POLITICS in Zimbabwe has been reduced to a farce, plagued on one hand by a ruling party which rides roughshod over every democratic principle in the constitution, and worsened on the other hand by an ineffectual opposition which repeatedly fails to learn from history.
This past week, President Emmerson Mnangagwa brewed a shocker when he openly admitted that elections in Zimbabwe are rigged.
Addressing private sector chief executive officers at the CEO Africa Annual Roundtable in Victoria Falls, the Zanu PF strongman initially appeared to be making a foray into his routinely cringeworthy and unpresidential jokes — but the captains of industry and commerce got more than they had bargained for this time around!
Apparently stunned by the unsolicited confession, the business executives momentarily fell into silence before breaking into raucous laughter. The laughter, coming from people in positions of responsibility who ought to know better, was utterly disappointing.
Picture this: Mnangagwa makes an unexpected but shocking confession about election rigging. What do the CEOs do? They erupt into laughter. The sheer symbolism of this incident is astonishing. There is a lot we can glean from the behaviour of the jester-in-chief and his naive audience, but ultimately the joke is on the people of Zimbabwe.
This country has been reduced to a laughing stock by cruel, corrupt and inept rulers.
When the the dictators’ club — another name for the Southern African Development Community — is so outraged that it has no choice but to condemn an election as a sham, the stark reality of what the world is witnessing hits you in the face like a tonne of bricks.
Mnangagwa lacks legitimacy, not only in Zimbabwe where he now admits that elections are rigged, but also in the neighbourhood where this country is increasingly viewed as a problem child.
Zimbabwe’s political landscape has faced significant upheavals over the decades, leading to the current situation where the ruling Zanu PF dominates by hook and by crook while opposition parties must contend with endless obstacles.
Efforts at creating a one-party state began at Independence; Zimbabwe has never been a democratic developmental state. The country has masqueraded as a democracy but in reality it is a competitive authoritarian polity.
Instead of building a modern republic, the rulers have been fixated with consolidating their control over key institutions, including the judiciary and security forces, which has limited the independence of these institutions and their ability to act as checks on unrestrained executive power.
Opposition parties, right from the heady days of uhuru in the early 1980s, have been treated like enemies of the state.
They have faced systematic challenges, including harassment, intimidation, political violence and even genocide. This has enabled Zanu PF to rule through fear and coercion.
Furthermore, opposition parties have struggled to gain equal access to resources, media coverage, and public platforms, which further contributes to their weakening.
To restore democracy in Zimbabwe, a multi-faceted approach is needed.
A key starting point is in changing the thinking of the citizens. The people of Zimbabwe must stop believing in the fallacy that a messiah will swoop down from heaven and complete the unfinished business of liberating the masses.
The brutal reality, of course, is that no change can be achieved without the citizens exercising agency.
As the Sadc Election Observer Mission correctly observes, public institutions have been subverted. The judiciary can no longer be relied upon as an impartial, objective and independent arbiter.
The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission — packed with the relatives of ruling elites — serves the interests of Zanu PF.
The tragedy, as experience has shown, is that the economy will soon remind Mnangagwa that you can rig an election but you can never rig macro-economic growth and stability.