Back to Index, Back to Special Index
This article participates on the following special index pages:
Zimbabwe's Elections 2013 - Index of Articles
on the 2013 Zimbabwe elections
Mail and Guardian (SA)
August 08, 2013
of Zimbabwe's elections last week is yet another illustration
of how the post-colonial African state is inherently incapable of
measuring up to the bourgeois democratic credentials upon which
it has been modelled and against which it is also implicitly assessed.
This is why, more than
in any other region of the world, the institution of the electoral
"observer mission" has developed pari passu Africa's legacy
of disappointing democratic transitions. Not to mention the accompanying
set of criteria, invented by referees from contemporary Western
societies and invariably applied to postcolonial Africa: whether
an election has been "peaceful, free and fair"; and whether
it has been "credible". The latter criterion is an acknowledgement,
even by the Africans themselves, that the bar had to be lowered
if any African election experience has to pass the test.
So, do we have to wait
for another such farcical electoral ritual that we witnessed in
Zimbabwe last week before Africans themselves begin to examine the
underlying reasons for such failures and acknowledge the need to
reform the contemporary African state? Can there be an alternative
mode - better than this one, which reduces our societies to war
zones each time an election is called?
That the Africans have
reproduced their own versions of "observer missions" with
the African Union, the Southern African Development Community (SADC)
and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa is hardly
an improvement to celebrate. It constitutes a mere institutionalisation
of failure, a glaring illustration that, throughout the continent,
there is hardly any state or leader with the moral authority to
judge or assess another's election.
Hence the inevitable
and predictable blessing that has to greet every electoral ritual:
today it is Zimbabwe; next month, it will be Swaziland.
The case of Zimbabwe
stands out like a sore thumb only because of the country's uniqueness
as a former white settler colonial state and the consequent disproportionate
attention and interest of the West. But these are also the factors
that have made Zimbabwe the theatre of a protracted transition and
bloody struggles, from settler colonialism to national independence
in 1980, and, in particular focus, over the past five of its electoral
experiences in 2000, 2002, 2005, 2008 and 2013.
With the benefit of hindsight,
it is not hard to see why all five elections were flawed in favour
of incumbency, nor to highlight the extent to which the 2013 one
in particular demonstrates the level of impunity, on the part of
the state, in manipulating an outcome.
The revelation, for example,
that, like a number of other African states, Zimbabwe has reportedly
engaged the services of infamous Israeli company Nikuv should awaken
us to the reality that manipulation of the voters' roll and outright
rigging have become institutionalised.
Only a brief reference
to the political economy of elections will help to illustrate the
point. First, the burden of incumbency, particularly in the context
of declining and deteriorating political, economic and social conditions:
this means that, in developing countries in particular, it is hard
for the incumbent leader or regime to fare well in an electoral
contest. And even in the best of bourgeois democracies, an incumbent
and his or her regime either fails to secure a second term or does
so with diminished returns at the polls.
For Zimbabwe, which has
faced economic and political tribulations since 2000, it is hard
to see how President Robert Mugabe or Zanu-PF could defy this fact.
Then there is the fraud,
which is quite apart from the plethora of now well-known reasons
why the conditions of a free, fair and credible election were not
present before and during the electoral process. Compare, for example,
the presidential votes of 2008 and 2013 in relation to the traditional
Morgan Tsvangirai/Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T) strongholds:
an average increase of nearly 20% for Mugabe and a corresponding
decline for Tsvangirai in Bulawayo, Harare, Manicaland and Masvingo;
and a 12% swing in favour of Mugabe in Matabeleland North and Matabeleland
How, given the backdrop
of the Gukurahundi atrocities, is this possible in these two provinces
in particular? In general, how can an increase from the reported
one of 43% in 2008 to 61% in 2013 be credible for Mugabe, even accepting
that his rival will have lost some of his gloss over the past five
years? And, likewise, the parliamentary seats that were almost even
between the Zanu-PF and MDC in 2008 but, in 2013, a whopping two-thirds
majority for Zanu-PF?
The state media was at
pains to demonstrate a close correlation between the Freedom House
Survey of 2012 and the 2013 election results. A flawed survey as
it was, given its failure to apply even the basics of political
economy, its authors, Freedom House, were this week anxious to distance
themselves from Zimbabwe's election template, calling on SADC to
condemn the election as "deeply flawed".
Freedom House said the
fact that Tsvangirai won the same amount of votes in this election
as he did in 2008, whereas Mugabe received a million more than he
did in 2008, raises serious suspicions.
The problems surrounding
Zimbabwe's elections have to be understood less in the context of
a contest between Zanu-PF and the MDC-T. Rather, they must be taken
in the context of a state whose central actors hide behind diminished
liberation credentials and a state that has become a function for
itself, committed to self-preservation at any cost.
The persona of Robert
Mugabe has therefore become an indispensable symbol – even
victim – in the hands of a cartel of a small clique of securocrats
and their civilian hangers-on.
The cartel has moved
in quickly to fill the void through an elaborate militarised operation,
overtaking and overwhelming an increasingly nominal Zimbabwe Electoral
Commission (ZEC). The election result we have, engineered by this
clique, is in effect a coup that has legitimised itself through
But it is not game over
yet. First, the elections outcome still lacks legitimacy –
notwithstanding what most observers predict as inevitable: that
Tsvangirai's appeal to the Constitutional Court will be in vain.
But the compelling evidence and data are already building up, not
to mention an untidy pre-elections process on the basis of which
the MDC-T might have been justified in withdrawing from the contest.
This is what will fortify
and galvanise the growing condemnation of the electoral process
and undermine not only the legitimacy of the new government but
even the economy, which was already under serious strain in the
run-up to the election.
Indeed, there is little
to inspire confidence in such circumstances how to replace technocrats
such as Tendai Biti, Elton Mangoma, Welshman Ncube or Arthur Mutambara,
who provided the edge in an otherwise dysfunctional administration;
and how to retreat from the self-defeating rhetoric of indigenisation.
There is need for the
region, the continent and the international community to remain
engaged with Zimbabwe. Even as President Jacob Zuma sought, in vain
obviously, to wash his hands of the Zimbabwe crisis, others, including
Botswana and Tanzania, have no such illusions. Botswana has not
been shy in calling for an independent audit of the vote. So, perhaps
this heralds the possibility of another form of facilitation from
the regional body a broader team such as the troika format as opposed
to a single facilitator.
The international community
has already said its bit on the latest elections in Zimbabwe. But
this is not the occasion to disengage or return to the punitive
campaigns of yesterday. On the contrary, the United States, Britain,
the European Union and the Commonwealth should find common cause
with SADC and work towards a new negotiation framework.
Obviously, much will
depend on the dynamics at home in the weeks and months ahead. Mugabe
and Zanu-PF will soon wake up to the realities that confront them
in the form of another disputed election and thereby re-engage the
MDC-T. Though it is almost a foregone conclusion that there will
be no re-run, there could at least be a transitional programme that
is similar to a government of national unity, but one premised on
a requisite technocratisation of the Cabinet, the restoration of
national institutions, an economic recovery programme, and the consolidation
of the constitutional reform process, including the refinement of
the electoral laws, reform of the ZEC and the cleansing of the voters'
Please credit www.kubatana.net if you make use of material from this website.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License unless stated otherwise.