You can bet your Bob that zombie voters will back Mugabe
ON WEDNESDAY Zimbabwe goes to the polls. The run-up to the election has been curiously low-key and lacklustre, perhaps because everyone already knows the result – President Robert Mugabe will win.
Even if he loses, he will win. Such is the foxiness of the world’s third-longest serving dictator, who is shaded in the despot stakes only by the leaders of Angola and Equatorial Guinea, and then by a mere year.
The 89-year-old Mugabe has a formidable record for gamesmanship. Starring in 33 consecutive seasons of his own Survivor Africa reality show, Comrade Bob has repeatedly proved that he can “outwit, outplay and outlast” any opponent, foreign or domestic.
After losing the 2008 election, he outwitted president Thabo Mbeki – despite violent attacks on the opposition and extensive vote-rigging – and engineered a power- sharing agreement that left him as president and Movement for Democratic Change leader Morgan Tsvangirai as a virtually powerless prime minister.
He outplayed Tsvangirai over the next five years during a tortuous process that was supposed to deliver constitutionally protected freedoms and genuine democracy.
That new constitution has been enacted but the security forces still answer only to Mugabe, the electoral process is still controlled by his Zanu-PF henchmen, media freedom is still constrained and the state broadcaster is still unabashedly his propaganda organ.
He outlasted his fiercest international critics, various leaders of the UK, US and the major European powers. It helped that as elected leaders these men and women have comparatively short tenures, while Mugabe has had since 1980 to tighten his grip with populist land seizures and by the ruthless deployment of the state security apparatus against any opposition.
Mugabe’s international critics have been distracted by pressing economic problems at home, and since their “smart” sanctions have failed and since they have been excluded by Zimbabwe from any election-monitoring role, they don’t have any political cards left to play.
Roeland van de Geer, the EU ambassador to South Africa, has lamented the exclusion of EU monitors, who he is quoted as saying are “tougher” than those from the AU and the Southern African Development Community (SADC).
Van de Geer says that if these African observers declare the elections “free and fair”, the EU will have to lift all remaining sanctions on Mugabe’s government. “Who are we as the EU to say, ‘No, we know better than SADC’?”
Human Rights Watch has warned that “the chances of having free, fair and credible elections are slim”. But as AfricaFocus Bulletin notes, they may nevertheless be judged “credi- ble enough” by some – including the AU and SADC – for reasons of expediency.
One must hope, then, that SADC has developed some backbone since the 2008 debacle.
SADC declared that election a “peaceful and credible expression of the will of the Zimbabwean people” immediately after the polling booths closed – even though hundreds had died violently and before the vote count was kept secret for more than a month, while Zanu-PF desperately massaged the results in order to deprive Tsvangirai of victory.
This time it seems that Zanu-PF is better prepared against nasty democratic shocks. It has legions of “ghost” voters to deploy.
An independent audit found that more than a million people registered as voters are dead, while more than half of the constituencies have more voters registered than the number of inhabitants, according to last year’s census.
Guess who the zombie voters will be making their crosses for on Wednesday.
All this Zanu- PF skulduggery might even not be necessary. The opposition is perennially divided and an additional factor is disenchantment with Tsvangirai and his party over their role in the governing coalition.
As in the television reality show, Mugabe has shown that to be a survivor, you must keep your friends close but your enemies closer.