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In mature democracies elsewhere and even in some young democracies in Africa, elections are the central institution of democratic representative governments. Why? Because, in a democracy, the authority of the government derives solely from the consent of the governed. The fundamental rationale for translating that consent into governmental authority is the holding of free and fair elections. This is contrary to staged managed elections held by dictatorships and one-party governments to give their rule the aura of legitimacy in the face of public decent. In such elections, there may be only one candidate or a list of candidates, with no credible alternative choices. Such elections may offer several candidates for each office, but ensure through intimidation or rigging that only the government-sanctioned candidate is chosen. These are not democratic elections but a mere academic process of legitimising autocratic and repressive regimes.

Failure of Democracy in Zimbabwe, a Tragedy for SADC and Beyond

By Crisford Chogugudza (March 6, 2008)

For many years now Zimbabwe has repeatedly failed the democracy test and it appears there are no prospects that this test will ever be passed as long as president Mugabe and his moribund Zanu PF party are at the helm. In 1980, Zimbabwe became a shining example of a seemingly democratising country amongst a bunch of African autocracies, dictatorships and an absolute Monarchy in Swaziland. This ray of hope did not only earn the country a lot of respect from other countries, but it created the basis for Mugabe’s unprecedented reverence as a shrewd leader in the West, which resulted in him being knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in the 1990s.

However, little did the Queen know that ‘Sir Robert Mugabe’ would soon become an international Pariah? Today, Mr Mugabe is rated the world’s 4th worst dictator behind Omar al-Bashir of Sudan who has been in power since 1989, Kim Jong II of North Korea, in power since 1994, Than Shwe of Burma (Myanmar) in power since 1992, according to David Wallechinsky (2006), in consultation with Human Rights Watch, Freedom House, Amnesty International, and Reporters without Borders. For the benefit of readers, a “dictator” is defined as a head of state who exercises arbitrary authority over the lives of his citizens and who cannot be removed from power through legal means. The worst commit terrible human-rights abuses. There are many civilian, military and monarchical dictators spread across the breath the African continent.

Why Democracy has Failed in Zimbabwe?

There are multifarious reasons why democracy has not been achievable in Zimbabwe and chief among which includes president Mugabe’s desire to impose life presidency in Zimbabwe. This idea seems to come and go at every elections and has been and continues to be championed by the deadwood part of Mugabe’s inner circle who cannot not survive politically on their own without his protection and appointment in parliament. This inner circle of deadwood and misguided scribes continue to subscribe to the political naivety that Zimbabwe cannot move forward without ‘Gushungo’ Mugabe. As long as these people some of whom are in charge of important political intuitions are still in positions of influence democracy will only be realised in Zimbabwe over Mugabe’s dead body, which is a tragedy for Zimbabwe. These people have for many years stifled the development of a voting and democratic culture in Zimbabwe. Zimbabweans have for many years been considered as passive spectators of their own political processes. Zimbabwe has had election after election but yet nothing changes and the rural and perhaps the most gullible members of the electorate have been and continue to have their votes manipulated by the establishment. However, the majority in Zimbabwe today are increasingly becoming disillusioned because they do not see their vote making any positive difference to their lives. If democracy is only pronounced in terms of elections then Zimbabweans can forget ever testing democracy.

In mature democracies elsewhere and even in some young democracies in Africa, elections are the central institution of democratic representative governments. Why? Because, in a democracy, the authority of the government derives solely from the consent of the governed. The fundamental rationale for translating that consent into governmental authority is the holding of free and fair elections. This is contrary to staged managed elections held by dictatorships and one-party governments to give their rule the aura of legitimacy in the face of public decent. In such elections, there may be only one candidate or a list of candidates, with no credible alternative choices. Such elections may offer several candidates for each office, but ensure through intimidation or rigging that only the government-sanctioned candidate is chosen. These are not democratic elections but a mere academic process of legitimising autocratic and repressive regimes. The voting process in these kinds of elections is manipulated and results are doctored to reflect the wishes of the dictatorship. More often than not genuine international observers from credible institutions and countries such as the Carter Centre, UN, Transparency International, Amnesty International, EU, UK and USA among others are barred. It is paradoxical in the case of Zimbabwe that those in charge of running elections continue to preach democracy and transparency yet in practice they have presided over electoral fraud of grotesque proportions in previous elections. Some wonder why there have not been any changes at the Registrar General’s department and the Electoral Supervisory Commission (ESC).

Jeane Kirkpatrick, scholar and former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, argues that democratic elections are competitive. ‘’Opposition parties and candidates must enjoy the freedom of speech, assembly, and movement necessary to voice their criticisms of the government openly and to bring alternative policies and candidates to the voters. Simply permitting the opposition access to the ballot is not enough. Elections in which the opposition is barred from the airwaves, has its rallies harassed or its newspapers censored, are not democratic. The party in power may enjoy the advantages of incumbency, but the rules and conduct of the election contest must be fair’’.

In Thomas Jefferson's ringing but shrewd phrase, the promise of democracy is "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." In Zimbabwe however, it is hard to imagine how the above values would fit into the political fabric. It appears that Zimbabweans have been reduced to beggars of democracy not natural custodians, as is the case elsewhere. When people ask for their political freedom, they get punished for it and this has led to many distancing themselves from the political process for fear of being victimised.

SADC and the State of Democracy in Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe is undoubtedly one of the most influential countries in SADC and the presence or lack of democracy in the country matters to the whole region. It is a fact that Investment flows into the SADC region have been significantly affected by the status quo in Zimbabwe. The harmonisation of policies in the region has not been effective due to the political volatility and high risks in Zimbabwe. Intra SADC trade has not significantly improved due to the political quandary and economic nightmares in Harare. South Africa-Zimbabwe trade volumes have been significantly affected due to lack of a viable economy in Zimbabwe and this has had ripple effects in the entire region. Zimbabwe is strategically located in the SADC region and the stability of the country is an imperative for the development of the region.

What Role can the International Community play in Zimbabwe?

Zimbabwe has lived under ‘sanctions’ for many years and the situation is unsustainable and as such the international community may have a role to play to save the economy there as well as halting the process of impoverishment. Zimbabwe is the only country in the world where you find very poor multi millionaires. SADC can help the situation by exerting more pressure on Mugabe and Zanu PF to ensure improvements in human rights abuses and the holding of free and fair elections where Candidates are free to campaign without harassment. SADC election protocols should be applied to Zimbabwe without adaptation. South Africa, quite possibly can exert more pressure on Mugabe hold free and fair elections of face rebuke by SADC as an organisation. The UN and EU who recently have been pressing for the Independence of a small unviable but important state of Kosovo can use the same level of enthusiasm to emancipate the suffering people of Zimbabwe. The new UN Secretary General in particular, must play a much bigger role in Zimbabwe, in a more aggressive manner than Kofi Annan’s policy of condemnation without action.


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