Zimbabwe: Hopes and fears

Toppling a dictator has been a 33-year long struggle for Zimbabweans as they go to the ballet with the  prospect of another six more years of Mugabe and Zanu PF.

The London Economic

By Jack Peat, Editor, The London Economic

Zimbabweans have lined up in scores to vote in this week’s crucial general election, pessimistically optimistic about their country’s future as Morgan Tsvangirai attempts to de-seat the increasingly frail and alienated Robert Mugabe.

“If we don’t make history in this election, we will never do it again,” Mlungisi Sibanda told the BBC as he woke up at 04:00 on the morning of the election. The gravity of the election certainly hasn’t been lost on Zimbabweans. After Mugabe resigned to a power sharing agreement with the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) after the last election and the economy began to move, one got the sense that a transitional period had been ushered in and international mediation had helped chip away at Zimbabwe’s old autocratic ways.

But in the lead up to 2013 election Zimbabwe appears isolated once again. Despite the country’s finances being in a fragile state, Zanu PF (Mugabe’s long-reigning party) has essentially frozen government so that all obligations in terms of the budget are suspended in order to create fiscal space for running the election. “In fact, we have basically raped government in order to finance this election,” finance minister Tendai Biti told Aljazeera, channelling the funds away from crucial social problems.

“There was opportunity to get money from the UN, from the international community, but our colleagues at Zanu-PF frustrated that. What we have done then is to behave as if Zimbabwe starts and ends on July 31, 2013. This is regrettable, but this is what we have done.”

The vote

There are few democratic elections in the world where the credibility of the election is pronounced before the election has taken place.  But in Zimbabwe, there was an all too familiar succession of events which invariably will lead to one thing; another six years of Mugabe.

It all starts with the pessimistic optimism. Tens of thousands of Zimbabweans attended rallies in the run up to the election and a huge 6.4 million people registered to vote, demonstrating the appetite for political change and the belief that such change could happen. But among every voter lining the streets on the chilly morning of July 31st, there was an air of pessimism clouding their optimism as each person questioned; will it be fair?

Tsvangirai pre-empted Mugabe by calling the elections a sham moments before the dictator could announce a landslide victory. Many registered voters had turned up to find their ballet wasn’t posted to the correct polling station, leaving millions of voters in political wilderness and ultimately unaccounted for in the crucial vote. As MDC members criticised the “sham election”, Zanu PF spokespeople announced they had “romped [to victory] in a very emphatic manner”.

The government barred Western observers from monitoring Wednesday’s elections, but the African Union (AU) and the Southern African Development Community (Sadc), as well as local organisations, have been accredited.  Asked whether these elections are fair, Biti said: ” I have said it and I have said it again and I am beginning to sound like a broken record now, but these elections are illegal, illegitimate, immoral, unfree and unfair.” The lack of media coverage and social activity certainly support his conclusion.

The economy

Zimbabwe faces little or no prospect of economic recovery without the help of the Western world, but  Mugabe has spent the last 33 years alienating both himself and his country. The economy is the central aspect of this election and both manifestos encompass very different propositions in terms of  direction.  Zanu PF is hitting the same hard-lined rhetoric which saw white farmers drove from their lands in 2000, that the government will empower black Zimbabweans by handing them majority shareholdings in every foreign company. The MDC, on the other hand, says it will create more jobs by making Zimbabwe more attractive and welcoming to foreign investors.

There has been notable improvements under the coalition government, spearheaded by Biti who appears agitated and frustrated by the unrealistic objectives which threaten to derail economic recovery.

With inflation sitting at 231 million per cent following economic sanctions in 2009, the economy had been crippled by mass economic mismanagement and the shock effects of Zanu-PF’s fast-track land reform programme. But the Ministry of Finance promptly scrapped the Zimbabwe dollar and adopted a multiple currency system, including the US dollar, which contained the country’s runaway inflation that had all but emptied the country of fuel and food supplies. Five years later, inflation is under control at 5.9 per cent, highlighting that in the right hands, Zimbabwe can prosper.

The man

Mugabe expected his people to suffer because he suffered. After spending several years in political prison, he was unable to put the atrocities behind him in the same way that Mandela did, possibly because of his isolated childhood, perhaps because of the unfortunate events that proceeded his time in prison.

“What makes a monster?” Is a question that the late Heidi Holland pursued in her highly recommended account of Mugabe.  By speaking to friends, family, British diplomats, his predecessor Ian Smith and those close to him in politics, she conveys powerful messages about the way Mugabe has justified his actions in the past, and will continue to do so in the future, if allowed to.

“He learned to distort reality; making it what he wanted to be…. He had thought his ideals would be achieved through suffering; that his sacrifices would be rewarded. He dedicated his life to his country without knowing what it was he could and couldn’t achieve. His ruined country, Zimbabwe, is truly the tragedy because it need not have suffered its devastating fate.”

Mugabe – reportedly suffering from prostate cancer- is likely to die in office if given another six years. After power sharing with Tsvangirai he will have pent-up frustration which will lead to more alienation and suffering for Zimbabweans. Evidence of rigged elections is rife and the discontent on the streets certainly doesn’t support the proclaimed “landslide” victory. The hope is that the truth will out and Mugabe will step down, but the fear of another six years certainly looks more credible based on early indications.

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