Economic impact

Published : May 23, 2008 00:00 IST

President Robert Mugabe at a church service on March 23.-ALEXANDER JOE/AFP

President Robert Mugabe at a church service on March 23.-ALEXANDER JOE/AFP

The final election results show that the oppositions allegations of foul play were false.

THERE may have been an inordinate delay before the final election results were published, but the allegations that the government orchestrated it to manipulate results have turned out to be incorrect. The recount ordered by Zimbabwes Electoral Commission in 23 parliamentary constituencies after complaints of undercounting by the ruling Zimbabwean African National Union (ZANU-PF) has not resulted in the opposition losing any seats. For the first time in Zimbabwes history, the opposition has gained a majority in Parliament.

The opposition, led by the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), won 107 parliamentary seats. The ZANU-PF got only 97 seats. The presence of a new party led by a former ZANU polit bureau member and former Finance Minister, Simba Makoni, further queered the pitch for the ruling party. However, this is not the first time that the ZANU-PF has lost in an electoral contest. Zimbabweans voted against a ZANU-PF proposal to amend the Constitution in a referendum in 2000. The government lost by fewer than 1,000 votes.

As the record shows, the Zimbabwean authorities never interfered with the vote count. Though ZANU-PF started as a revolutionary party, it embraced pluralism and market economics after independence. George Charamba, a spokesman for President Robert Mugabe, told the media in Harare in the last week of April that there was nothing to suggest that the Electoral Commission would not report the election results accurately. The Commission says that the announcement of the final results was delayed because this was the first time that the country was simultaneously electing a President and members of the Assembly and the Senate. Observers from all important African regional groupings were present during the elections and gave a clean chit to the Electoral Commission. The elections held on March 29 were trouble-free.

Mugabe and an influential section within the ZANU-PF were no doubt taken aback by the election result. Morgan Tsvangirai of the MDC was marginally ahead of Mugabe in the percentage of popular votes polled. Tsvangirai, backed vociferously by Western governments and their media outlets, insists that he has won the presidential polls outright by securing more than 50 per cent of the votes cast. Zimbabwean electoral laws mandate a run-off if either candidate gets less than 50 per cent of the votes polled. Tsvangirai initially said that he would not participate in a run-off and demanded the immediate resignation of Mugabe. The MDC was also against the recounting of votes in the 23 constituencies, but later relented. Tsvangirai now says that he will participate in the run-off against Mugabe if the polls are conducted under United Nations supervision.

Either you have faith in the system or you dont, said Charamba, the presidential spokesman. He said that it was good for the country that the Electoral Commission had confirmed the original results after the partial recount. He reminded the international community that this was the first time that a new system of voting was introduced in Zimbabwe and appealed for patience. United States Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Jendayi Frazer, echoing the views of the British Home Secretary and Prime Minister, demanded the immediate resignation of President Mugabe.

Zimbabwean authorities have said that the opposition is being encouraged and funded by London and Washington. Zimbabwe has been chosen for regime change by the West for quite some time now. Mugabe, Mahmoud Ahmedinejad of Iran and Kim JongIl of North Korea are the three leaders most commonly demonised and caricatured by the Western media. The U.S. State Department, in its Report released in April 2007, admitted to supporting the opposition in Zimbabwe.

Mugabe fell foul of the West after he decided to institute radical land reforms in the country. For two decades after independence, white farmers, who constituted around 1 per cent of the population, controlled more than 70 per cent of the most fertile land.

Under the Lancaster House Agreement of 1979, which led to Zimbabwes freedom, the British government agreed to fund the Zimbabwean governments land reforms programme. Tony Blairs government reneged on this commitment, leaving the Zimbabwean government with no option but to take over the white-owned land for re-distribution without compensation. The government blames the Western economic sanctions that followed for the financial straits the country at present finds itself in. The aid and soft loans from Western Europe, on which the country prospered in the 1980s and the 1990s, dried up. The U.S. government passed the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act in 2001, imposing stringent sanctions. Funds from international financial institutions such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) are no longer available. Mugabe has urged the Zimbabwean people not to succumb to the pressure. During the election campaign, he repeatedly stated: This land is ours, it must not be allowed to slip back into the hands of the whites.

These developments adversely affected the Zimbabwean economy, which was enmeshed with the economies of the West since independence. By early 2000, Mugabe had started the process of reorienting the countrys politics and economics. A Look East policy, involving closer relations with China, has been in place for the past couple of years. China is now Zimbabwes second largest trading partner after South Africa. Mugabe recently said that his country was again returning to the days when its greatest friends were the Chinese. During the liberation struggle, ZANU was supported by China and North Korea, while the other main liberation movement, the Zimbabwean African Peoples Union (ZAPU) led by Joshua Nkomo, had the backing of the Soviet Union and its allies. We look again to the East, where the sun rises, and no longer to the West, where it sets, Mugabe told his supporters recently.

Western governments and media gloss over the important facts that led to a political and economic impasse in Zimbabwe and, instead, focus exclusively on democracy and human rights issues. Since independence in 1980, Zimbabwe has held elections every five years. Provincial and municipal elections have never been cancelled, or even postponed. Very few countries in the African continent have a vibrant democratic tradition like Zimbabwes. Zimbabwe is the only African country where the ruling party has to appeal to the Electoral Commission for a recount of votes, claiming that the opposition rigged the ballot. The recount showed that in a few constituencies the votes were indeed undercounted for Mugabe. The opposition has participated in all the elections held so far. In contrast, strong American allies in Africa do not even go through the motions of conducting fair and free polls. The recent elections in Egypt are an illustration. The main opposition party was barred from contesting. But the West is not complaining because an ally is involved.

One reason why most African countries are refusing to join the Western chorus demanding Mugabes ouster following the March elections is that they are fully aware of the Western machinations to overthrow the government in Zimbabwe. The U.S. State Department initially supported the re-election of President Mwai Kibaki of Kenya despite the international outcry against the blatant rigging that characterised the Kenyan election earlier in the year.

In fact, some senior ZANU-PF officials suggest a power-sharing model for Zimbabwe similar to the one adopted in Kenya after the disputed elections there. Such an arrangement, they feel, would smooth the way towards a stable government. The outcome of the Zimbabwean elections has shown that the electorate is sharply polarised.

It was clear that with the inflation rate at astronomical levels, the economy was the main issue in the elections. The inflation rate crossed 100,000 per cent by the end of April and the unemployment rate was over 80 per cent. The issue of land reforms, though still an emotive one, was transcended by more immediate bread-and-butter issues.

The high levels of unemployment, coupled with non-availability of essential commodities for the common man, no doubt influenced the poll outcome. Mugabes rationale that a defeat for the ZANU-PF in Zimbabwe would be a setback for all the governments in the region did not sway an electorate voting on empty stomachs.

Mugabe has been emphasising that the current struggle in Zimbabwe is a continuation of the old anti-imperialist struggle. He is not alone in his views. Other African governments that came to power after a prolonged struggle against colonialism and apartheid are backing Mugabe as the veteran guerilla fighter wages a back-to-the-wall electoral battle.

South African President Thabo Mbeki, along with the Presidents of Angola, Mozambique and Namibia, is with Mugabe. The leaders of all these neighbouring countries of Zimbabwe had to wage bloody wars against imperialism to liberate their countries. Mbeki in a Southern African Development Council (SADC) summit in Dar es Salaam in 2007 said: The fight against Zimbabwe is a fight against us all. Today it is Zimbabwe, tomorrow it will be South Africa, it will be Mozambique, it will be Angola, it will be any other African country. And any government that is perceived to be strong, and to be resistant to imperialists, would be made a target and be undermined. So let us not allow any point of weakness in the solidarity of the SADC, because that weakness will also be transferred to the rest of Africa.

Mbeki once again stood by the beleaguered Mugabe at the emergency SADC summit held in Lusaka in March to discuss the crisis in Zimbabwe. Both the SADC and the African Union are against outside interference in the internal affairs of a member state.

Sign in to Unlock member-only benefits!
  • Bookmark stories to read later.
  • Comment on stories to start conversations.
  • Subscribe to our newsletters.
  • Get notified about discounts and offers to our products.
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide to our community guidelines for posting your comment