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The first liberation in Africa was the transition from colonial to independent rule that swept the continent starting from the 1950s onwards. The process of decolonization was supposed to herald the beginning of democratic rule. One man, one vote (or one person, one vote) became the slogan used by those (including Robert Mugabe) involved in the struggle for national sovereignty. Within a few decades Africa had around 40 new states with democratic constitutions. Sadly, the regimes established by this process soon collapsed or reverted to authoritarian rule.

Before long, military coups had toppled roughly half of the elected governments (e.g. Zaire and Sudan). Those that escaped this route to anarchy soon degenerated to one-party states. The political parties that embodied the nationalist movement and won large majorities in the elections held immediately before independence formed the first governments of the new states. The result was a series of regimes that were the instruments for neo-patrimonial or personal rule (e.g. Daniel arap Moi in Kenya and Paul Biya in Cameroon).

This, unfortunately, was the path Zimbabwe took. Though Zimbabwe is one of the very few African states that has had a continuous multi party system since majority rule in 1980, elections there had never really threatened the position of Zanu PF until June 2000. Prior to this pivotal moment in Zimbabwean politics, elections had been a mere formality. Elections that are just a formality can either imply obedient support of the ruling party or, alternatively, electoral apathy signifying the lack of real choice. Yet this can not be.

For the ruling party to retain power the mere possibility of electoral competition inherent in a multi party system requires careful and consistent management of the entire election process. Thus elections were made a formality by manipulation of the registration process, gerrymandering of the constituency boundaries, government control over the media and by intimidating and coercing the electorate using the state’s security agents and state sponsored mobs. Any moves towards true democratic reform have been consistently resisted by Zanu PF. Their reaction has been to frustrate democratic forces at every turn using any means possible. And yet we find them today calling for elections.

The current Government of National Unity is clearly, and was always going to be disfunctional, as Morgan Tsvangirai now admits. Perhaps Tsvangirai now says he wants a “divorce” from Zanu PF because Elton Mangoma (MDC  Minister for Energy) has been arrested on what he (Tsvangirai) says are trumped up charges. Perhaps it is because Munyaradzi Gwisayi is still languishing in jail for merely analysing the protests in Egytpt and Tunisia with other members of the civic society. Perhaps Tsvangirai now wants out because the violence on perceived MDC supporters by Zanu PF mobs has recently increased and the perpetrators are being allowed to go scot free by the police. Maybe it was the recent Human Rights Watch report which stated that there was a clear lack of justice in several illustrative cases of political killings, torture, and abductions by government security forces and their allies during and after the presidential election run-off in 2008.

Perhaps Tsvangirai now sees that he never had and he never will have any influence on the people at the helm of Zanu PF, therefore making it impossible for him to lead them along a more democratic path. Elections in 2011? Well, as stated above, we already know the pattern and we know the outcome of those elections. More violence and intimidation, no media freedom, no respect for human rights and certainly no free and fair elections. Without true democratic reform, I fear Zimbabwe will stay on this doomed course for a long time to come. About 3 years ago Zimbabwe held two historic elections.

I have written about these elections before in other forums but will now highlight a few things about them with regards to the importance of democratic reform. I hope that we will not allow the same scenes to play out if, as Robert Mugabe would like, elections are held this year.

The 29 March 2008 elections were the first ever harmonized elections in Zimbabwe.They covered the presidency, the Senate, the House of Assembly and local government councils. On the 27th of June of the same year, Zimbabwe saw its first ever presidential run- off. Though, as I mentioned in the previous article, Zimbabwe has always had multi party elections, the result has always been known. According to Adam Przeworski one of the three elements of the three ingredients found in a truly democratic election is a degree of uncertainty. In Zimbabwe, it had always been clear to everyone that Zanu PF would win. Then along came MDC in 2000 and everything changed. By 2008 Zanu PF were ready to maximize the use of all their dirty tricks which I will briefly outline and which are important for the electorate and observers.

To begin with, state financed patronage is a key element in maintaining power for Zanu PF. In 2008 there were reports of abuse of state resources in Zanu PF’s election campaign. There was the politically motivated distribution of food, particularly in the rural areas. Traditional leaders were ordered to deliver the rural vote in exchange for vehicles, electrification of homes, and most critically, the privilege to allocate scarce and highly valued  food aid, farm imputs and other equipment. If those community leaders blatantly refused (which they would not) their very lives were under threat because the whole process would be overseen by the local Zanu PF mob.

In the cities there were salary hikes for those in the uniformed forces and civil servants. Secondly, despite the ZBC’s promise to “fair, equitable and accurate coverage of the contestants”, its actual coverage showed a complete disregard for these provisions. The Media Monitoring Project of Zimbabwe showed that out of 153 stories ZTV devoted to theparties’ campaigns 3 weeks before the poll,122 (80%) were allocated to Zanu PF and 19 (12%) to the tweo MDC factions. Simba Makoni’s Mavambo only had 10 stories and the other smaller partieswere covered in 2 reports. ZBC radio also showed similar bias with 84% coveregae of Zanu PF and only 10 % of the MDC formations.

With regard to printed media, after the forced closure of the Daily News, the 3 independent weekly newspapers operating in 2008 had severely limited circulations and were therefore incapable of providing most Zimbabweans with credible alternative news. The main daily and Sunday newspapers of the Zimbabwe Newspaper Group, whose editorial content is directly controlled by the Department of Information, were used regularly in 2008 to disseminate hate messages against percieved enemies of the state (i.e. anyone who did not support Zanu PF). This dangerous practice represented an intolerable abuse of the publicly owned media. Voter education was not on the agenda. In fact, the public media in Zimbabwe did not merely fail to live up to this duty but they were used to misinform and confuse the public, especially during election campaigns.

The civic election watchdog, the Zimbabwe Election Support Network’s adverts about voter education were not published and broadcast in the Zanu PF controlled media.No criticism of the government was tolerated but all the socio-economic ills were only reported in the context of Zanu PF’s perspective, i.e they have been caused by western imperialists who want to recolonize Zimbabwe. The Zanu PF controlled media used this unchallenged advantage relentlessly to malign and disparage the political opposition. A third factor to consider is the ZEC( Zimbabwe Electoral Commision).

For the March elections, it was reported and not denied that the ZEC printed 600 000 postal votes when in fact only 30 000 had been applied for. This obviously generated suspicions that the extra ballots were going to be used to rig the elections. There were also allegations that the ZEC had ordered the printing of nine million ballot papers when the totla number of registerd voters was less than 6 million. Now if one of the ZEC’s functions is “To give instructions to any other persons in the employment of the state or of a local authority for the purpose of ensuring  the efficient, proper, free and fair conduct of elections or referendum” then why would they make it easier for elections to be rigged. Perhaps they are not independent after all.

Indeed one remembers the disturbing story (The Standard, 19-25 October 2008 ) of the late Ignatius Mushangwe, a ZEC official who went missing during the run-up to the violent presidential run – off. Mushangwe had apparently attended a heated meeting of the multi-party liason committee in Harare on the 10th of June 2008. Mushangwe had clashed with senior security officers after he told the meeting that the ZEC would only issue out postal ballots to police officers who would be on duty. The following week when the committee met, Mushangwe was not present. Other members asked where he was and one official told them, “You won’t be seeing him again”. Five months later his body was found in mortuary in Norton. It is widely believed he was murdered by state security agents for insisting that electoral regulations regarding postal ballots be scrupulously followed. The ZEC leadership did not even condemn this brutal assassination of one of its officials.

This leads us to the final and most important factor – state security agents and Zanu PF’s violent mobs. The hundreds of people who died before and just after the elections lost their lives simply because they were not supporters of Zanu PF. General Constantine Chiwenga, head of the Zimbabwe Defences Forces said “Our comrade Robert Mugabe  will romp to victory. We say so because we have no apology to make to any house nigger and puppets”. The Herald (23/06/08 ) Now if such words are coming from the head of the army then you know you are in trouble if you are not a supporter of Robert Mugabe.

Samuel Mumbengegwi, former Finance Minister said “This is up to you; if you want peace you should vote for us. If you vote for the MDC we will go to war”. The Financial Gazette (19/06/08 ) And war it was that was declared on the opposition. The military leaders clearly stated that they would not serve anyone who had not fought in the liberation war (a clear reference to Tsvangirai).

Their intention was to intimidate and terrorize the public. Mobs of “war veterans” were unleashed. They carried out hundreds of murders and injured many more. The few arrests that were made were of MDC supporters who were accused of carrying out violent attacks on Zanu PF supporters and yet most of the victims of the violence were MDC supporters. Under such a climate it would be insane to think that “free and fair” elections are possible in Zimbabwe before true reforms are made.