South African President Jacob Zuma extended his congratulations to Mugabe, while the United States and the United Kingdom expressed concerns about the integrity of the vote, with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry saying the outcome failed to “represent a credible expression of the people.”
The African Union (AU) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) both sent election monitors to observe Zimbabwe’s elections and then endorsed the outcome. But the basic problem is that democratic values are not embedded in either body, and to expect them to insist upon free and fair elections is to put the cart before the horse.
The contrast between the African and Western responses to the Zimbabwe elections is striking but not unexpected. The West has traditionally relied upon South Africa to press for democratic change in Zimbabwe, but South Africa is firmly with Zimbabwe and has prioritized liberation solidarity over democracy.
Thus, the political makeup of Africa disadvantages the MDC, the opposition Movement for Democratic Change party led by Tsvangirai. The AU and SADC have long supported ZANU-PF over the MDC for reasons including liberation solidarity in southern Africa and traditions of noninterference.
They have also uncritically bought into the Mugabe narrative that he is upholding African nationalism against colonial encroachment and that the MDC is an instrument of the imperialists. Thus AU monitors and SADC monitors applied a light touch to their monitoring and chose to view a violence-free election as synonymous with a fair one.
Mugabe’s ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) party is back in power, secure that international actors are unlikely to try to dislodge it. And although Mugabe is now 89, the MDC would be “foolish” to expect any successor to yield power easily. Zimbabwe has a ZANU problem, not simply a Mugabe one.
This raises the question of why the MDC and Tsvangirai in particular have invested such faith in the electoral route given the repeated pattern of ZANU retaining power through unfair elections. Yet the MDC faces a dilemma, as engaging in violence could mean forfeiting Western support and consolidating African support for Mugabe.
ZANU-PF’s most recent victory has thrown the MDC into crisis, and may call into question the party’s previous strategy of trying to attain power through elections. The conclusion is irresistible now: ZANU-PF will not allow itself to be dislodged via the ballot box.
Meanwhile, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission said nearly 3.5 million people cast their ballots in the July 31 polls, which extended Mugabe's 33-year rule and ended a unity government formed in 2009 in which Tsvangirai was prime minister. The commission's statistics showed the largest number of voters - 64,483 - were turned away in the capital Harare.
Regular voters were reportedly turned away because their names were missing from the voters' roll, they were registered in another ward or they did not have adequate identification. The Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN) said over 750,000 urban voters were missing from the electoral list, in what they described as "a systematic effort to disenfranchise an estimated million voters".
Rights groups say police forced some people they believed to be opposition supporters to feign illiteracy and seek the assistance of police officers or polling officials, with their votes going to Mugabe.
Given all this, combined with Zimbabwe’s ongoing harassment of civil society activists and NGOs as well as its lack of an independent media, there is now no prospect of a free and fair election in Zimbabwe, and elections are increasingly charades paying lip service to democracy.
By Guylain Gustave Moke
African Affairs Expert