You could notice the headlines on Zimbabwe elections evolve as the inevitable loomed. Internationally, major news networks plugged in dates to pre-determined storylines. Seriously, what did you expect? That Tsvangirai would win? The only thing guaranteed was that Zimbabweans are fed up by the inconvenience of government and elections. The seeking of power just to be powerful in games where average Zimbabweans were mere pawns. It is no surprise that Zimbabweans went peacefully to the polls, and whatever squabbles will ensue from here on, the voters did their part peacefully. Tsvangirai is right to feel robbed of the elections, but he is wrong to think the public will fight his battles for him. Not anymore. The people also have to wonder if he really is worth fighting for. The US and the UK have already voiced their concern, predictably. Until they really want to solve the Zimbabwe issue, they need to come up with new strategies.
You’ve got to give it to Mugabe, outwitting them since 1980. In 2002 he did with the forecast of the 2000 referendum, and the first wave of intimidation and propaganda. In 2008, he did it with the shameless re-run sham, ensured by ‘Operation Mavhotera Papi – Where did you vote?’ That turned out to be messy, so Mugabe had to find some decency to share power. Now, all hands down, he was so sure he only needed a month. Whether Mugabe rigged or not, here’s what the opposition did not see coming… Although I’m sure they did.
1. Path of least resistance
Zimbabwe somehow bounced from gazillion percent inflation rates, to 1.87% reported for July 2013. This was way below the pre-fiasco values of 1999, and of the ‘once-beautiful Zimbabwe that Mugabe ruined.’ Of course there are many factors in play, power sharing, diamonds, trickling investments, remittances, whatever, to the public it is a miracle to not only have food on the table, but excess enough to grow obese. Of course, it depends on who you are as to what started the fiasco in the first place – farm invasions? Economic sanctions? The voters were not ready to explore the same rabbit hole. If you live in Zimbabwe, the future made more sense for Mugabe to stay in power than leap into the unknown with Tsvangirai. Arguably, Sekuru Mugabe will not be around for 30 more years, but seriously we can’t say the same for Morgan. We did not get to know him that much. Besides, Mugabe does not need to intimidate people all the time when we know firsthand, or first-fist, exactly what could happen. So, must Mugabe be held accountable for a hands-free propaganda machine and the psychological fear instilled in the public back in the day? He did not need to intimidate anybody this time around. Free and fair, if you dare!
2. Zimbabwe proud of Mugabe legacy
Again, we cannot stress this enough. There are Zimbabweans who still really like Mugabe. Whether they are enough to constitute a democratic overhaul, that’s the trillion Zim dollar question. For the western media and officials to take everyone for granted in Zimbabwe who thinks and aligns with Mugabe’s philosophy, the West makes a joke of their own interests in democracy. The US and the UK have since stopped arguing about the philosophy and ideology that Mugabe represents. Most of which is still the same issues that led to the liberation of African countries from colonial rule. Now their debate is down to technicalities – vote rigging and forever years in power. While these are appealing to the sanctity of democracy, they will not win every vote in Zimbabwe. There are many Zimbabweans who would oppose the quest for justice against Mugabe’s crimes, without undermining all who were personally affected. Many poor Zimbabweans resonate with Mugabe’s resilience and rhetoric on indigenization, whether it’s propaganda or delusion. Their vote counts, one to one, if you really want to talk democracy.
3. 3.4 million people voted, 3.4 million live out of the country
Speaking of one-person one-vote, this simple fact might just be the most crucial point. A total of just over 3.4 million Zimbabweans voted. Poetically, a total of estimated 3.4 million Zimbabweans live outside the country. Arguably, most people who fled the country because of the hardships would have been more sympathetic towards Tsvangirai. They are usually the ones who bad-mouth Mugabe from a distance, and freely speak about the catastrophe they faced while still in Zimbabwe. They talk about their passion for change, and in their spare time from Wall Street, discuss the micro-econs of Zimbabwe, Africa, and the need for foreign direct investments. The bottom-line, they did not vote. Not matter how much they voiced on Facebook and Twitter; they had no say in this election. Think about it. Would Mugabe’s support really be under 3 million among 12 million Zimbabweans, even if he did not rig? We can’t argue the same for Tsvangirai.
4. Tsvangirai has since weakened
Once he missed out in 2002, it was going to be a challenge to garner back the enthusiasm. Tsvangirai did defy the odds in the first round of 2008, but I doubt he has since improved. To some extent, settling for a power sharing deal diluted what he represented. He was anti-Mugabe, a blank cheque to a bleak future. He was a symbol of defiance, the only figure that stood against Mugabe and gave people hope. What was questionable was whether he was a man with a plan, with real power and influence. Power sharing was an insight. His first order of business was to run around, beg for sanctions to be removed, beg for more aid, and beg for the 3.4 million Zimbabweans to come back home. Needless, the West was not interested in stability or peace or economic turnaround, the directive was to remove Mugabe from power. Period. Sanctions did not waver. Zimbabweans in the diaspora could not be tricked into coming back. MDC had since split up, due to internal bleeding. With the taste of power, Tsvangirai went soft on Mugabe, filmed a full season of The Bachelor – complete with two marriages and bonus features. Meanwhile, Mugabe hammered home indigenization, indigenization, indigenization! After this election, Tsvangirai is weaker than ever.
This is the only point there is hope to reverse this election, or settle back into power sharing? Given the preceding four points, Mugabe did not need to rig, but he probably did. They all do, allegedly. Just like every African leader in every election or George Bush is claimed to have done in 2000. Of course this will go to the courts, spark debates, and possibly further sanctions from the West. 61%-35% is a very big margin to contest in court, or rig without glaring evidence for that matter. Tsvangirai denounced the results. Make no mistake; Mugabe would have also denounced the elections if he lost. The only election that would work for Zimbabwe is one that does not involve either Mugabe or Tsvangirai. But Mugabe saw all the points covered, and knew he only needed a month to prove Tsvangirai was not the messiah, and that at 90 he’s better than ever.
So what’s the way forward? To the average Zimbabwean, tomorrow is another day. We will not have worse fear than we have lived with before, and we will not have more hope than we have been led to believe before. We will not be violent. “When two elephants fight, it’s the grass that suffers.” This time we’ll only allow them to fight on concrete pavements. They should settle their egos in courts. We could care less who is in power for now. What difference does it make? The police and military will not beat us because we chose the path of least resistance. Those who are still proud of Mugabe can have him in power for the next year or two without his legacy being harassed for ‘war and human rights crimes,’ hopefully he let’s Mai Mujuru take over soon. The 3.4 million should just shut up or come back home and vote in the next elections. Hopefully the next one would be more strategic about courting each vote and understanding the demographics of Zimbabwe. Tsvangirai was beaten, with or without rigging. Now it really matters what course he chooses for the country to move forward. It could make a big difference if he later decides to stick around and give it another shot, for the sake of change and democracy. As for the Western media, run with rigging, let’s see how far you can go with the same old story. Africa appears to have endorsed this election, they saw free and fair on the surface. The west disapproves, as usual, but this time it will be harder to demonize Mugabe until they learn to give the story two sides.
The African In American consolidates blogs, journals and commentaries by Africans visiting or studying in the US. The Africans eavesdrop on America, discuss and offer unsolicited perspectives on issues socially trending or inconveniently lagging in nationwide discourse.
Photo by Help Zimbabwe