Zimbabwe: 7 Things Learnt From Zim Election

1 August 2018

Monday's election will go down as one of Zimbabwe's best shows in its 38-year history, bucking the trend of a post-independence African state going the familiar, old path. Zimbabwe had had one leader, Mr Robert Mugabe, who fitted so nicely into the template of a hero-turned-villain; liberation hero-turned-tyrant.

Not only that, we must add (and we have zero regrets putting the caveat), we are not saying he was all wrong and never did anything good for Zimbabwe. In fact, we concede that even when the world thought the worst of him, he had redeeming aspects that will actually endure for a long time.

Mugabe's downfall last year signified the closure of a chapter.

It then became curious that on the eve of Monday's election, he tried to swing the vote against his former liberation colleagues in Zanu-PF and in particular its presidential candidate Emmerson Mnangagwa.

He was like a man rising from the dead and trying to fight history.

Yet the election showed that Zimbabwe is moving on in spite of Mugabe, and despite history.

It's a new dawn for the country.

The polls gave us a number of lessons in politics and of an African country in transition.

Here are some of them:

1. Zimbabwe has capacity to move on

This election, for being historical, will close the door firmly on part of the history that Mugabe represented. In a more academic sense, Zimbabwe has moved from being a post-independence African state to a post-post-independence nation. The foundational themes of liberation and fighting colonialism - in other words the politics of liberation - are gone. Zimbabwe has been trying to move from that era by embarking on other Chimurengas - two in fact, namely Third (land) and Fourth (indigenisation).

Whoever wins this election will need to change some of the country's policies. After the announcement of a new Government in the next few days, Zimbabwe should have a set of brand new policies, showing that it is capable of moving on. This motif of capacity to move on also buttresses how the country managed to remove Mugabe without bloodshed last November.

It would have been different in other times and places. Coincidentally, there was no incident in this election and Zimbabwe deserves further kudos.

2. A confounded international community

The conduct of Zimbabwe's elections in an incident-free, efficient and credible manner is not what the world expected from an African country that ticked fewer boxes marking such a process. Now, even the most cynical will admit that Zimbabwe did the right thing. There will be very little to fault Zimbabwe for on this one.

A masterstroke of this process was allowing Western foreign observers to witness the election, and they came in their droves for long and short terms. They have eyes. They saw. They recorded a different story from what they would have done if they relied on third parties. They have been here, with their feet firmly on the ground. This means Zimbabwe has passed a major international relations test. The next few days will be interesting as many countries of the world congratulate Zimbabwe on its historic success while there will be a few grumpy acknowledgments that will not exactly take away the major breakthrough that has been this transition.

3. Party that cried wolf

On Tuesday, a principal in the main opposition party convened a press conference where he not only pronounced victory for his party (which is illegal) but also announced that there was an assassination bid on the leadership of the political outfit. These two dimensions are rather familiar. The party in question has previously claimed premature victory and tried to precipitate a crisis, including provoking the law. In 2018, things are different.

Nobody is taking these sorts of claims seriously. Nor have we heard Western countries making quick pronouncements on the matter and other alleged misdemeanours. The flip side of the party that cried wolf is a ruling party and incumbent that has done well to cleanse its image before a global audience and has gone to admirable lengths to project its reformed and reforming side that will not be easy to ignore as it woos the global community.

4. ZEC has capacity

In this election the country's election management body was much maligned and defamed. It was feared to be ill-resourced and lacking capacity to deliver a credible process. While no machine is perfect, ZEC gave us probably the best process in Africa. Zimbabwe's election could as well wow the world as did Operation Restore Legacy last year.

Connected to this, the commission's head, Justice Priscilla Chigumba, has emerged with her head high. She was under immense pressure to be partisan and accede to demands that would undermine the independence of her office. The opposition put the High Court judge under severe pressure but she did not buckle. She will heave a huge sigh of relief. As will all of us. And she has clearly moulded herself as the Iron Lady of this episode.

5. A polarised nation: Old boundaries, allegiances and strongholds persist

The more things change, the more they remain the same. Official and unofficial results indicate that the main parties, Zanu-PF and MDC Alliance, maintained support in their traditional strongholds: rural areas (and majority) for the former and urban constituencies for the latter. There were hardly any surprises. There will not be any, after all is said and done with Zimbabwe's status quo remaining while the opposition hobbles on. Yet these differences underline deep divisions between and among people. It is called polarisation and Zimbabwe is one of the most polarised countries in the world.

Forget issues. Forget capacity. In Zimbabwe people vote for personalities and parties.

They will not be too swayed otherwise. In this election, so many good men and women lost on account of either being independent or identifying with losing parties.

6. Still the old, dirty game

A game played by tough men and women. From the Zanu-PF's presidential candidate, to Nelson Chamisa, a former student leader and youth leader, there are familiar names on the list (about 44 000 leaders could have participated in the election). Apart from parties, individuals also took part as independents. This election will confirm a couple of independents and these men are so tough and are capable of playing dirty and rough. It is the nature of the game. There are some nice fellows who were too nice to be seriously considered.

We also saw some very urbane and otherwise likeable characters losing. The majority are women.

7. Social media, fake news and cyber warfare

We are truly in the age of technology. Political parties and their supporters used social media platforms to canvass for support and spread messages and propaganda. Social media largely exposed the worst in us: it was a platform for bullying and abuse. In fact, it was the extension of the polarisation of Zimbabweans. Foreigners who dared to comment on certain issues also got a taste of the action - and abuse. In the aftermath of the elections, social media became a conveyor belt of fake news. Quite typical. It is like a global condition. By the way, one of the contestants claimed that foreign agents had been hired to spread fake news.

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