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Zim dilemma

Zimbabwe’s July 31 election finally brought an end to the divisive “inclusive government” that was pain-stakingly negotiated by the African Union (AU) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC). 

This “inclusive government”, including Zanu-PF and the two Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) formations, was formed in the aftermath of the violence-ridden 2008 election. 

It took the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) five weeks to announce the winner of the presidential race in 2008. This time it took three days to announce that 89-year-old Robert Mugabe would continue to rule for another five years. 

Mugabe, in power since 1980, when Zimbabwe won independence from Britain, got just more than 61% of the vote. His rival, MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai, garnered only 34%. The other candidates fared poorly: Welshman Ncube of the smaller MDC faction got 2.68%, and Dumiso Dabengwa of the revived Zimbabwe African People’s Union and Kisnot Mukwazhe of the largely obscure Zimbabwe Development Party each won less than 1%. 

Of the 210 contested National Assembly seats (out of 270 parliamentarians), Mugabe’s Zanu-PF got a landslide 160 constituencies, MDC-T got 49, and one independent candidate – Jonathan Samukange –won the rural Mudzi South constituency. Samukange had previously lost in the Zanu-PF internal primary elections and he went on to fight as an independent, citing electoral irregularities. 

The election result means that, for the first time since 2008, when the MDC won by simple majority in Parliament, Zanu-PF has managed to regain a two-thirds majority. With this margin, it has the numbers to amend the new Constitution, recently approved by a huge majority in the March referendum. During the election campaigns, both Zanu-PF and the MDC threatened to make constitutional amendments. 

Zimbabwe’s stock market plunged 11% after confirmation of the election results amid concerns over further shifts towards an ever more populist economic policy. Zanu-PF showed signs of this, just days before the poll, when Local Government Minister Ignatius Chombo ordered municipalities to scrap all debts owed by residents. 

The struggling capital, Harare, has since written off debts amounting to $330-million, yet it struggles to collect refuse and supply residents with clean water. Also, Mugabe used the occasion of a commemoration of the heroes of the liberation war this week to announce that his government will increase allowances for war veterans.

Everyone acknowledges that the poll was largely peaceful, though Tsvangirai has disputed the fairness of the process leading up to polling day and conduct on the day. He has called the poll a “monumental fraud”, alleging widespread rigging and intimidation. His party is preparing a dossier for the AU and SADC, the guarantors of the agreement that gave birth to the unity government, and has filed a court challenge to the election results.

Tsvangirai is not alone. His position conforms to the views of some local civil society organisations as well as Western governments, including the United States, which has condemned the election as a “deeply flawed process”, and the United Kingdom, which has questioned the credibility of the election and called for all allegations of electoral violations to be “thoroughly investigated”. 

This has also found traction with neighbouring Botswana, which is calling for an independent audit of the Zimbabwean election for failing to meet “an acceptable standard for free and fair elections in SADC”. 

As would be expected, Botswana’s position, viewed as supporting Tsvangirai, has renewed its rivalry with Zimbabwe, especially when the former pushes for concerns about the latter’s elections to be discussed at the SADC summit, which is taking place in Malawi this weekend. 

However, Tsvangirai faces a more herculean task from his much more weakened position than the one he had when he was the country’s prime minister. Even before the ZEC had announced the final results, SADC and AU observer missions had expressed their satisfaction with the conduct of the election and urged contestants to accept the results, albeit with a proviso to approach the courts if needs be. 

Preliminary statements from SADC and the AU upheld the elections, but not without reservations. Both cited the issue of the contentious voters’ roll as a major cause for concern, and deliberately did not use such binding adjectives as “legitimate", “fair” or “credible”. The United Nations also put its weight behind the regional bodies’ position. 

More importantly, South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma, who took over the SADC facilitation process from his predecessor Thabo Mbeki, was one of the first to congratulate Mugabe, calling the elections “successful”. Several African countries have since followed suit, as have China, Russia, Venezuela and Korea.

There is no doubt that reforms originally agreed to in the 2008 Global Political Agreement were not implemented in full, and that can be put squarely on a poorly thought-out implementation plan proposed by SADC in the form of the local joint monitoring and implementation committee, which comprised the three rival political parties. 

This fallacy of self-monitoring was designed to fail from the onset, and the effort to resuscitate it by appointing three external members in 2011 came a little too late, with Zanu-PF resisting the move on the grounds of sovereignty. 

It was not surprising when Zanu-PF finally announced that it had officially pulled out of the arrangement weeks before the election because it was never committed to it from the beginning. No meaningful media reforms were carried out, and the political environment remained as polarised as it was throughout the tenure of the unity government. 

To their credit, efforts by SADC and the AU brought some modicum of normality to Zimbabwe’s poisoned economic and political environment that prevailed in the decade up to 2009. But more importantly, last month’s election in Zimbabwe has reignited the debate on the role of the regional bodies’ peace and security priorities. 

Sustainable peace can only be guaranteed if both are vigorously pursued at the same time. Being in Zimbabwe during the period of elections, one could not miss the fact that the country is still a house divided. And SADC and the AU may still have some work to do. 

Webster Zambara is senior project leader for Southern Africa at the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation in Cape Town

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Webster Zambara
Webster Zambara

Dr Webster Zambara is a project leader of Peacebuilding Initiatives at the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation. He recently spent eight days building the capacity of women mediators in Cameroon at the invitation of United Nations Women

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