OPINION: Why Zimbabwe’s Election Matters
Like many countries trying to recover from the lasting consequences of political and economic colonialism, this year’s election puts Zimbabwe in a position to make strides towards stability and independence.
On July 30th, 2018, Zimbabwe went to the polls for parliamentary and presidential elections. This was a monumental election, as it was the first without Robert Mugabe, who ruled the country for thirty seven years. Mugabe faced a peaceful coup d’etat that featured support from the military, parliament, and his own party (Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front), which moved to impeach him. He resigned in November of 2017. This meant that for the first time in decades, Zimbabweans were poised to select a leader that was not named Robert Mugabe.
Expelled by Mugabe in 2002, a European Union election observation team was invited to monitor the voting process. Also observing the election were teams from the African Union and the South African Development Community. According to the EU team’s preliminary report, they found evidence of “bias in state media” and “misuse of state resources…in favor of the ruling party.” While this prevented them from recognizing “a truly level playing field,” the team did acknowledge “the campaign was largely peaceful” and “political freedoms…were respected.” They concluded that “the elections were competitive.”
Although not perfectly free and fair, this election must be celebrated as a significant step in the right directions considering the circumstances. After decades of rule by a single party, led by a single man, through elections marred by corruption and violence, Zimbabwe’s 2018 election is a profound turnaround. This is especially true in light of the lack of dramatic change in national leadership.
The ZANU-PF interim president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, was Mugabe’s former vice president. Rather than clinging to power in the form of another strong man, Mugabe’s former party asked the country to cast ballots and give them credible authority to lead the country.
However, here is where the bumps in the road come. Unsurprisingly, the results of the election were strongly on the side of the incumbents: 145 seats for ZANU-PF, with only sixty for the opposition. Emmerson “the Crocodile” Mnangagwa, 75, won just over 50% of the vote, while his MDC opponent, Nelson Chamisa, 40, trailed with 44%. In a country with a population of 16.1 million, this was a difference of just 300,000 votes. In the subsequent opposition protests, at least six people were killed when the military reportedly used live ammunition to disperse crowds.
Chamisa openly criticized the fairness and accuracy of the election, citing “mammoth theft and fraud,” and filed a challenge with the courts, delaying Mnangagwa’s inauguration. The courts now must decide whether any of the bias or tampering was intrusive enough to cost Chamisa the election. If so, this could result in a run-off between Chamisa and Mnangagwa.
Despite the narrative from America and her allies that the West should be an example and supporter of democracy, our efforts and presence has often stunted local efforts around the world to establish representative governments. Historians have long lamented the ill-effects of the burden we placed on developing countries.
Mohammed Alkadry writes that, “Colonial and post-colonial imperial practices have substantially undermined the notion of civil society and created geographic, ethnic and economics scripts that could not be recited by the indigenous peoples… Globalization makes democratization even more challenging as western industrialized nations’ interests clash with national aboriginal interests, which would prevail in the instance of liberation.”
Despite the West’s “liberation” rhetoric, there are many examples of economic interests stunting the development of a nation’s economy, which therefore inhibits civil stability. Some of the famous cases are the British control of the Suez Canal, or the Da Beers domination of diamonds in West Africa. Globalization has continued the practice of outside economic groups reaping the benefits of the resources of developing nations. Per the BBC, historian Dan Snow argued that the Democratic Republic of the Congo is laden with raw materials, but is too plagued and infiltrated by foreign interests to prosper from its own resources.
Zimbabwe, formerly Southern Rhodesia, was first colonized by the British in search of gold. It later became an economy in servitude to the British Empire with products such as chrome, asbestos and tobacco. It finally gained independence in 1980, but has yet to see a wholly representative government. After shaking themselves loose from the grips of a dictator, Zimbabwe has the opportunity to use a peaceful and fair election process to give control of the land to the people of Zimbabwe.
“Stable, consistent democracies do not display the explosive civil unrest and violence associated with other regime types.” (Tiruneh, 2014). The U.S., for example, recently saw an a election that could be understood in the context of frustrated, rural Americans voicing their feelings of political abandonment without the use of violence. Such a transition and expression does not come as smoothly in other countries. As chaotic as the landscape in Washington may be, it is proof of the flexibility of American democracy to protect the minority and allow for peaceful dissent among the electorate.
In 2018, Zimbabwe must now show a political election system that prioritizes and protects its voters, while peacefully keeping law and order among the disgruntled opposition. No matter what the courts decide, fair or foul, Mnangagwa or Chamisa, Zimbabwe hopes to be one of many to take a long stride through the flames of colonialism into true independence.
Drew Fabricius is a Lead Contributor to theDailyLead.