanted to run for office based on issues so I avoided any party affiliation, but Zimbabweans are not ready to discern candidates based on merit.

I appreciate the votes I got because they came from voters willing to stand for individuals, which is rare, even in the United States and the UK, which have a political system dominated by two parties.

During the campaign trails I got to know a lot of candidates running even for national seats and gradually earned their respect. An MDC candidate told me that Zimbabweans are like a pack of animals — they follow their leader when it comes to voting. Quite simply, the majority of Zimbabweans are told who to vote for on election day and they follow orders.

According to sentiments raised at my first meeting after the violence, the images of brutalised people did more damage to Zimbabwe’s economy than anything else in our history. It might be a bit of a stretch, but a lot of people had deals in their inboxes which were suddenly dead.

Looking back, we had an election that had gone by peacefully but we had a lot of idle international media on our streets who were used to having dramatic stories coming out of Zimbabwe.

Even former president Robert Mugabe organised a news conference at his Blue Roof mansion to give them a vintage news blast. A few days later, we were devastated to watch people dying on our streets. The elections were not perfect, but I lived in the US when George W. Bush won a disputed election against Al Gore and we cannot forget how Hilary Clinton lost to Donald Trump in 2016.

Two days after our elections, I had scheduled meetings with our farmers to help them market their products as an agricultural country. We need to facilitate investment. However, there are a lot of angry losers out there. By Saturday last week, I hosted a great party for my campaign team, where we celebrated the elections.

I am already in South Africa talking to international investors about how to finance power and other infrastructure investments in Zimbabwe.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa has won as president of Zimbabwe and everyone is watching if he is going to fill his cabinet with the usual suspects. The man won this election by the skin of his teeth and people want to see if he is going to do anything different to last year when he came into power.

He had about eight months during which he did nothing to impress us. There was so much talk about the first 100 days, then there was his performance dashboard but eventually we buried our hopes and expectations.

I attended his women’s event at Harare International Conference Centre on July 28, where his “niece”, the daughter of the businessman Jayant Joshi, who ran the Zanu PF investment company M&S Syndicate (Pvt) Ltd, gave a long, boring speech, which makes me apprehensive about where opportunities will go in the new government.

Everyone is jostling for position and he had turned up for a similar event for white Zimbabweans at Borrowdale Race Course the previous week, which was organised by 20-year-old white Zimbabwean Ryan Webb, with the assistance of black Zimbabwean businessman Francis Mambo.

Zimbabwe is technically bankrupt, there is no money whatsoever in the banks or anywhere, so the economy has finally ground to a halt. How do you motivate an investor to come to a country where there is no means of payment, never mind an exit strategy?

I did not dance on the streets of Harare in November 2017, so I was not one of those people who took selfies standing next to tanks because I do not trust politicians. This run I made for council was my attempt to rationalise the political idealism that Zimbabweans are prone to. Our people tend to trust too much, only to get disappointed later.

The lessons I learnt were how to bootstrap an election and how to reach anybody I want to in Zimbabwe. There is a joke going around with politicians saying Debbie Peters can call you anytime and I am starting to see results from that even outside politics. I have proven that you do not need the deep pockets of a political party to run a meaningful campaign.

Anyone wanting to get into politics should start early. At the beginning, radio stations are willing to bring on candidates for free like when I did the Deep Dive programme on Capitalk and Star FM at night but in the end you have to pay like the spot ads I put on ZiFM and the radio rally on Capitalk.

I also created my own opportunities by doing panel discussions at Plantation Club and writing this newspaper column to showcase my intellect.

Eventually, I started getting calls from other independent candidates asking me how I was fundraising because my campaign looked like it was better-funded than it actually was.

Apparently the big parties started cutting back on funding their candidates telling them that the independents were doing well with little funding. I learnt that barter deals were often worth more than cash and how to use social capital by utilising my network. People also know when they hear an authentic voice. As far as the voters are concerned, people voted for their livelihoods.

Each time I had street meetings, I brought along a couple of police officers to ensure security and one officer told some voters that I was the real deal because I was not in it for the money.

Many people followed candidates so that they could get T-shirts and whatever else they could. This is human nature because I also love going to events where you come away with something, even if I would never buy the products.

Having crowds at your rallies does not always translate into votes.

On election day, my best polling station results were with the agents who were most dedicated to protect my interests. On August 3, Eddie Cross wrote about the need to take care of election agents and I remember asking other independent candidates about having election agents and they did not seem concerned about it. However, this proved to be a crucial detail.

The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission offered multiple trainings about the election day and I am the only candidate in my constituency who attended all of them. I had an election agent at all 18 polling stations because you cannot be hands off then cry after the fact.

This election was expensive, and the other day I tried to figure out where the biggest spending was and it was on my people. I ate out a lot with my team since there was no time to eat at home. Residents eventually got T-shirts they asked for. There are so many agendas around polls and social media makes people think it will be easier, but elections are more prone to interference than ever before. It is a global phenomenon and people should learn to expect these sort of surprises.

Peters is a business and investment consultant. She can be contacted on Twitter:@debbienpeters and email: deb.n.peters@gmail.com

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