About power, corruption and a political charade

There are certain things which pervade all acceptable limits of ethics, propriety, decency and absurdity. The whole mockery of a democratic act like ‘free and fair’ elections that is taking place in Zimbabwe is one such instance. It is not often that a country’s political history can very well be studied and summarized by skimming through the political career of one individual. But in case of a country like Zimbabwe, where a majority of the 13 million population has known only one political leader in their lifetime, this seemingly impossible task becomes almost doable.

Let us begin by first recognizing and agreeing on the fact that the man in the centre of this farcical political charade, Mr. Robert Mugabe is today the face of an authoritarian regime- an obnoxious, power hungry figure, who has lost all credibility and respect, not only in the Zimbabwean political scene, but more so on the international front.. It is indeed ironic that this same person was once hailed as a national hero, a thinking man’s guerilla, apart from being an outspoken critique of western (specifically British) imperialism. But he along with his government had had to bear international wrath, condemnation and opposition because of their way of governance or mis-governance and an anti-Mugabe campaign has been speedily gaining ground, especially after the leader’s shameful and preposterous way of handling defeat in the March elections and the subsequent (mal)treatment that his party meted out to the opposition Movement For Democratic Change(MDC), selectively targeting its leader, Morgan Tsvangirai by accusing him on baseless charges along with a vicious country-wide crackdown that unleashed chaos and violence on the people ahead of the run-off polls.

Here, I would like to trace the series of events right from the time that Mugabe garnered his first electoral victory to the creation of the current crisis, which is only one in a series of a long trail of unwanted and unwelcome events that have run parallel to Mr. Mugabe’s time in power. Mr. Mugabe was the pivotal figure of the liberalization movement that swept the country in the 1970s which culminated in the fall of the white-minority government headed by Ian Smith in 1979 and further led to the signing of the Lancaster House Agreement which finally accorded legal independence to the country. Mugabe won a staggering victory in the elections held in 1980, becoming the first Prime Minister of Zimbabwe, which at that time was the continent’s second largest manufacturing base. Mugabe’s track record as a head of state is blotted with persistent bouts of intense violence and unjustified repression along with numerous instances of human rights abuse. Mentionable here is the brutality and bloodshed he unleashed against the minority Ndebele population in Matabeleland and Midland province, who supported the opposition party Zimbabwe African People’s Union(ZAPU), in order to squash what he perceived as a surge of popular uprising against him. This crackdown lasted almost five years, at the end of which more that 20,000 (mostly unarmed) civilians had been killed. Mugabe’s government, in the end forced the ZAPU party to merge with ZANU in 1987, creating a ZANU-PF , which made it possible for Mugabe to seize executive presidential power after constitutional change and thus, transformed the country into de-facto one-party state. Attempts in 1990 to create a de-jure one-party state failed miserably, while Mugabe secured re-election and started his second term in office in 1996.

The first time that the collective electorate of Zimbabwe showed clear signs of protest and disapproval of his regime was when the President lost the February 2000 constitutional referendum. Once again, Mugabe’s response to that was reiteration of his cycle of violence and repression, leading to further soiling of his image in the international media and political circuit, who, by now had already adopted an attitude of resentment against his regime. Mr. Mugabe perceived all this antagonism he faced in the global field as nothing more than a collective conspiracy by the western governments in order to malign his rule and create animosity against him in the international front. His international isolation was accelerated and aggravated by the land reforms devised by him in the 1990s which enabled the seizures of large plots of mostly-commercial lands owned primarily by white ZANU liberal war veterans without due reimbursement or payment. These lands, which had earlier earned large foreign exchange reserves, now started benefiting only the inner circle of the President.

Under President Mugabe’s mismanagement, the once flourishing Zimbabwean economy was crippled. Agricultural produce plummeted and the country, once hailed as the ‘bread-basket’ of the continent began to depend on food programmes and foreign help to feed its population. According to one estimate, at present, more than a third of the country’s population depends on supplies from World Food Programme to stay alive. Most other necessities of life too are in chronic deficiency. . But nevertheless, Mugabe defeated the then newly formed MDC opposition in the June 2000 parliamentary elections, though missing the majority mark needed to change the constitution. Seriously manipulated and flawed elections were held again in 2002 (presidential) and 2005 (parliamentary).

In 2003, Mugabe withdrew his country from The Commonwealth as a mark of protest on sanctions imposed on it by the Commonwealth Nations which cut out foreign aid to Zimbabwe. In 2005, the Mugabe government provoked widespread opposition again when it launched Operation Murambatsvina which forcibly cleared urban slums, displacing and making homeless some 18% of the population. The March 2008 combined presidential and parliamentary elections worsened the country’s economic and political crisis. Even though the polls were already tilted in favour of Mugabe, the opposition MDC managed to win 47.9% of the votes against a 43.3% in favour of Mugabe. The opposition called the results “scandalous daylight robbery”, claiming an outright victory in the first round with 50.3% of the votes. As Mr. Tsvangirai could not reach the 50% mark, therefore an internationally supervised run off was called for.

The run-off election was held on 27 June 2008, and was supervised by Zimbabwe’s Electoral Commission. The official results released two days after the elecions showed that Mugabe had managed to double his votes since the first round, to 2,150,269 votes (85.5%), while his opponent Tsvangirai obtained only 233,000 (9.3%).however these elections were preceded by the use of force and violence by Mugabe. It has also been conjectured that the people in several regions were forced to vote and even though election monitors showed a low turnout, the final number of turnouts for voting actually increased, compared to the March elections. The result was declared a sham and the election itself was termed illegal by the Southern African Litigation Centre (SALC) because it occurred outside the 21 day period within which it had to take place under the Zimbabwean law. Under item 3(1)(b) of the Second Schedule of the Electoral Act, if no second election is held within 21 days of the first election, the candidate with the highest number of votes in the first election has been duly elected as President and must be declared as such. According to the figures released by Zimbabwe’s Electoral Commission, that would mean that Morgan Tsvangirai is the de jure President.

Zimbabwe’s political future still hangs in the balance, with both sides sharing mutual feelings of distrust and hostility towards each other. Talks are doing the rounds of having a coalition government but it is the question of how much power that is to be shared that seems to be giving both the negotiating parties sleepless nights, with each party desiring the larger share. It will indeed be painful to see someone like Mr. Mugabe, a violator of human rights along with being the perpetrator of scores of act, not really suitable for the head of state, return to hold office, however insignificant its powers might be compared to the position he held in the past. But peace would involve certain sacrifices and in situations like these specially, some amount of expediency has to be exercised. And at present, mediation between the two involved parties, MDC and ZANU-PF is the most practical thing to be done. But amidst rumors of a split in the opposition, Mr. Tsvangirai has called for a halt to the negotiations. Right now, he seems to be in no hurry to sign the dotted line and rightly so, because to cave in to pressure now might be damaging to them in the long run. He seems to be wary of Mugabe as an ally because of the obvious dangers that lurk in a power-sharing government, while he also realizes his party’s position in the entire scheme of things, being the one whose party clearly enjoys greater legitimacy and which would have undoubtedly clinched the majority in the March elections had it not been for the pre-poll manipulation and muscle power exercised by Mugabe. According to reports from the negotiations, the proposed deal would make Mr. Mugabe the Mr Mugabe “founding president” and Mr Tsvangirai prime minister. But of course, such a declaration cannot be taken a face value because the more serious question here would be who actually controls the state machinery, and more specifically the armed forces.

It is hard to believe the mess that had been made by one man’s flawed judgment and questionable leadership and political tactics. The entire process of how a country that after its independence was relatively stable has been reduced t its present state of instability and both political and economic upheaval is hard for most of us to discern and digest. Zimbabwe has not had a single military coup since its independence nor has it grappled with any of the natural calamity like earthquake, drought or floods, unlike its African neighbors. It had no large change in any of the policies that governed its economy but even then the graph shown by its inflation rate is quite unlike anything the world had seen. Zimbabwean inflation rate at present is estimated to be about 4,000,000% in June 2008 and it is still escalating. Zimbabwe’s foreign reserves have virtually depleted and the economy seems to be going deeper and deeper in trouble. Western countries have promised substantial foreign aid only if Mugabe would step down from power, strengthening Mr.Tsvangirai’s position seems to be the very thing that Zimbabwean polity and economy need to be able to keep afloat in the face of the impending adversities. As I’m writing this article, no solid conclusion has yet been reached by the negotiations but I certainly hope that a specific decision may be taken and a concrete solution arrived at the earliest.

Pronoti Balgary

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