End of the Winter of Slogans – Season of Promises

It has been a Winter of Slogans – a season of promises, both real and false. Thank God, it’s all coming to an End! What a Winter it was – from the hip-throwing and bum-jiving Mbare Chimurenga choir to the singing and jovial red-berets clad MDC supporters (humming Machinja ane rudo achapiwa korona). It is the irony of history; we all become prisoners of reality and deceit. All of a sudden the ordinary villager became either a King or a Queen. Suddenly, the ordinary men and women became special – that is what happens in the world of politics. It was an eventful winter, full of surprises, making and re-making of grand coalitions, singing, and ululations and of course it was a winter which saw the display of the ugly politics of personality and dearth of internal party democracy among the main political parties in existence in the Zimbabwean political scene. It was a winter of canvassing for votes – setting a stage for the battle to win minds and hearts.

It was a winter, when we were all reminded of Ben Okri’s words that, ‘we are masters of our own destiny’. It was the same winter – when we got back on a memory lane to fish out the legendary Bob Marley’s famous lyrics, ‘None but ourselves can free our minds’. Indeed politicians braced the cold short winter days giving both fine and crude speeches and several other election promises. We also smiled as we received several food hand – outs (mealie – meal, kapenta, rice, maize seed etc.) But, we still laughed our lungs out and also became equally confused to hear that politicians were slashing the debts and arrears we owe the rural and urban councils. In low tones we said the Gods Must Be Crazy.

We all braced the cold weather to hear the promises of building bridges where there are no rivers. We danced and laughed with them – suddenly they became ‘men of the people’. Like the character of the old man (Garabha) in Charles Mungoshi’s novel Waiting for the Rain he refers to Lucifer by saying ‘he is no longer ours’. Deep down we knew the day we elect them into office that was the last we will hear from them. They will also cease to be ours. Surprisingly, we still had faith and hope that maybe they will be different from their predecessors.

It was a winter of slogans – a season of lies and a harvest of votes! What an eventful campaign era it was! When all is said and done, we will all come back to our senses and face the reality – we will all have to get back with our ordinary lives as a forgotten lot. The winter season is fast past upon us, we now await the Coming of the Dry Season (days of neglect by the politicians) and hopefully we eagerly and patiently wait for the first November Rains. They promise we will enjoy Christmas this year – only time will tell…

We will all miss the jingles and lyrics, ‘As they sang, Ihondo Kuchengeta Vana….Team, Team Ndikusetere team…

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Games that Institutions Play – Opening the ZEC Pandora Box

There is an adage which reads, what is good for the goose is good for the gander. As we near the 31st July election, a plethora of events are unfolding at an extraordinarily swift pace. Disturbingly so, after having held a chaotic special voting exercise for the uniformed forces the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) has managed to massage the reality by apportioning blame over its inefficiency as played out in the marred special voting exercise held on the 14th and 15th of July respectively. It has however, blamed the late disbursement of funds from the treasury, printing hitches by the assigned printing company amongst a plethora of other logistical hiccups.

Be that as it may, it came as a surprise that ZEC is now filing for the extension of the Special vote to the ConCourt, so as to allow the uniformed forces to vote with the fellow voting citizenry on the 31st of July. In the words of Joyce Kazembe (ZEC’s vice chairperson) , ‘it would be ‘unfair’ to disenfranchise police officers and other people who could not cast their votes because the commission was responsible for their failure to vote’ (see http://www.newsday.co.zw/2013/07/24/zec-goes-to-concourt-over-special-vote).One can also be forgiven for asking, Isn’t this the politics of ‘deception’ and ‘exceptionalism’ at play.

Furthermore, we need to ask ZEC loudly and emphatically what has changed? (Why didn’t ZEC) approach the same ConCourt seeking for the extension of the voter registration? (An exercise which unfortunately) ended amidst calls, cries and stiff resistance by the opposition political parties, civic organisations and citizens more particularly those who were (formerly and legally) deemed aliens. Is ZEC playing games with the citizenry? WHY didn’t ZEC echo the same – that it would be ‘unfair’ to disenfranchise fellow deserving and eligible prospective voters. An eminent international relations scholar Huizinger notes that ‘from childhood to adulthood human beings play games’ – I also add, so are institutions. According to RAU (2013) Research paper, 2 million eligible and potential young voters under the age of 30 were left unregistered – hence they have been systematically disenfranchised so to speak (see the Paper entitled, Key Statistics from the June 2013 Voters’ Roll).

Basing on the aforementioned arguments, one may ask, Is ZEC playing games with the citizenry? What has become so special about the special voting? Isn’t this a rendition of another fictional Animal FARM? Were ‘some’ animals become more equal than others. When an institution cherry picks the law – resultantly the law will act as a sword rather than a shield to put it in Albie Sachs’ words. On the other hand, can we also rely on the Zimbabwean judiciary given clear indications that the judges usually hand on activist judgments on all electoral related cases judging from the cases that have been brought before the bench as from the year 2000 – to date. I therefore foresee the ConCourt ruling in favour of ZEC. It is within such a context, that we need to dissociate the ‘living law’ from the ‘living politics’ surrounding ZEC and the broader Zimbabwean electoral framework and processes. Definitely, we can’t bury our heads in the sand any longer! The myth of the judges as ‘independent’ people who are not influenced by the politics of the day is not only mischievous but misplaced.

Reflections Towards – 31 July 2013

Issue Based Voting versus Rhetoric and Party Manifestos

On the 31st of July 2013 all roads will be leading to the polls. It will be one of the blessed Saturdays in the calendar. Amongst the voting electorate will be consisting of a mixed bag comprising of the hopeful, disgruntled, pessimists and the undecided. Some will want to vote for the penguins (moderates), some are for the doves (soft spotted politicians) and some for the hawks (the aggressive politicians). It is the D-day. It is a day when the pen and the ballot will do wonders. It is a time to end the so called temporary marriage of convenience which was birthed soon after the 2008 disputed run-off election, whereby the three main political parties in Zimbabwe (namely MDC-T, ZANU- PF and MDC) entered into a coalition government which was facilitated by SADC leading to the crafting and consummation of Global Political Agreement (GPA).

Since the consummation of the coalition government; Zimbabwe has witnessed endless meetings through the regional body (SADC) all seeking to resolve the Zimbabwean political impasse. However, with the ConCourt ruling which has since paved way for the holding of elections on the 31st of July – most citizens still cautiously wonder whether this election is the right step towards democratic transition and consolidation. Opinion remains split amongst the transitologists and the consitologists. On the other hand, some view such an election as symbolising ‘one step forward and 20 steps backward’ – arguing on the basis that the electoral outcome will be a farce! This supposition points to the fact that Zimbabwe will herald towards a democratic reversal through the erosion and siltation of the few recorded democratic gains.
To this end – many citizens have waited and anticipated for such an opportune moment to exercise their democratic right by voting for and against a party of their choice. On the other hand, some citizens will just practice voter absenteeism as a sign of democratic disenchantment. There is also another part of the populace that will simply choose not to participate – such a segment of the population is comprised of those who are disinterested in politics (albeit, forgetting to reflect that the prices of tomatoes on the market are also determined by the obtaining status – quo – (political and economic factors of the day).

History is in the making! But more fundamentally, 31 July is a time to disentangle rhetoric and real bread and butter issues affecting millions of unemployed and poor Zimbabweans who are wallowing under the quagmire of poverty – with most citizens the (urban poor and the rural poor) eking a living which is below 1 USD per day. Hence, the forthcoming plebiscite will be decided not by empty rhetoric but through policy preferences as epitomised in the various political party manifestos.

The Concept of ‘Free and Fair’ Elections: Challenges in dealing with a Buzzword
On the 31st of July, all eyes will be on the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) on whether it will be able to conduct and administer a credible election which is beyond disputation locally, regionally and globally. Without going into the analytical discourse of what is fair and unfair, ‘free’ or ‘unfree’ – the principles of fairness and freeness are normally characterised with notions of the legitimacy of the electoral framework inter alia – independence, efficiency, professionalism, and transparency. Like in most post – conflict elections around the globe all the above noted concepts will offer a credibility test to the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC). It might therefore be too soon and pre-mature to judge on whether ZEC will deliver a free and fair election. There is an adage which says – the taste of the pudding is in the eating! Come the post – 31st of July, we will all be collectively part of the jury that will either judge harshly or kindly on whether ZEC’s conduct of the elections managed to deliver a credible electoral outcome. This then makes the aftermath of the election an uncertain and unease epoch in the history of Zimbabwe. This is an era when the people of Zimbabwe will decide on whether ‘free and fair’ (feya-feya) is just but a buzzword or whether it’s a lived reality of our times. ‘Free and fair’ – one will ask, what’s in a phrase?

However, taking from the reading on the ground, it can be noted that the obtaining political climate has already shown what Cerdas (1996:48) term ‘inter-party cannibalism’ amongst the competing political parties. It is discernible that Zimbabwean politics has not yet matured to reach a stage whereby democracy becomes the only game in town –by and large, the political culture is still characterized with some sporadic and isolated pockets of violence, hate speech and political intolerance. Such incidents raise a lot of questions than answers on whether the elections will be free and fair. How free is an election – when opponents are being beaten, arbitrarily arrested and their posters are being pulled down and de-faced by their political rivals?

According to the eminent political scientist, Michael Bratton (2010), he argues that, although regular, open elections are common phenomena in most African countries, the issue of electoral effectiveness and competitiveness still remain questionable. As Zimbabwe goes to the polls with biased and unbalanced media coverage, the aspect of fairness as a criterion for a democracy also becomes extremely questionable. In a country with a media framework (either the print and electronic media) which supports particular political parties, specifically ZANU-PF at the exception of other political parties such as the MDC-T, MDC, Mavambo, ZAPU et al, one wonders whether the electoral playing field is even, if not – what then does this mean for a democracy?

Legacy of Fear
Undoubtedly the legacy of fear and the instrumentalisation of fear is still before us – taking from the traumatic events of the pre – June 2008 run-off elections. To this end as most Zimbabweans go to the booth – many will reflect on whether they should vote for peace or violence. But more significantly, it is yet to be seen whether the campaigning and the actual pre – and – post voting era will be devoid of political violence which has become the norm rather than the exception in every plebiscite in Zimbabwe starting from 2000 (when the MDC offered one of the stiffest electoral competition to ZANU-PF) up to the contemporary. Like the ‘sword of Damocles’ the legacy of fear still hangs over the heads of the opposition supporters due to the simple fact that the apparatus of violence is still in situ in most communities. Terror and militia groups rather than demobilizing and disbanding they have been re – mobilized. The case of Chipangano and Border Gezi youth brigades is before us all to bear testimony. Insecurity, fear, distrusts, and the legacy of institutional breakdown still haunts most communities in Zimbabwe. Such circumstantial forces will have a bearing on the psyche of the electorate – hence will obviously influence the personal voting trends and preferences.

Voter Registration versus Disenfranchisement
Tellingly so, the other question that remains in the offing is whether the voter registration was a systematic and deliberate ploy and tactic to disenfranchise thousands of eligible Zimbabwean voters especially in the urban centres – which happen to be the traditional hunting grounds (strongholds) of the opposition political party (MDC – T). In the same token, what would have been the influence of the thousands of fellow Zimbabweans who failed to register as voters due to the skewed time frame as reflected in the just ended registration process which progressed painfully at a snail’s pace. Isn’t this akin to the denial of the universal suffrage of the thousands of willing Zimbabwean voters?

Counting of the Votes: Adding Nuance to the Hygiene Factors
As Zimbabwe goes to the polls on the 31st of July the issue of electoral framework remains a subject of worry. The fears for the manipulation, rigging, erosion of the legitimacy of the plebiscite are high amongst the citizenry. Having said the above, it is notable that Zimbabwe is sleep walking into the polls without any serious attempt to genuinely address the hygiene factors that underpin a free, fair and credible election. For instance, when it comes to special voting of the uniformed forces – one can argue whether the process will have some form of secrecy. Perhaps, more unsettling questions can still be thrown around, for argument’s sake – Where will the votes be stored? Who will keep the votes and what security measures have been put in place to avoid tampering with the results? Given, the history and legacy of electoral institutions in Zimbabwe, uncertainty and fear over the issues of security of the vote, security of the voter and security of the votes remain a topical issue in the Zimbabwean political discourse more particularly as we sleep-walk into a rushed plebiscite.

Role of the Incumbents: Is the Election a well-choreographed Act?
Finally and more significantly – the role of incumbents will have a large bearing on the Zimbabwean political topography as will be played out on the 31st July polls. In most African countries scholars like Cheesemen (2010) has observed that incumbents has an independent, negative impact on the performance of opposition parties. It is often argued that, incumbents establish durable networks and political machines that reward supporters and punish enemies –hence tilting the electoral scale to their advantage. In most cases this is done by skewing the political environment either through enacting or enforcing draconian pieces of legislation in favour of the incumbent so as to muzzle, stifle and silence the opposition candidates. The case of the regime of Arap Moi in Kenya, Hastings Kamuzu Banda in Malawi, and Joseph Kabila in the Democratic Republic of Congo is before all of us to see (Cheeseman, ibid). Whether Zimbabwe will follow this path – nobody really knows – come July 31. Equally interesting, is whether there  will be an election run-off or yet another coalition government? These and many more questions should inform our voting patterns as we go to cast our most priced votes on the 31st of July. For instance, in Uganda’s 2011 general election, a sizeable number of Election Observation Missions unanimously highlighted “the compromised level playing field due to the extent to which the power of incumbency was exercised.” (Uganda Human Rights Network, 2011). As Zimbabweans go to the polls on the 31st of July they also seriously need to reflect and interrogate with such scenarios.

Election Observers: Of Electric Heaters and Air – Conditioners
As Zimbabweans welcome the team of AU Observers (headed) by the former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, it should be made clear that observers should really play their role in monitoring, and reporting the objective obtaining events on the ground. In most cases Africa suffers from the challenge of observers who quickly endorse the legitimacy of the elections from the cosy comfort of their Five (5) star hotel rooms. It is in the midst of air conditioners and electric heaters that they pronounce elections as ‘free and fair’ whilst the reports and incidents on the ground indicate otherwise. So for the upcoming elections to pass the credibility test and to have internal and external legitimacy Zimbabwe need observers who are on the ground unlike those who rely on their laptops, Ipads and Google in monitoring the election.

Conclusion
In a nutshell, the stage has been set, all the main actors are doing the dress rehearsals – we all now await the main act. As political parties enter into the race without reaching a consensus on the basic rules of the game – rules which are at least acceptable to all the involved political players, the forthcoming election will yield in yet another disputed and contested poll (devoid of both local, regional and international) legitimacy. One, could then ask – why rushing the elections? Timing and sequencing of elections therefore impacts on the credibility, level of preparedness of an election and on the actual results of the elections. Nevertheless, whatever happens within the next weeks or days will have a significant impact on Zimbabwe’s future. Tellingly so, all the unfolding events cast a dent of uncertainty on whether the obtaining political climate will yield in a free and fair plebiscite. Though the narrative in this paper is not exhaustive, rather it remains indicative of the pointers that we need to grapple and reflect with, as we head towards the 31 July 2013 election. 31 July is an important day in the history of Zimbabwe,its a day of building rights and justice.

God Help Zimbabwe! Long Live Zimbabwe!!!!!!

References
Bratton, M., (2010) “Formal versus informal institutions in Africa”, in Diamond, L. and Plattner, M.F. (eds.). Democratization in Africa: Progress and retreat (2nd edition). The John Hopkins University Press: Baltimore, MD.

Bruhn, F (2013) Electoral accountability in Africa: Adding nuance to the debate, Consultancy Africa Intelligence.
Cerdas, R (1996) ‘Political Parties and party systems’, in Sieder (ed)., Central America: Fragile Transition, (London:MacMillan Press-ILAS), pp. 15-54.
Cheeseman, N., (2010) ‘African elections as vehicles for change’, Journal of Democracy, 21(4), pp. 139-153.
Uganda Human Rights Network, September 2011, ‘Synthesis of final reports of election observation missions on the 2011 general election in Uganda’, European Union, Commonwealth, East African Law Society, Unpublished.

Left Too Soon…

When Shakespeare wrote Romeo and Juliet back then, Juliet said to Romeo “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet”, I also ask ‘what’s in a name that we call love’ when an innocent partner is infected with  HIV/AIDS and T.B. Nhamo was only 5. His face was full of innocence. But the world was treating him and his mother unkindly. All they had was a dirty rented flat in the Matererini flats in Mbare which happens to be one of the oldest, overcrowded and dirty sprawling high density suburbs in Harare. It was a neighbourhood which was unfit for the upbringing of children. The whole neighbourhood was usually characterised with a deep stench especially late in the evenings. Lot of garbage and litter could be seen littered in the vicinity of the flat. Not to be outdone were the flies and the rummaging dogs. It was under such an environment that Nhamo was born, bred and raised. After infecting her mom with HIV/AIDS – and if not enough, Nhamo’s mom was also infected with Tuberculosis which later morphed into drug  resistant  (T.B), by her hubby before he passed on. Anyway, life had to go on.

Events came rushing, the real infection with HIV/AIDS especially during the early 1990s when HIV/AIDS was still punctuated with much stigma made life so difficult to Nhamo’s mom. This was a period when there was also much stigma through the discourse of HIV/AIDS pandemic as a ‘disaster’ as epitomised through the narrative and characterisation of the epidemic through the words like Mukondombera, Shuramatongo.This was also a time when Anti-retroviral (ARVs) drugs were still beyond the reach of many poor and frail citizens like Nhamo’s mom. Although emotionally traumatised for years, Nhamo’s mom was a strong woman who managed to celebrate the life and times of her husband. In everything she did in life, she tried to be strong. She had gone through a lot –  from denial to disclosure. Through her once beautiful face, she tried to be strong – but the pain and suffering was written all over her face. One could read from the yellow teeth and feigned smile on her pale face that she was dying inside. She had to fend for her son Nhamo. Like most able bodied Zimbabwean women who were flocking outside the country to go to countries such as South Africa and Tanzania to trade, Nhamo’s mom had resorted to informal trading of vegetables in within urban Zimbabwe. But, with the cost of the standard of living she also opted to broaden her source of income by collecting empty plastic bottles for re-sale.

 Every morning she would wake up at the crack of dawn. She would go to the market to hoard vegetables and stock in their  overwrowded one room which they literary shared with the troublesome rats. Through the many years of hardship Nhamo’s mom had mastered well the art of her trade. During the early hours in the morning the prices of the vegetables would be occasionally low as most farmers would come to sell their produce at lower prices. Farmers would come as far from places like Mutoko and Murehwa. With her basic primary education Nhamo’s mom seemed to have mastered the art of economics especially the law of supply and demand and price elasticity. From the market she would also head straight to collecting empty plastic containers. That was her daily routine. By sunrise she would be spotted selling her ware in the streets. For years her business ventures seemed to be thriving but at times she would go home penniless. In days like such, her ware would have been confiscated by the municipal police. Every day she had to play the ‘cat and mouse’ game with the city council officials who occasionally chased after illegal vendors.

On a serene and bright  Sunday on the 12th  of August 1994 Nhamo and his mom went to the streets to sell their ware as of usual. The sun was shining towards sunset, and occasionally Sundays are generally quiet especially in the Central Business District (CBD). So was this particular Sunday. Mostly across the Zimbabwean society churchgoers will be worshipping or relaxing at home after spending the rest of the afternoon at church. Drunkards will be drinking like nobody’s business. Generally there would be little activity in the city. Nevertheless, Nhamo’s mom could still go to the streets from the 1st of January to the 31st of December. The streets where her only source of livelihood. As Nhamo was chasing a swarm of flies hovering over his mom, he thought his mom was asleep. He thought his mom would wake up, he thought they would go to Matererini flat and enjoy their supper with sadza and overcooked vegetables. Little did he knew his mom had succumbed to illness – she had breathed her last breath.

Zimbabwean singer Charles Charamba once composed a song called Mhinduro Iripo (meaning there is a divine solution or answer to the HIV/AIDS pandemic). To Nhamo there is also an answer!!!!