Zimbabwe polls: How I saw it

On July 30, a day to Zimbabwe’s presidential elections, President Robert Mugabe gave a press conference at State House, Harare, in what could have been his last had he lost the election the following day. But rather than present a pensive 89-year-old man, Mugabe instead cracked up the journalists, especially when he responded to a question about how he planned to spend his time if he lost the election.

By Charles Mwanguhya Mpagi, Daily Monitor, Uganda

“You ask an 89-year-old man how he plans to spend his time?” he chuckled, “I will spend it like all other 89-year olds’, first I am an educationist, I am an economist…and I can also tell stories, I am a very good story teller…,” Mr Mugabe, one of the most read presidents in the world with about six degrees under his belt, said as the media assembled, local and international, cracked up to laughter of the live televised event.

Hardly 12 hours later on a chilly morning, in the Southern Africa winter, Zimbabweans formed long queues outside primary schools to cast their vote that returned Mr Mugabe to power, the seventh vote he was declared to have won (despite the controversy of the 2008 election), to extend his 33-year hold onto power and remaining the only President Zimbabweans have known since gaining independence in 1980.

Did Mr Mugabe win or rig the poll? That is the question I have asked countless times.

That Mugabe registered a major rebound from the 2008 polls which even some of his supporters believe he lost to main rival Morgan Tsvangirai of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T), the Mugabe of 2013 and his Zanu-PF party appeared to have done their homework and like happens to many opposition parties in Africa lately, the MDC (which fractured along the way) seemed to have gone to sleep after securing a dominant presence in Parliament and a share of national power after the disputed 2008 polls. While Tsvangirai and his planners reveled in well attended and energised rallies of their supporters, Mugabe and his Zanu-PF approached the election with cold calculation.

Malice cries

Assisted by incumbency, the Zanu-PF, the party that fought for Zimbabwe’s independence cannot plead innocent to accusation of manipulating electoral process to its advantage, especially the voters’ register and polling stations list which were not made available to the contending parties in hard copy form until hardly three days to election day.

In fact, the list of polling stations was only published in local media on Sunday when the election was to be held on Wednesday.

MDC-T leader, Tsvangirai cried out on the last day of campaigns that he was yet to receive a hard copy of the voters’ roll, a fact confirmed by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, which he said was making it hard for his team to verify the names.

The previous day, on Sunday, July 28, Mr Mugabe had held his last rally at the Harare National Sports Stadium, attracting a descent crowd of anything between 40,000 to 50,000 supporters. Evidence was abundant that a significant number had been ferried in; they did not want their photographs taken and were cagey with interviews, a big sign of a big brother State.

What was, however, worrisome, was the fact that while people apparently entered the stadia freely, once the President had started his campaign, police shut off all exits, first with a human chain around the access gates to stadium main arena and then closing off the metallic gates into the general stadium area.

Uniform and plain-cloth police trained their penetrating eyes on those who were either entering or exiting while hundreds of T-shirts and other campaign paraphernalia were distributed.

Ms Christine Nakirya, a member of the Ugandan observation team under CCEDU observed for this article, “the electoral environment painted that deceptive picture of free and fair without apparent intimidation, but as an observer, you could read the under currents of intimidation especially from the chief who even on election day could be seem walking around polling stations.”

Zimbabwe has a powerful constituency of traditional chiefs who are more than 300 across the country. Strongly allied to the ruling party, the chiefs hold sway, especially in the countryside; they know the residents and are responsible for distributing goodies from both government and party.

Ms Rumbidzai, working with the Research and Advocacy Unit (RAU), a local research think-tank, which analysed the voters’ registered, said a significant number of people, especially the youth, were disenfranchised by not being registered to vote. Under Zimbabwe law, the voters’ register is developed by the Registrar General who is also in charge of all other national statistics.

But Ms Joyce Kazembe, the deputy chairperson of ZEC, told our team that registration of voters specifically is carried out with supervision from the Commission. While it is easy to blame the registration process, it was also evident that a number of youth simply did not show up to vote. While they appeared enthusiastic at especially opposition party rallies and spoke strongly of their desire for change, many did not register out of what they said was voter apathy.

Weak opposition

The electoral map main opposition politician Tsvangirai looks at today is a far cry from that of 2008. While five years ago the former unionist- turned politician succeeded in turning most urban areas Red, his party colour, 2013 created a complete reversal, allowing the Zanu-PF even enough room to reclaim space in Harare, the capital.

The reasons for this reversal, inspite of the protests from Mr Tsvangirai, cannot be simply attributed to Zanu-PF’s manipulation. Mr Tsvangirai allowed himself to get entangled in personal moral questions, especially his female partners, after the death, in a road accident, of his wife.

Mr Tsvangirai also failed to explain his time as Prime Minister and made the fatal mistake of trying to claim credit for successes without acknowledging responsibility for failures.

Running in a country where the indigenous people were disposed by an occupier colonial establishment that went very close to practising South African style apartheid, grabbing land and creating separate public spaces for Whites and native Blacks and having to run against a man who fought to change this, the legacy Mugabe holds was going to be an uphill task for Tsvangirai, especially as he was cast as a puppet to those same colonial forces.

Mr Tsvangirai did not try hard enough to cast himself as his own man, and as much as people disagree with the method of execution of Mugabe’s indeginisation policy, few disagree with the need to create equity in ownership of the country’s wealth.

cmwanguhya@ug.nationmedia.com

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