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Why Shouldn’t The African Union and NAACP Lead Election Observers In Zimbabwe?

"The entire NAACP is excited about the prospect of serving as election monitors in Zimbabwe", Mr. Hilary Shelton, head of the NAACP's Washington Bureau told us last Thursday. "We are honored and to be quite honest, a bit nervous about participating in such an awesome undertaking", Mr. Shelton emphasized.

We too, were excited, as soon as we received word, from overseas, almost two weeks ago, that the Zimbabwe government was inviting America's oldest and most respected civil rights organization to serve in the capacity of impartial observers for the general elections, slated for the 9th and 10th of March, in the African nation of nearly 12 million people.

Our pleasure at the NAACP-Zimbabwe initiative did not just derive from the collaborative effort's fulfillment of a significant part of our worldview - that Blacks in Africa and Blacks in the Western Hemisphere would one day be reunited, as a family, and as it is written, predicted and pictured in the scriptures, in such places like Genesis 15: 13-15 and the 37th Chapter of Ezekiel, in the Bible; and in the beautiful narrative contained in the 12th Surah of the Holy Qur'an.

But we also were impressed at the fact that the NAACP's invitation came in the very same week that the Secretary General of the African Union (AU), Amara Essy, boldly asserted that the European Union (EU) should allow the newly constituted African Union (AU) to monitor its own elections, without interference. Mr. Essy explained that since Africans had never gone to Europe and observed elections on that continent, that Africans were well within reason to want to hold elections free of European "observation".

Several African Presidents, including those who enjoy friendly relations with the West, like Nigeria's President Olusegun Obasanjo, have expressed a similar dissatisfaction with the attitude and posture that the EU has taken juxtaposed to the issue of election monitoring in Zimbabwe. Many African governments, for all of the criticisms that they may share with the West regarding President Robert Mugabe's mode of politics, have been very frank in their expressed opinions that the West is hardly an impartial party to the upcoming elections - with EU, IMF and United States government officials having expressed their public and private sympathies for the Movement For Democratic Change (MDC), Zimbabwe's leading opposition party.

Zambian President Levy Nwanawasa, whose country just hosted European Union (EU) election observers late last year, has already stated that he does not see the EU as a credible entity, or moral authority, where African elections are concerned. Many view the United States in a similar light.

The U.S. lambasted President Mugabe for his handling of parliamentary elections in mid-2000, only to endure the most controversial election in its own history, several months later. In November of 2000, in comments laced with resentment, but with tongue firmly planted firmly in cheek, Zimbabwe's President Mugabe offered to send election monitors from his country to observe the disputed vote tabulations and recounts in Florida.

In that context we think it is so appropriate that the American organization that has been the most sensitive to the value of the right to vote and election improprieties and illegalities would be extended an opportunity to observe and monitor elections in an African country with such a poor reputation, where political rights are concerned. Certainly, the NAACP, in principle, knows what to look for to ensure that an election is open, fair, and accurate.

Mr. Shelton tells us that the NAACP is currently in discussions with the National Security Council and the State Department about the written invitation from President Mugabe, received less than two weeks ago; and the NAACP's intention, at present, to at least send a small observation team to Zimbabwe. We would hope and expect that National Security Adviser, Condoleezza Rice, who just received the President's Award from the NAACP, and her colleague, Secretary of State Colin Powell, will both work to ensure that the United States government does nothing but facilitate the NAACP's engagement with Zimbabwe's election process.

In addition, the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) and the entire United States Congress, we think, should vocally express their united support for the NAACP's involvement in the Zimbabwe elections. Rep. Cynthia McKinney's (D-Ga.) office has already assured us of the Georgia lawmaker's high level of interest in the NAACP-Zimbabwe initiative. But at present, the CBC has not offered its support for the NAACP-Zimbabwe initiative or expressed its opinion on what the appropriate role of the African Union or the African Diaspora should be in Zimbabwe's elections. A CBC spokesperson told us on Friday that the CBC "hopes that the elections are free and fair and that the intimidation that has come from both parties (ZANU-PF and MDC) will subside."

Hopefully, the CBC will extend itself beyond its present position on Zimbabwe and realize that the NAACP's role can ensure that the process the Black Caucus hopes for, will come to fruition. Certainly, the CBC should recognize that a Robert Mugabe-led Zanu-PF, seeking to make a specific connection to Blacks in North America, and a Morgan Tsvangirai-led MDC, seeking to appeal to the international community in general, both share a considerable interest in cooperating with NAACP election-observers.

The Zimbabwe elections, depending upon how they are conducted and who is victorious, could impact not only the conditions of those living inside of Zimbabwe, but also the future of relations between the evolving continent-wide entities, the African Union and the European Union. But, how many have considered the conduct and outcome of the Zimbabwe elections, and the involvement of the NAACP, in terms of the impact of those factors on the evolving unity between Africans on the continent and those who were removed from that continent over 400 years ago? The NAACP- Zimbabwe initiative, if handled properly, is a powerful statement and step in the right direction - in both symbolic and substantive terms.

The idea that "impartial international election observers" must automatically refer to representatives from Western nations is an inappropriate one, that grows out of the dual mindset(s) of Black inferiority and White supremacy. We think that African nations and members of the African Diaspora more than qualify for the "impartial observer" role that has too often been filled by unjust judges and countries who hold very narrow interests in the outcome of elections in African countries. With over 50 countries in Africa and hundreds of millions of her descendants and nationals in the Diaspora, there is no need to depend upon EU election observers in order to guarantee a fair and free election in Zimbabwe.

Why shouldn't the African Union and NAACP lead election observation in Zimbabwe?

Monday, March 4, 2002

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The views and opinions expressed herein by the author do not necessarily represent the opinions or position of or Black Electorate Communications.

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