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.

No comments: