Monday, 30 June 2008

Zimbabwe: A stolen election, a hasty inauguration and then a jet to Sharm el Sheikh

HARARE: Sunday was a soporific affair on the streets of Harare, except for the government’s Chinese-made Mig jets zig-zagging across the cloudless sky in a show of power. All shops closed; nobody out on a Sunday stroll. Even some of the boisterous evangelical churches thought it best to postpone choir practice until next week. It would have been hard to know that it was the President's inauguration day if it wasn't for the assorted 4x4s and Mercedes speeding through Harare's central business district on the way to the ceremony.

MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai was invited to attend from his temporary abode in the Dutch embassy – was it political politesse or a bad joke? Anyway he refused, predictably enough.

By early afternoon the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission declared Robert Gabriel Mugabe the winner. The results showed a high number of spoiled ballots - 9,166 out of 43,584 in Bulawayo alone. The ZEC’s pace of work this time stood in sharp contrast to the March 29 results, which took some six weeks of counting and recounting before the results were announced.

Mugabe’s victory: was there ever any doubt?

A mood of intimidation still hangs in the air. One youth sporting a ZANU-PF T-shirt close to Harare's dilapidated polytechnic college said that he would be joining in the victory celebrations ‘for security’. There is fear of Central Intelligence Organisation informers almost everywhere you go in Harare. Resignation sets in once more, particularly within the rank and file of the MDC, many of whom are dissatisfied at what they see as yet-another ill-judged Tsvangirai decision. 'He left it too late; in other elections he's been undecided and then he contests in the end. This time a lot of his supporters were disappointed,' said one journalist on Harare’s excellent weekly Financial Gazette, covering his mouth whilst he spoke at a local chicken restaurant.

Mugabe has said he'll negotiate with the opposition but this could be a diversionary tactic purely to please SADC leaders. Tsvangirai still appears to have little domestic leverage or incapable of using what he does have. However, one can sense the mood is different. No one believes that another ZANU-PF regime can pretend it’s business as usual. Inflation is estimated by some to have reached 9,000,000 per cent as Zimbabweans go into July. Increasingly everyday transactions are taking place in US dollars.

After previous elections, a feeling of relief prevailed in the capital's wealthier districts of Borrowdale and Gunhill: 'Another electoral cycle over - now we can get back to planning our holiday to Kariba'. But for most Zimbabweans such a return to normalcy or even predictability is long gone.

President Robert Mugabe has won his most blatantly rigged election election yet, denounced by African monitors for the first time. He is fast losing his most valued political asset – the approbation of Africa. As he jets off to meet his peers at the African Union summit in Egypt, he leaves behind a deeply troubled country.

Sunday, 29 June 2008

Zimbabwe: The election that never was

Africa Confidential’s special correspondent reports from Harare as President Robert Mugabe declares victory

Voting was unenthusiastic and turnout low in yesterday's presidential poll, despite Saturday’s bombastic headline in the state-owned Herald claiming one the highest turnouts ever (supporting evidence not supplied). Nevertheless, with Morgan Tsvangirai withdrawing and still holed up in the Dutch embassy, Mugabe will romp to victory.

With what stamp of legitimacy and with what mandate is anyone's guess. There has been no enunciation of post-election policy by ZANU-PF beyond its usual promises of 'total' sovereignty and 'total' independence.

But totalities of an economic nature might finally be the straw that breaks the Old Man's back. One Harare-based economist estimated inflation to be 9,000,000 per cent. Many of the black market traders – and an increasing amount of official business – is being conducted in US dollars. How much longer can the Zimbabwe dollar be used as patronage to boost the salaries of the state-security services?

Voting stations seem to have been planted in areas in the capital where government though they could pick up the most votes. AC spotted at 11 polling booths within a square mile of the Mbare township – but only two in the fiercely anti-Mugabe Highfields neighbourhood nearby. The pattern was repeated in Rugare and Burdiriro. One SADC observer in Rugare, standing idly next to his Toyota 4x4, said turnout had been in the dozens.

Crucially, poll-watchdog the Zimbabwe Electoral Support Network (ZESN) had no observers whatsoever. They had over 8000 on March 29 and their involvement was crucial in ensuring transparency at the country's 9,000 plus polling stations. In a statement the ZESN said justice minister Patrick Chinamasa would only accredit 500 observers in the second-round, so as not 'to disrupt the smooth running [sic] of the electoral process'.

There have been reports of ZANU-PF supporters beating people without the requisite purple ink stained finger – the sign of voting. But they needn't have bothered. All the intimidation was done in the election run-up. Despite the 200 Mashonaland refugees camped out on the South African embassy's front lawn, most of Harareans spent yesterday's declared public holiday relaxing in the winter sun, drinking chibuku in local shebeens or braai-ing black market sirloin steaks with friends.

The US and the EU made the expected noises – with Condoleezza Rice promising action at the Security Council next week. In a rare sign of government condemnation, the United Nations local representative was reported to have threatened to withdraw UN representation from Zimbabwe if government didn't stop targeting humanitarian workers.

Thursday, 26 June 2008

Lost Voices of Darfur

As the international media focuses its attention on the electoral chaos in Zimbabwe, the ethnic cleansing of Darfur by the Sudan government carries on. It is five years since reports first emerged of the Islamist regime’s attacks through its proxy militias, the Janjaweed, but still nothing has been done to actually stop its campaign of slaughter and destruction.

United Nations' resolutions remain unimplemented, the African Union force has not received the proper equipment to enable it to halt the genocide and the regime’s lucrative business deals with European companies and others go on uninterrupted.

In the crypt of Christopher Wren’s 17th century church St. Bride’s, the NGO Waging Peace launched an exhibition on 25 June that everyone should see. The organisation, which campaigns against genocide and systematic human rights abuses, has collected more than 500 drawings by Darfuri children stranded in refugee camps in eastern Chad.

The drawings show villages under attack, people being killed – beheadings, babies thrown on to fires, children shot – and helicopter gunships and planes raining down death and destruction on unarmed civilians. These powerful pictures give a shocking account of the atrocities that have taken place during the last five years in Darfur and are so detailed that they have been accepted by the International Court in The Hague as evidence against high-ranking officials in the Sudan regime and others who may be found responsible.

Photographs from the late 1980s show the contrast: a beautiful and peaceful landscape, picnics in the Jebel Mara, smiling children, and happy-looking people going about their daily chores.

Iklass, a Darfuri mother of 3 and refugee in Britain since 2004, spoke at the launch of the exhibition of her personal experiences of the attacks: friends and neighbours murdered by gunmen; a newborn baby taken from its mother and thrown into a pot of boiling water; schools attacked and schoolchildren raped in front of their families – and much more.

Iklass was invited to address the Labour Party’s conference last year. She related those same stories to party delegates and later to Prime Minister Gordon Brown. How is it then that nine months later no action has been taken against the regime and the genocide has been allowed to continue, save for efforts by the AU’s undermanned and under-resourced troops? What happened to the helicopters Prime Minister Brown promised when George Clooney visited Downing Street on 7 April this year? Why is the Home Office continuing to send Darfuri asylum seekers back to Khartoum? How can Khartoum be considered safe for these refugees when it is home to the very regime that has masterminded the genocide?

The ethnic cleansing began while British politicians and their lackeys concentrated on cobbling together a flawed peace deal between the Sudan government and the South – to the exclusion of other areas of Sudan. Darfur is a casualty of that agreement and sadly it may not be the last. The Sudan government is the problem.

See the Events page on the Africa Confidential website for further information.

Lost Voices of Darfur: An Unveiling: 25 June-20 July 2008 – St Brides’s Church Crypt, Fleet Street, London EC4Y 8AU

Thursday, 19 June 2008

Business as usual?

Africa Confidential has been busy investigating the effects of international sanctions on President Robert Mugabe’s regime in Zimbabwe and has uncovered a lot of hypocrisy and double standards. Although Britain has been at the forefront of diplomatic condemnations of the Mugabe regime, some of its leading financial institutions have continued to do extremely lucrative business with that regime and indeed open customer accounts for some of those officials who have been accused of heinous human rights abuses. As Africa Confidential’s investigations have proceeded, mainstream newspapers have published our findings. Last year it was the Observer (Barclays' millions help to prop up Mugabe regime), this year, it is the Daily Telegraph (Barclays accused of giving Robert Mugabe 'financial lifeline') and the Independent (Standard Chartered at centre of Zimbabwe sanctions inquiry). Remember, you heard it first here.