Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem T
The people of Zimbabwe go to the polls today in a Parliamentary election that should tell us something about the power balance in this country that was once a promising bright star but now yet another painful metaphor for broken dreams and continuing nightmare both for its people and other Africans. The ’something’ may not be a lot because I do not think that this election will give us an adequate reading of the real state of things between the main parties who are virtually locked in a stand still confrontation. The government sees only victory and the opposition envisages yet another unfair defeat.
The stand off between the min opposition, Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and President Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) and the current pariah status of the country internationally has paralysed the country.
It is impossible to think of a final peaceful settlement or a reasonable way out of the impasse with President Robert Mugabe still at the helm of affairs. As I argued on a CNN, last Wednesday the septuagenarian ex- Comrade is no longer part of the solution but central to the problem.
However we all have to banish all thoughts of the Old Man doing the decent thing and stepping aside (before 2008 when Presidential elections are due) for the sake of his party, country and people. His rhetoric on the campaign trails and the belligerent tones do not indicate that Uncle Bob is for turning soon. He has developed a siege psychosis, grandiose paranoia and neo-fascist mentality which, make him to see all opponents whether within his party, the government or in the country as traitors. He believes he is Zimbabwe and Zimbabwe is his.
Having been in power for 25 years Mugabe and his cohorts can not imagine themselves ever losing power therefore ZANU (PF), at least the president’s main faction of it, will do whatever is possible (both thinkable and unthinkable) to ‘win’ this election. Brazen bribery, manipulation, and whatever tricks in the books of electoral brigandage have been deployed in a to ensure only one outcome: ZANU (PF) victory. Although it has to be said that the current election has not been marred by the kind of violence witnessed both in the 2000 and 2002 referendum and election respectively. Intimidation has become less crude and taken on menacing subtleties. Poverty and starvation are also being used to bring people round. Also detailed attention was paid to the formal electoral processes by ZANU-PF strategists to ensure an uneven playing field . They made what appeared to be concessions to SADC standards for a free and fair election but found ways in which their advantage is guaranteed. If you need a lesson in form and content Zimbabwe is a good theartre.
The government has learnt from other civilianising dictators across Africa that the ‘successful’ manipulation of election outcome is not done on the final day itself but at various preparatory stages that take place before the hordes of Election tourists descend on the cities and occupy the five star hotels a week or two before the elections.
It is highly unlikely that ZANU-PF will lose today. But this victory will be at an even greater cost this time given the level of dissension in recent months at the very heart of the ZANU (PF) elite itself and the country even more. Mugabe is not just fighting ‘the MDC kids’ but also many of his formerly loyal ‘good boys’ and veteran geriatrics including former Ministers and top commanders.
While the party may lose a few seats to its latest Ex-ZANU opposition this may not be enough to unsettle the regime because they may not translate into more seats for the main opposition, MDC. The MDC is likely going to hold on to its support base despite all the stratagems of Mugabe’s storm troopers and routine violence and intimidation from both the state and its freelance militias.
The European Union has already declared the election a sham. The US government has also been blowing hot on Zimbabwe. But both of them have little or no impact on Mugabe because of their direct or indirect historical complicity in creating the settler colonialism that is the back ground to the current crisis. Also their inconsistencies condemn them to criticism of hypocrisy. In Africa itself while they are shouting themselves hoarse over Mugabe they are tolerant of other leaders who are also guilty of the same shenanigans as Uncle Bob. The current Chairman of the AU and Chair of the CommonWealth, retired General Olushegun Obasanjo of Nigeria, is hardly a model of democratic governance or the product of free and fair elections. And he is not the only one!
Outside of Africa the West has been unconscionable in giving discount to their puppets when it comes to their so-called universal standards. Musharaff of Pakistan is a good case. And just a few weeks ago Bush and Blair ‘organised’ a ‘democratic’ election in Iraq where nobody knew who was standing and up to now has not produced a working government!
And they accuse Africans especially President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa of not being decisive enough on Zimbabwe.
It is therefore not surprising that both SADC and the AU have not been too vocal beyond expressing pious hopes that there will be free and fair elections and making appeal to both sides to give peace a chance. Most Africans also resent the racist culture that states that unless European and American election tourists are on safari at our elections they cannot be free and fair.
African leaders are really on a tight rope over Zimbabwe because of the racialist overtone of the issues. None of them want to be seen as agents of the West and White settler interests. Many of them (like other Africans) who may not necessarily agree with Mugabe’ methods are however convinced that the Land issue needed to be addressed. So whatever they do they are damned. Zimbabwe has demonstrated the extreme limits of external intervention short of outright invasion and occupation. Indeed the more Europeans and Americans make noise about Mugabe the better for him in casting himself as a Pan Africanist David against Imperialist Goliaths, branding his domestic opponents, both MDC and non-MDC, as puppets of the West. For Africans both on the continent and in the Diaspora too that one sided spectacles help to make us either too understanding or ambiguous or out rightly apologetic (as many have become) towards the Old man. On the other hand MDC’s links with largely white Farmers and its popularity with anti–Mugabe Westerners make it suspect to many Africans. There is a very strong hangover of cold war era ideology watered by contemporary Western inconsistency and brazen hypocrisy that makes many Africans to instinctively suspect any African leader liked by the West while adulating the one that is hated by them. Even those who defer to the mass base especially organised largely black working class, urban poor and progressive middle class support for the MDC are also wary of its ambiguity on a number of Key issues abut the economy and reconstruction of Zimbabwe after Mugabe. There appears to be nothing holding the MDC together beyond anti-Mugabe. It is not ideologically or politically coherent. There are fears that an MDC led by Morgan Tsvangirai will just be an imitation of the sad tragedy of yet another populist Trade Unionist, the little man with an even smaller brain, one Frank Chiluba, in neighbouring Zambia.
However there is a principle that should guide all of us about Zimbabwe or any other country for that matter: the supremacy of the will of the people, freely expressed , without let or hinderance. If they choose puppets or dimwits , it is their right to do so and they will have another opportunity at the next election to
Change their mind. It is a right that cannot and should not be ceded to or usurped by a
Self-serving elite for its perpetuation in office. No leader or party owns the people.. Voting wisely is as important as voting unwisely if they so choose.