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The African Union and Diaspora Must Accept Responsibility For Zimbabwe's Marred Elections


On Sunday March 17, 2002 Zimbabwe's President, Robert Mugabe (78), was sworn in for his fifth presidential term since 1980; but his reelection and subsequent inauguration, condemned as no less than a gross miscarriage of justice not only by Mugabe's opposition, Morgan Tsvangirai of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), but also by the Western international world, is considered no joyous occasion. Tsvangirai calls the March 9th - 11th elections nothing short of "daylight robbery," and election fraud. Mugabe, however, claiming to have won the presidency with a modest 56% of the vote, would have the world believe the election process in Zimbabwe was both fair and free. In his inauguration speech Mugabe panned the Western community's outrage, implying the condemnations had more to do with the loss of their favored candidate, Tsvangirai, than with any election wrongdoing.

Mugabe said: "But, it is our people who decide, who must say so, not you, sirs, and not one person in 10 Downing Street," the home of British Prime Minister Tony Blair. "That ugly head of racism we thought we had smashed, we have left it alive. It has risen again. A blow to the head and not the body of the monster is what we need."

"Thanks to the people of Zimbabwe for loudly saying: Never again shall Zimbabwe be a colony. I thank them for their resolute anti-imperialist stand."

But in spite of Mugabe's eloquent words against colonialism, it is hard to believe a victory characterized by illegal subterfuge and treachery was not a "stolen" victory; and, in fact, the victory itself should not be a surprise to anyone. Mugabe all but guaranteed his triumph with such tactics as the reduction in the number of polling stations and staff in densely populated urban areas - areas where the MDC had strong support - and the use of the police as an intimidating presence to deter Tsvangirai supporters who would cast votes in his name. And don't forget the hundreds of MDC agents and supporters killed in the pre-election campaign violence by those allegedly hired by Mugabe's ruling party, or the change in voting eligibility requirements shortly before the election, or Mugabe's denial of opposition access to state radio and television, or the restrictions placed on both local and international journalists - all within the weeks and days before even one ballot was cast. No, the outcome of the election shouldn't be the surprise.

The surprise or disappointment should come in the reluctance and inability of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) - soon to become the "African Union" - and African leaders such as South Africa's President Thabo Mbeki and Nigeria's President Olusegun Obasanjo, to ensure that the elections would be fair and free. And in light of the mounting evidence that the electoral process was obstructed, it is disappointing that an all-African body such as the OAU has not called into question the validity of the election results or offered a thorough review of a damning report issued by the Commonwealth Observer Group (COG), a 54-nation group comprised predominately of former British colonies, that says the Zimbabwe presidential elections were marred by violence and intimidation, and "did not adequately allow free and fair expression of will by the electorate." A climate of fear and suspicion are the words used by former Nigerian President and head of the Commonwealth mission, Abdulsalami Abubakar to describe the recent election process in Zimbabwe.

The COG report was certainly not shy in pointing fingers: "It is our view that most of [the violence was] perpetrated by members/supporters of the ruling party against members/supporters of the opposition." The group also said, "We were particularly concerned about the activities of paramilitary youth groups organized under a National Youth Training Program [which was] responsible for a systematic campaign of intimidation against known or suspected supporters of the main opposition party."

In light of these accusations, one would think the OAU, Mbeki, and Obasanjo would be more critical of the electoral proceedings in Zimbabwe. However, instead of being critical of Mugabe's management of the electoral proceedings, both Mbeki and Obasanjo, like many others, overwhelmed by an allegiance to Mugabe's esteem as a liberation hero, endorsed the elections as legitimate and void of any actions that might cast doubt on the legitimacy or integrity of the voting process. Meanwhile, the OAU applauded the high voter turnout despite observer reports that say voters were chased away by police before they could cast their ballets, and the Deputy President of South Africa, Jacob Zuma, traveled to Zimbabwe to personally congratulate Mugabe on his victory. Blacks in America understand that a high voter turnout does not excuse a single voter being intimidated away from the ballot box. Despite the arguments of Mr. Mugabe's supporters, high voter turn out does not mean that people were not denied the right to vote.

Where are the African voices of dissent criticizing the Zimbabwe elections and the lack of a pan-African role in ensuring that elections on the continent can be protected and monitored by Africans, and those in the Diaspora, who have Africa's best interest at heart? Aside from Senegal's President, Abdoulaye Wade, who commented to reporters in Dakar, "From what I know, these elections do not conform to the norms that I would expect for elections," there is a resounding silence of African voices. And furthermore, Wade's dissent turned into a balking at the idea of bearing any responsibility for inaction by also telling reporters he was not in any position to decide whether or not the election results should be considered invalid.

Well, if not Mugabe's South African or Nigerian counterparts, or the heads of state in any African nation, or the OAU, or organizations like the NAACP in the Diaspora, then who is in a legitimate and just position to condemn tampered elections as a blatant affront to the governing process? And who should hold Mugabe accountable for election improprieties? The Western world and its system of checks and sanctions?

Is the western ideology of sanctions the only mechanism that can force Mugabe or any African leader to adhere to the laws of the very nation that they govern? The only major, non-knee-jerk international response to the election report issued by the Commonwealth Observer Group, is expected today in a scheduled London meeting between South African President Mbeki, Nigerian President Obasanjo, and Australian Prime Minister John Howard. But, it is unlikely that any real consequence against Mr. Mugabe for election violations will be meted out and even more unlikely that the political problems which have led to unrest in Zimbabwe will be addressed by credible international initiatives during the meeting. At most South Africa's Mbeki is likely to suggest that Mugabe work with Tsvangirai to form a government of national unity. But Tsvangirai has already said in regards to ruling jointly with Mugabe, "We [MDC] will not be party to any Cesarean operation by South Africa. We are not going to have short-cuts...and force issues on Zimbabweans."

Thus, without any clear African mandate to deal with elections on the continent, the consequences from the Western international community will assuredly be high, as Europe, the U.S. and multi-lateral institutions like the IMF have all been frustrated in their efforts to gain influence over Zimbabwe policy via an MDC victory in the elections. Already Canada and Germany have cut humanitarian aid (Germany has given over $4 million in aid to Zimbabwe just in the last year 2 years), while the European Union looks for ways to sanction the Mugabe government without "contributing to the suffering of the estimated 4 million impoverished and hungry Zimbabwean people". The United States has not yet decided whether or not to cut aid to Zimbabwe, although President Bush was quick to denounce the Zimbabwe elections saying, "We do not recognize the outcome of the election because we think it's flawed." How is that for ironic?

However, government sanctions cutting humanitarian aid are not the only financial consequence Zimbabwe will face. What the OAU, Mbeki, and Obasanjo fail to realize is that a flawed election in Zimbabwe has now become a liability to the economic growth and progress of a unified and financially independent Africa. Surely the political instability will only increase the poverty that plagues the continent, especially in Zimbabwe where food shortage is rampant, three quarters of the population live in poverty, and the fourth year of a recession is in full swing. Along with the cut in humanitarian aid to Zimbabwe, the tourism industry is faltering, and with Mugabe in power, foreign investors will certainly keep their money out of Zimbabwe.

This is a phenomenon that will assuredly affect Mugabe's neighbors in Southern and Central Africa. The endorsement of the Zimbabwe elections by nations such as South Africa, Nigeria, and Namibia will undoubtedly lead investors to fear that the same "rule of law" also operates in these African nations, curbing the influx of foreign currency to boost the continent's economies, and also quelling hopes of lifting people from poverty. All at a time when African countries continue to mismanage and underdevelop their own currencies and sources of human capital.

So what can be done in this environment further damaged by the controversial elections? Some may think that is a responsibility completely left to a private London meeting, and the disposition of three men: President Mbeki, President Obasanjo, and Prime Minister John Howard. But that is a misnomer that actually emboldens the diseased mindsets of White supremacy and Black inferiority. The people of Zimbabwe, with the help of an all-African and Diaspora observation team should be allowed to determine who should lead their country, even today. The people - not an authoritarian dictator; not the leaders of an opposition political party backed by the IMF and the West; and not a non-African body with the power to sanction African nations.

Whether or not Mugabe or Tsvangirai is the better candidate, it appears that the Zimbabwe people did not have a fair and free opportunity to decide for themselves. And for the African community to tolerate such injustice, while the big brother Western world doles out the moral indignation in the form of economic sanctions, makes the idea of African world power laughable. Is this African independence? Who's really in control of African governments? Who should have the most to say about the actions of African heads of state, whether commendable or condemnable? An African system of checks and balances or the threat of Western sanctions?

Surely, the outcome of the Zimbabwean elections is an African crisis in need of an African solution. And if the governments on the continent and their Brothers and Sisters in the Diaspora can't ensure that Africans enjoy free and fair elections, any anti-colonialist and imperialist rhetoric used as an excuse, rings increasingly hollow. And it only serves the interests of the same unjust judges that Africans continue to complain about. There is no acceptable reason why what happened in Zimbabwe could not have been prevented, and cannot be corrected by the African Union and the Diaspora. It is time for the Black electorate, around the world, to accept that responsibility and stop deferring matters of justice in Africa to White third-parties. Blacks too, are denying one another freedom, justice and equality.


Tuesday, March 19, 2002

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