The Africa-West discord over the Zimbabwe Elections

2013-08-06 00:00

THE release of the final official election results, showing a landslide victory by President Robert Mugabe and his Zanu-PF party, except in Bulawayo, has not ended a sense of Zimbabwe’s crisis, and the divided opinions between Africans and the West on this.

The elections, which were meant to mark the end of a five-year transition — where an inclusive government of the MDC-T, MDC-N and the Zanu-PF were governed under the watchful eye of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) — show the need to reconcile Africa and the West over how to manage democratic transitions in Africa.

The African Union and SADC observer teams are satisfied that the elections were peaceful and credible. This, of course, was according to the letter of the terms of reference, which some would describe as insufficient.

South Africa has gone further and officially congratulated Mugabe through a statement by President Jacob Zuma on Sunday, in which he also urged “all political parties in Zimbabwe” (read MDC-T, which has rejected the results) to accept the outcome “as election observers reported it to be an expression of the will of the people”.

He then urged Zimbabweans to work together across many divides, to build a stable and prosperous Zimbabwe.

The United Kingdom and the United States have not changed their decade-old positions. They have indicated through their foreign affairs ministers, William Hague and John Kerry, respectively, that the elections were flawed, suggesting that they will not recognise the results. The basis of their contention is not given, but it seems that it is a lack of faith in the Zimbabwean electoral system and in African observer teams. They also probably accept the MDC-T judgment that the polls were a sham. Perceptions are important in politics, especially in power politics. As we have come to know since the invasion of Iraq, the West tends to rely on its suspicions more than on evidence to the contrary.

The United Nations has so far taken a cautious middle-ground position, asking Zimbabweans to do nothing that might lead to a new crisis. It advised Morgan Tsvangirai and the MDC-T to seek remedies through the national legal and electoral justice mechanisms, suggesting that these systems can be trusted. Thus, in an attempt to avoid a post-election crisis, the UN may have under-estimated concerns that the Zanu-PF control of the state and Mugabe’s presidential power created the justice system and the electoral bodies that the MDC-T must now seek remedy from. In a contested political environment, this is not a small matter, as such power of incumbency can make it impossible for the disgruntled to find justice.

It could be said that the Africans have chosen not to question the work of over 600 observers who were on the ground for about a month, if one excludes the advanced AU team that conducted electoral assessments much earlier. It is predictable for anyone who sends a technical team to assess and advise on the quality of elections that they cannot reject the outcomes of such a team unless they have credible data of their own contradicting that of the team’s. They would be unable to argue their point without being accused of having made a premature judgment.

The danger is that the AU and SADC may close possibilities for the winner to act graciously by being emboldened to rule without regard to disputes being raised. It may project them as being too keen to wash their hands of Zimbabwe after almost a decade of watching it closely. They have not indicated if they will give the MDC-T a hearing, which is worrying.

The MDC-T had party agents everywhere and may have evidence to back its grievances. The party is under pressure to provide evidence of wrongdoing on the part of the judge-led electoral commission, or what it calls Israeli and apartheid South Africa mercenaries hired to gerrymander the polls. If it succeeds to show this and a rerun is agreed to, then the West will be vindicated. But if it fails and the results are upheld, then the opposition will have to start campaigning as soon as next year.

South Africa and SADC have a duty to help the MDC-T get its grievances addressed fully and help it contribute to the birth of a new Zimbabwe. It is time Zimbabwe moved on and solved its problems through internal dialogue. Until Zimbabweans ask for external help, neither South Africa, the UK nor the U.S. have a right in international law to poke their noses into Zimbabwe’s affairs.

• Siphamandla Zondi is the executive director of the Institute for Global Dialogue.

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