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By Morak Babajide-Alabi
It’s not one year yet when our attention was turned to the Southern Africa country of Zimbabwe. To be honest, the eyes of the world have always been focussed on the country. The world was actively involved in its struggle for independence in the 70s prior to gaining independence when every step of the rulers of the apartheid regime was scrutinised. In the same vein, the world was sensitized to the struggles of the freedom fighters.
Even in bad times, Zimbabwe has always generated interests for the world. When Robert Mugabe took over the reins of power in 1980, the hopes of a better tomorrow was too real for the world to ignore. It did not take long before Mugabe and his band of freedom fighters turned out to be oppressors of the people. It was disappointing for the international community, but it was a depression that was endured for thirty-seven years.
Last year, we, once again, turned our attention to the country. Activities moved at a rapid pace and catching up was a task. We followed with keen interest as the events that led to the exit of Mugabe, the dictator, unfolded in real-time around the world. Within a few days, packed with loads of drama, the military boys dislodged Mugabe from the post he had tenaciously held on to for 37 years.
It was just like one of the modern-day television reality shows where individuals allow strangers to scrutinise and criticise them. The world followed the activities as they unfolded in the former Rhodesia. Although the forced exit of Mugabe looked more like coup de tat, the international community chose to ignore this. It did not really matter as what they were concerned with was getting Mugabe out-of-the-way.
The world celebrated with the Zimbabweans as they managed to ease off the dictator without any bloodshed in the country. The thought of analysts was that the exit of Mugabe would open the doors for economic integration, developments and many opportunities for the citizens. The greatest of all the expectations were that the citizens would be able to elect a leader of their choice. Elections would no longer be held under the barrels of the ruling party’s guns.
In the last one week, the world’s attention was once again turned to Zimbabwe. It was the first general elections in the country since the removal of Mugabe, and the realisation of the list of expectations of the world. It was the first time in the history of the country that the name of Mugabe was missing from the ballot papers or his pictures on campaign posters. The prospects of an election in Zimbabwe without Mugabe were too good to be ignored.
It was a major democratic breakthrough for the citizens. To them and the world, the election was a test of their leaders’ resolve to join the democratic league. The activities in the run-up to last week’s Monday elections were interesting, as it was devoid of any intimidation or violence as witnessed in past elections. It was a break away from the Mugabe days when opposition leaders were hounded and thrown into jails. The feelers for the international community were that the elections would be a departure from the past.
After a tortuous four days wait, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission announced the results on Friday. This was after so much delay, and amid speculations that the ruling party was trying to influence the outcome of the elections. The delay did not do justice to the credibility of the election in any way. The citizens came out in their thousands to vote in what they thought was their first real chance of effecting a change in their country. The voting exercise was commended as being peaceful and orderly, but what has cast doubt on it, is how long the electoral commission took before releasing the results.
While waiting for the results, there were claims and counterclaims of victory by the two major candidates – the ZANU-PF candidate Emmerson Mnangagwa and Movement for Democratic Change (MDC)’s Nelson Chamisa. Mnangagwa is no stranger to the world. He is the incumbent President and was until last year the right-hand man of Mugabe, but picked by the Army, dusted and made to occupy Mugabe’s old post. He needed this election to legitimise his appointment.
On the other hand, Chamisa is the fresh-faced young politician cum pastor who has had his fair share of violence in the course of his short political career. In 2007, he was attacked at the Harare Airports and had his skull cracked during a clampdown on opposition members. Chamisa gave the incumbent president the run for his money in the elections.
This election was not just the test of Zimbabwe’s resolve to join the democratic league; for the ZANU-PF, Mugabe’s party, it was a means to legitimise their candidate in power. Mnangagwa had always been part of Mugabe’s kitchen cabinet. He was nicknamed “the crocodile” for his brutal representation of the government, especially in suppressing the collective will of the people.
In this column on November 26, 2017, under the title “Freedom From Mugabe, Power To “The Crocodile” I had written – “Will Mnangagwa allow freedom of expression and opinion in the new Zimbabwe? Will foreign investors see him as a credible candidate to birth a new nation? Will he ensure free and fair elections? Or will he be seeking an election that will endorse him for the next five years so he can consolidate power? Will Zimbabweans file out on the streets and call for him to quit if he toes the path of Mugabe?”
Now as we watch activities in Zimbabwe by the side-lines one cannot but wonder if the country has witnessed any change since the military chased away Mugabe. The first major test for the country seems to have been bungled. By the look of things there has not been any major change in the way and manner the politicians practice their trade. This is why Chamisa is crying foul that the results of the elections released are a coup on the people of Zimbabwe.
He knows what he is talking about. A couple of hours after the results were released; the old hands of Mnangagwa came out to play. The venue of the opposition press conference was invaded, while reporters and journalists were chased out. This does not portend good omen for the country. Chamisa had condemned the election results – “The level of opaqueness, truth deficiency, moral decay & values deficit is baffling.”
It is not yet Uhuru in Harare or other parts of Zimbabwe. The following weeks will determine the direction of the country. The elected President has extended his hand of “friendship” to Chamisa, but there has not been any response from the young man. Will he change stand and dance to the tune of Mnangagwa for peace sake? Or will he call out his troops, as he threatened before the results were released?
Chamisa needs to play this carefully so he does not end up with dirt on his face. The major economic powers that Zimbabwe needs now are already celebrating the results of the elections. This is what the ordinary citizen wants and may not take kindly to any individual who stands in the way of what will improve his/her life. Chamisa won’t want to be seen as a man standing on the way to Zimbabwe’s economic recovery.
As written for the Diaspora Matters column, Sunday Vanguard August 5, 2018.