Mugabe marches on

Print edition : September 06, 2013

President Robert Mugabe and his wife, Grace, at a campaign rally in Marondera, east of Harare, on July 15. Photo: Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/AP

Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai. His MDC party has rejected the election results. Photo: ALEXANDER JOE/AFP

Former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, who headed the A.U.’s election mission in Zimbabwe. Photo: AP

Supporters of ZANU-PF celebrate in Mbare township, outside Harare, on August 4. Photo: SIPHIWE SIBEKO/REUTERS

A file picture of an occupied Devonia farm in a rural area east of Harare. Mugabe had insisted in 2002 that white farmers must leave their land. Photo: AFP

He wins a decisive victory as his promise of radical economic reforms in a country struck by Western sanctions renews hope among the unemployed youth.

THE ruling Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) won a decisive victory in the presidential election held on July 31. It was quite a comeback for President Robert Mugabe and his party after having had to share power with the opposition for the past five years. Mugabe won 61 per cent of the vote in the election in which over 60 per cent of the electorate participated. Morgan Tsvangirai, his principal opponent and leader of the pro-Western Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), got around 32 per cent of the vote. Following the disputed 2008 elections, ZANU had reluctantly entered into a coalition with two factions of the MDC. Tsvangirai was appointed Prime Minister under the coalition agreement and important portfolios were given to key MDC functionaries. Tendai Biti, who is number three in the MDC, held the Finance portfolio.

It was an uneasy cohabitation. But it was during this period that the country’s Constitution was rewritten, approved in a national referendum, and passed by the two Houses of Parliament. The new Constitution stipulates that the armed forces and the judiciary must be independent from the executive and remain impartial.

In the July elections, the ZANU-PF won more than two-thirds of the seats in Parliament. The scale of the victory not only allows the party to form a government on its own but also gives it the power to rewrite the Constitution.

A survey in 2012 by the United States-based Freedom House revealed that popular support for Tsvangirai and the MDC faction headed by him had decreased to 20 per cent. In the previous year, Tsvangirai had 38 per cent of the popular vote. His taste for the high life coupled with a scandal plaguing his personal life did not help matters. In the recent elections, the MDC lost votes to older parties such as the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU), which has its base in Matabeland in the northern part of the country. ZAPU, which, under Joshua Nkomo, had initially spearheaded the liberation movement, merged with ZANU in 1988. It was relaunched in 2008 but has not been able to make much of an impact in Zimbabwean politics.

Even before the polling ended, Tsvangirai alleged that the elections were rigged despite the presence of a strong contingent of election observers sent by the African Union (A.U.) and the Southern African Development Council (SADC). Olusegun Obasanjo, the former Nigerian President who headed the A.U. election-monitoring team, had no doubts about the fairness of the elections. He told the media that it was “peaceful, orderly, free and fair”. Bernard Membe, who headed the SADC observer mission, also described the elections as “very free and very fair”. However, Tsvangirai denounced the elections as “null and void” and called on his supporters to come out on to the streets to stage demonstrations. His call had very few takers, even among the MDC supporters. There was no repeat of the widespread violence that followed in the wake of the disputed 2008 elections. The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) was chosen carefully, with the nominees appointed with the concurrence of all the political parties.

Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa advised Tsvangirai to take his complaints to the judiciary. “If anyone is dissatisfied, the courts are there. I invite Tsvangirai to go to the court if he has any grounds to justify what he has been saying.” Chinamasa accused the West of trying to bring about a regime change in his country by pumping in more than $2 billion to non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and financing “pirate radios”. South African President Jacob Zuma, who sent his “profound congratulations” to his Zimbabwean counterpart on his victory, has challenged Tsvangirai to produce evidence of rigging.

The West has chosen to go along with the accusations of Tsvangirai and the MDC. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry categorically stated that the results of the July elections “do not represent a credible expression of the will of the Zimbabwean people”. The former colonial power, Britain, expressed its “grave concerns” on the conduct of the elections. British Foreign Secretary William Hague said that the irregularities reported by the opposition “call into serious question the credibility of the elections”. The European Union (E.U.) chipped in by claiming that “identifiable weaknesses in the electoral process and a lack of transparency” had marred the voting.

Regional endorsement

The regional endorsement of Mugabe’s re-election has superseded Western criticisms. Many observers of the southern African scene are of the opinion that it will be difficult for the West to continue with its sanctions against Zimbabwe after the ringing endorsement of the elections by the A.U. and the SADC. E.U. members such as Belgium are reportedly keen to do open business with Zimbabwe, with an eye on the growing diamond industry. The West is also not happy to see China consolidate its position in Zimbabwe and the wider region. China is now the biggest investor in the country. It played an important role in bailing out Zimbabwe’s economy. The Chinese government was quick to congratulate Mugabe on his resounding victory.

British legislators are already pointing out that the E.U. must follow guidelines and not go against decisions made by regional grouping such as the A.U. and the SADC and continue with the unilateral sanctions. They fear that the Western double standards towards the African continent will be further exposed if they reject the election results. Unlike the E.U. and the U.S., the A.U. has characterised the regime change in Egypt as a military coup and has demanded the restoration of civilian rule. Kerry and Hague obviously have different yardsticks to measure democracy on the African continent.

Committed to socialist ideology

Mugabe, 89, has been at the helm of affairs ever since the country gained independence in 1980 after a brutal liberation war. He remains committed to a socialist ideology unlike other political leaders in the region who have given up on the principles that guided the liberation struggles in southern Africa. The election results are, therefore, a political vindication for the veteran revolutionary. For long Mugabe has been one of the West’s international bete noires. Asked whether he was fit enough to run the country for another five years, the Zimbabwean leader, who is endearingly called “Comrade Bob” by his supporters and “old man” by others, replied that though he had been “declared dead many times by the West” he was fighting fit. He had declared earlier that he would quit gracefully if he was defeated in the elections.

Mugabe is also the last surviving active leader who personally led a guerilla army to liberate his country from colonial rule. The Zimbabweans got their freedom the hard way by waging a war against a brutal white colonial settler regime. In contrast, independence for South Africa came virtually on a platter. The main rationale behind the liberation war in Zimbabwe was ownership of land by the native people. Britain pledged to finance land redistribution at the Lancaster House talks in 1979. The talks resulted in independence for the country from colonial rule with the rebel groups agreeing to a peaceful transfer of power in the following year.

Zimbabwe has been reeling under sanctions imposed by the West, which played a big role in the country’s economic meltdown in the last decade. It was denied access to international loans and credits, and its currency lost all its value. The Central Bank was even forced to print $1 trillion Zimbabwean dollar notes. The U.S. dollar has now become the de facto currency of the country. Inflation has been brought to manageable levels, but unemployment, especially among the youth, remains very high. Many educated Zimbabweans left the country during its worst years of privation. Since the beginning of this decade, things are looking much better for the country. The discovery of vast deposits of diamonds and metals, including gold, chromium and uranium, and their commercial exploitation have given a boost to the economy.

Land reforms

The land reforms initiated by the ZANU-PF, which were much derided in the West, have not only brought political dividends for the ruling party but have now become a role model for other countries in the region. Agriculture has once again started contributing to the Zimbabwean economy. Farmers tilling their own land now grow 40 per cent of the country’s tobacco and 49 per cent of maize. Before the government undertook serious land reforms, 1 per cent of the white population owned more than 70 per cent of the best land in the country. In neighbouring South Africa, there has been an increasing clamour for the redistribution of farm land, which is still predominantly under white ownership.

Mugabe’s key talking points during the election campaign were local ownership of land and indigenous control of the economy. He promised to undertake further reforms to bring foreign-owned companies operating in Zimbabwe under “indigenous control”. An advertisement put out recently by the ZANU-PF promised to implement a five-year-plan that would move Zimbabwe towards “a unique wealth transfer model that will see ordinary people take charge of the economy”. This promise has given many youth hope for a better future. Tsvangirai and the MDC, on the other hand, have been batting for the integration of the Zimbabwean economy with the West’s, particularly, its neoliberal economic policies.

Speaking in the second week of August for the first time after his re-election, Mugabe rejected the Western criticism of the elections. “We are very happy that we have dealt the enemy a blow, and the enemy is not Tsvangirai,” he told the media. “Tsvangirai is a mere part of the enemy. The enemy is he who is behind Tsvangirai. Who is behind the MDC? The British and their allies. Those are the ones who are the real enemies.” Mugabe reiterated his pledge to go ahead with the radical economic reforms. The West had indicated that sanctions would be lifted if the elections were held in a fair and free manner. It is now clear that this is not going to happen in the near future. Mugabe said while he was receiving congratulatory messages from all over Africa, the West was criticising the elections. “Even as the whole of Africa is sending congratulatory messages saying ‘well done’, they say the elections were not free. And where are they talking? London, Washington and Ottawa,” he remarked, adding that the “policy of indigenisation and empowerment” would continue despite the disapproval of the West. Foreign-owned banks and mining companies may be forced to cede control to local entrepreneurs. The new President said the immediate task of the government was “to raise the standard of living of our people”.