3 August 2018

Africa: Endorsing Flawed Polls - Africa's Shameful Charade

Photo: The Herald
Voter turnout was high, particularly in the morning as most polling stations in the capital were swarmed by voters.
opinion

It was the swashbuckling Kenyan lawyer, Professor Patrick Lumumba, who made a poignant observation with regards the shambolic state of electoral management on the African continent.

"Africans can't count! When it comes to elections, Africans can't count. If you go to the Germans, they'll have an election and, within a few hours, they'll have results, because it is a competition of ideas."

Should anyone really be surprised that Zimbabwe's general election has generated more heat than light? Unless you have been living under a rock for many years, there is no way you could have naïvely expected the election to be anything but controversial. For instance, of what use is biometric voter registration where there is nothing biometric about the polling itself?

Six people have lost their precious lives as a direct consequence of politicians' insatiable hunger for power. This is tragic.

I was astounded last night when the chairperson of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, Priscilla Chigumba, announced that the election results of one province "are still outstanding". There was a collective gasp of incredulity as she made that statement. Seconds later, we all shook with unrestrained laughter, as the sheer absurdity of it all hit home. Lumumba's words came flooding back.

After announcing the presidential results of nine provinces, Chigumba then dropped yet another bombshell: she revealed that the results of the "outstanding" province --Mashonaland West -- would be announced within the next "60 minutes".

There were gasps of disbelief once more. And so the long wait stretched deep into the night as it took more than two hours for the commission to present the rest of the results. The opposition MDC Alliance immediately rejected the results as fake, saying they were not verified.

Zimbabwe is a traumatised society. Fear plays a significant role in the day-to-day lives of ordinary people. The late Professor Masipula Sithole often spoke of a powerful force in Zimbabwean politics -- what he termed the "margin of terror". And in a country where mainstream media is monopolised by the ruling elites, it is easy to strike fear in the hearts of vulnerable voters.

Most people have difficulty in properly assessing the credibility of an election. This is because most of us wrongly view an election as a one-day event. It is not. An election is a process, with various stages or segments: pre-election, polling day, counting of ballots, and post-election.

The most comprehensive assessment of the election has come from the European Union's observer mission which, while noting the poll was "largely peaceful", strongly condemned: "The misuse of state resources, instances of coercion and intimidation, partisan behaviour by traditional leaders and overt bias in state media in favour of the ruling party meant that a truly level playing field was not achieved".

Many Zimbabweans have expressed utter astonishment at African election observer teams' appraisals of the general election. Their approach -- it has become patently clear -- is to "see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil".

The rubberstamping of flawed elections has become a monumental scandal and disservice to democracy in Africa.

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