ZIMBABWE’S international diplomatic re-engagement drive is in tatters owing to the discredited general elections, which had been benchmarked as one of the important litmus tests for the country’s resolve to implement far-reaching political and economic reforms.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa has been at pains to sanitise the polls, whose credibility was undermined by undemocratic practices and logistical challenges.
Voting at some polling stations, particularly in opposition stringholds in Harare and Bulawayo began deep in the night instead of the stipulated 7am, leaving the election tainted.
The polls, discredited by key election observer missions, we seen as crucial for Zimbabwe’s bid to end international diplomatic isolation.
With a tainted human rights right record, the Zanu PF government has been resorting to hiring lobbyists to improve its tainted image globally.
As reported by The NewsHawks, in 2019 the Mnangagwa administration entered into a US$500 000 deal with a United States-based lobby firm to canvass for the removal of targeted sanctions imposed by Washington on top Zanu PF officials.
Brian Ballard, the man who was regarded as the most powerful lobbyist in Washington at that time due to his links to the then US President Donald Trump’s 2016 election campaign and the 2020 re-election bid, was paid by Harare and tasked with re-engaging Washington on behalf of Mnangagwa.
The mission failed because of continued human rights abuses by Harare, including the 1 August 2018 killing of six unarmed civilians and the January 2019 murder of civilians by members of the security forces.
The disputed polls have left Zimbabwe’s re-engagement efforts hanging in the balance, throwing into doubt the country’s bid to build trust with the international community.
The Sadc Election Observer Mission has rejected Zimbabwe’s sham election, in a major dramatic and unprecedented political move never seen before in the region, leaving the elections widely badly discredited.
The European Union Election Observer Mission (EU EOM) also concluded that curtailed rights and lack of level playing field led to an environment that was not always conducive to voters making a free and informed choice, in its preliminary statement of 25 August.
“The EU deplores the extensive and sustained disinformation and defamation campaign waged against the EU EOM and other international observer organisations, the lack of access to key electoral bodies as well as the unjustified arrests of citizen observers,” said Josep Borell, the EU’s high representative, on Zimbabwe elections.
“The EU encourages the Zec to exercise maximum transparency in the process of results tabulation, including disaggregated election results by polling station and the judiciary in adjudicating all post-electoral complaints and grievances. Ongoing disputes and any remaining concerns about this electoral process should be resolved peacefully through existing legal mechanisms.”
Last month, the EU highlighted amendments to the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act as regressive in the country’s bid to clear its image.
This came after President Mnangagwa had signed clause two which criminalises fundamental freedoms of association, assembly and speech of any citizen who holds meetings with foreign diplomats or any other foreigner, plunging the country into the dark days reminiscent of the oppressive Rhodesian colonial era.
“Zimbabwe as a sovereign country has committed in the Arrears Clearance process to enhancing respect for freedoms of association, assembly and expression, as well as building trust with the international community. Today’s legislation (Patriotic Act) sends a political signal in the opposite direction,” said the EU.
The Commonwealth has also highlighted intimidation, lack of independence of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) and an uneven campaign field as key factors likely to have undermined the credibility of the 2023 electoral process.
“Our overall assessment of the voting process is that it was well conducted and peaceful. However, there exist a number of issues that could impact on the credibility, transparency and inclusivity of the process. It has been an honour for us to be a part of this important process,” read the preliminary report.
“Our observers witnessed tables set up in close proximity by an organisation called Forever Associates Zimbabwe (Faz) and received reports that members of the organisation were allegedly recording the names and ID numbers of voters. We also noted that members of Faz were also conducting citizen observation. Their presence fuelled allegations of voter intimidation.”
As previously reported by The NewsHawks, the British Parliament considered Zimbabwe’s general election as a benchmark for re-admission to the Commonwealth.
Zimbabwe quit the Commonwealth in 2003 after clashes between the club of mostly former British colonies and long-time ruler Robert Mugabe over policy conflicts, human rights abuses and violation of the group’s democratic values, and has been eyeing re-admission.
Mnangagwa has tried to manoeuvre his way into the Commonwealth by seeking help from other leaders in the region. In November last year, Mnangagwa engaged Rwandan President Paul Kagame to lobby for Zimbabwe’s return into the grouping.
In September that year, Kagame told Mnangagwa that he needed to start convincing Zimbabweans “that things were fine before he convinces the international community” — on the sidelines of the Africa Green Revolution Forum (AGRF) held in Kigali, Rwanda.
“You need to work hard to change the perception, you cannot bribe your way through it, you cannot just sweet talk some people, even if they say ok, we agree with you, things will not be fine.
“The way the people of their own country feel about what is happening, it will always come out and before you even convince anyone from outside so that they cannot have a wrong perception about you, convince your own people.
“Make sure they are with you and say look, whatever you are saying, we feel there is change, so concentrate on making sure your people are involved, they are benefitting, they can themselves push back on this story of perception,” Kagame was quoted as saying at the forum.