Nowhere to play “stolen village drum"

An African proverb that says it is easier to steal the village drum than to find where to play it, came to mind as the presidential election results were being announced.

GOOD day, President Emmerson Mnangagwa. Your Excellency, an African proverb that says it is easier to steal the village drum than to find where to play it, came to mind as the presidential election results were being announced.

As I see it, your ally, the Equatorial Guinea President Teodoro Obiang Nguema was not at all speaking in jest when he told you that you cannot be in power and lose an election.

He was urging you, to all intents and purposes, to cling to power by whatever means.

A joint preliminary statement by  AU and Commonwealth observer missions did not give the harmonised elections a clean bill of health.

It stated that they did not sufficiently meet the requirements stipulated in the Constitution. Granted, the exercise did not reach the minimum prescribed standard for credible elections.

It further stated that the delimitation report was flawed and unconstitutionally executed.

One cannot read reports of observers, be they local, regional, continental or from beyond the seas without encountering concerns over curtailment of rights and absence of a level playing field.

Describing the elections as calm but disorderly, the European Union preliminary report stated: “Ultimately, the elections fell short of many regional and international standards, including key principles of equality, universality, transparency and accountability.

"While the election day was largely calm, the election process overall was hampered by significant issues regarding the independence and transparency of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec).”

Your Excellency, be that as it may, civility warrants me to congratulate you on your election victory.

It must be bittersweet to be declared the winner of an election in which observers, one after the other, issued damning reports on the conduct of the elections.

They stated that the elections woefully came short of meeting the Zimbabwe Electoral Act  provisions. Among other shortcomings, it was observed that Zec did not avail to contesting political parties electronic and auditable copies of the voters roll as per the Constitution.

Apparently, such organisations as the Southern African Development Community (Sadc), African Union (AU) and Common Market for East and Southern African (Comesa), which ordinarily glossed over the Zimbabwe government atrocities and clampdown on democracy, this time stood resolutely in defence of credible elections.

In its preliminary report, Sadc was close to concluding that the elections were a sham. It chronicled accounts of massive irregularities and poor administration by Zec.

It cited hindrance to freedom of expression as a result of the passing of the Patriot Act.

If ever there was anyone who thought that President Nguema was speaking light-heartedly, they were altogether naive.

One trait that distinguishes strongmen from statesmen is that they are as unapologetic as they are undiplomatic in their intentions to hold on to power at any cost.

What matters most to despots is not how they win, but that they must win. It counts for nothing to them that even the flagrant ineptitude that resulted in the running out of ballot papers on polling day is tolerable amid the resultant fiasco.

It is game on for them even in the face of unprecedented absence of attention to detail. They gloss over complete dereliction of duty on the part of the electoral commission for as long as the end justifies the means.

Even the reckless abandon which resulted in ballot papers falling from a vehicle enroute to polling stations did not alarm them.

Yet, with all due respect, considering the debacle that the elections turned out to be, the stately decision you ought to have taken was to resign. It warranted you to accept responsibility and salvage the dignity of government by stepping down without further ado.

Any self-respecting leader, conscious of the sanctity of the social contract to lead, could have been ill at ease and would have cupped their face in their hands in shame.

Given the inconveniences the running out of ballot papers caused on voters and the cascading adverse effects on the entire electoral process, prospects of credible elections came apart at the seams.

Your Excellency, it is my fervent conviction that it was more by strategy than by oversight that the ballot papers ran out, particularly in the strongholds of the opposition.

Moreover, the delay in the delivery of ballot papers to various polling stations underscored the clumsy management practice at Zec.

Essentially, the incompetence of Zec shone like a beckon. Anything that could have gone wrong went haywire.

Yet, it was business as usual for the two commissioners who soldiered on following the sidelining of the seven who disowned the delimitation report.

All in all, Zec left nothing to imagination regarding its incompetence. It must have been its uppermost objective to ensure the elections were planned thoroughly, with absolute due diligence and run meticulously. Yet, the exact opposite was self-evident.

It is below the dignity of statesmanship to expect to secure presidential legitimacy from a sham election. My deduction is that the observer missions could not all have been motivated by malice in their conclusions.

Your Excellency, the ill-gotten village drum might be in your possession, but the challenge is that you have nowhere to play it.

Cyprian Muketiwa Ndawana is a public-speaking coach, motivational speaker, speechwriter and newspaper columnist.

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