Why is this Election Any Different?

I have been pondering over this question for a couple of weeks. It’s a crucial subject as there are many in Zimbabwe who feel that nothing has changed and no matter how they vote, the outcome will be manipulated and the peoples wishes frustrated – yet again. They have good reasons for feeling this way – all the elections since 2000 and maybe before then, have been heavily rigged to prevent any changes in national leadership.

But this time things are different and I felt that we should try and unpack this issue so that we can better understand why I feel so confident that it is not “business as usual” in Zimbabwe.

The first issue is that this time the people have decided that it is time for change. In 2008 we were in the grip of the most severe crisis in our history with the State near total collapse. People were preoccupied with simple survival and the explanations by the regime at the time seemed to many to have some plausibility. Then came the run off with the extreme violence and intimidation followed by the GNU. To the astonishment of everyone, the arrival of the MDC in government had an immediate and dramatic impact.

Over the past four years colors of Zanu PF have been clearly shown by the stark contrast between the two Parties in Government. The corruption of Zanu PF has been clearly revealed as has the incompetence of their team of Ministers despite the many years in charge – Joseph Made in Agriculture, Nicolas Goche in Transport. From inflation levels that doubled prices every few hours, to a steady 3 to 4 per cent annual inflation. From shortages and queues for everything, to free abundance, albeit at a price. Our hospitals are functioning as are our schools with over 95 per cent of all children of school going age back in the classroom.

We have often referred to the GNU as the marriage between a horse and donkey and the people know who the donkey is in this relationship.

Then there is the understanding that Zanu PF may hold the guns and the sticks, but when we vote, they can be defeated and they then find it impossible to do what they threaten and punish those they hold responsible for their defeats. So our people go to rallies and wear the regalia but when it comes to the day they have to choose, they will vote for the people who put bread on their tables. It is as clear as that and this time, the shift is so dramatic that no amount of rigging will rescue Zanu PF from defeat.

Then there is the IT revolution – the universal cell phone. Everybody has one or two, smart phones, blackberries, every make imaginable. Mostly second hand but functional. Tribal elders are discovering Facebook and Twitter. In 2008 ( in Zimbabwe it is called BC – Before Chamisa) a line cost $300 or more and you had to queue for hours. Now they cost a dollar and you can simply pick them up in the Supermarkets. In 2008 there was perhaps 20 per cent coverage – now we can use our phones almost everywhere.

Zanu PF has held onto their control of the State Media – which in 2008 was immensely influential and one sided. Now the conventional media are irrelevant and sidelined – people are informed as things happen and your nephew in New York can call you at your rural home and send you money in seconds. You get the news in real time from anywhere, when Morgan speaks, the kids in the front row record his speech and in seconds it is all over the country.

In 2008, the last significant pillar of support for Zanu PF was the security establishment – 17 000 people on the payroll of the CIO, 45 000 men and women in the army, 35 000 in the Police, 9 000 in the Support Unit and perhaps 50 000 in the youth militia. Trained and indoctrinated, marshaled and forbidden to even read the opposition press, the combined strength of the security services under the coordinated command of the JOC at all levels, was formidable. Intelligence leaks were few and far between and the punishment for any “subversive” activity was death in many cases.

In 2008 they did what they were told to do – no questions were tolerated. Today that is far from the case on the ground. Baba Jukwa – clearly an insider group; would have been impossible in 2008, now it’s not only possible it’s the first port of call in the morning for hundreds of thousands and it shows no signs of waning or being afraid of discovery. It is also clear that regional leaders are receiving high level quality intelligence on the activities of Zanu PF and the security apparatus and are therefore able to respond effectively to any threats as they arise.

And then there is the new attitude and policies of the region. In 2008 we had a clearly pro Zanu PF leader in South Africa and Mugabe could rely on many of his friends in both SADC and the wider continental leadership. Not so today. Although Jacob Zuma is careful not to look pro MDC he is strictly neutral and impartial. But he has constructed a sophisticated intelligence machine in Zimbabwe and gets information from here very quickly.

In addition the SADC leadership is now united in their frustration with the constant Zanu PF led filibustering and procrastination. This crisis has simply gone on for too long and they want it brought to an end. Recently Mugabe has made error after error in his management of his regional relations and is now virtually isolated. As a result SADC and the AU are mounting a massive observer programme to try and make the flawed process we are engaged in reasonably credible. This time there will be no last minute rescue for Mugabe from our neighbors.

Will this be enough? I think so this time. MDC is so much better organised and represented on the ground in 2013 than in 2008. If all of us “do our own thing” in whatever form this time, the bad guys here will simply be overwhelmed and once that is achieved there will be no place to hide.

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo, 26th July 2013