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Sham elections imperil debt resolution efforts



ZIMBABWE’S arrears clearance and debt resolution plan is hanging by a thread after the country held general elections which were flagged by foreign observation missions accredited into the country as falling short of international standards.


Before the 23 August general elections, the holding of credible polls was highlighted as a key precondition for normalising relations with the international community.

The southern African nation’s total debt stock has soared to US$18 billion as of December 2022 from US$17.2 billion reported in the prior comparative period as the distressed economy struggles to extricate itself from the debt albatross.

With no budgetary support from traditional lenders such as international financial institutions such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) due to non-payment of arrears, Zimbabwe has been mainly relying on grants, bilateral loans and domestic resources to finance its key capital projects.

After several failed attempts to settle arrears with international financial institutions (IFIs) such as the World Bank and the African Development Bank (AfDB), which enjoy preferred creditor status, Zimbabwe, which has been struggling to access long-term concessional funding, adopted a new strategy which is led by AfDB.

The debt-ridden nation established a structured dialogue platform with all creditors and development partners in order to institutionalise negotiations on economic and governance reforms to underpin the arrears clearance and debt resolution process.

Ahead of the elections, the United States said Zimbabwe’s ongoing dialogue with multilateral and bilateral creditors, which is currently being facilitated by the African Development Bank (AfDB) and former Mozambican president Joaquim Chissano, provided a window of opportunity to help normalise relations between Washington and Harare.

Washington is now closely following developments in Harare after observer missions and the opposition raised the red flag over the electoral process.

The US is a key player and majority shareholder of the Bretton Woods institutions.

“Although the Zimbabwe Election Commission (Zec) has announced results of the country’s recent presidential election, multiple observation missions have expressed deep concerns and stated that the country’s electoral process did not meet regional and international standards for credibility,” US State Department spokesperson Mathew Miller said in a statement this week.

“The United States notes in particular the systemic bias against political opposition during the pre-election period and reports from respected civil society groups that Zec officials pressured election observers to sign altered polling station result forms. We call on the Zec to make the disaggregated polling station results publicly available to increase confidence in the result tabulation process.

“These actions belie President Mnangagwa’s repeated pledges to respect rule of law, transparency, and accountability. The United States is engaging regional leaders to share our concerns, including what this means for the international community’s nascent efforts to re-engage the Zimbabwean government. There is much at stake for the people of Zimbabwe and the region. We urge all Zimbabweans to remain peaceful and pursue grievances through established legal channels.”

In May this year, head of the European Union delegation in Zimbabwe, Jobst von Kirchmann, said the success of Harare’s re-engagement with the economic and political bloc and the country’s creditors is premised on the holding of credible elections this year.

Von Kirchmann told guests attending the belated Europe Day commemorations at his residence recently that relations between Harare and Brussels, which at the turn of the millennium had turned sour, have thawed in recent times.

Last week, the European Union’s Election Observation Mission in Zimbabwe expressed concern over the electoral process, throwing Zimbabwe’s re-engagement efforts off-balance.

In a preliminary statement which came after the 23 August elections, the EU observer mission said the electoral process curtailed fundamental rights amid the lack of a level playing field compounded by intimidation. This affected the credibility of the polls which were largely disorderly.

“Despite appeals for peace by national and international actors, instances of violence, including battery, arson and kidnappings were noted by EU EOM, especially in rural areas. Cases increased as election day neared,” the head of EU observers, Fabio Massimo Castaldo, said on Friday.

“A CCC supporter was killed in a so-called opposition no-go area; 15 people were arrested and charged, pending trial. The intimidating presence of Forever Associates of Zimbabwe (Faz), was observed by the EU EOM at many rallies. Several observers received first-hand reports of coerced/incentivised attendance at Zanu PF events.

Cases of the latter’s supporters disturbing other parties’ rallies were observed in several areas.”

As consistently reported by The NewsHawks, Zimbabwe faces a herculean task in improving its ranking on the Mo Ibrahim Index as the country commits to far-reaching political governance reforms in order to cosy up to creditors.

The Mo Ibrahim Foundation defines governance as the provision of political, social, economic and environmental goods that citizens have the right to expect from their state, and that a state has the responsibility to deliver to its citizens.

According to the Arrears Clearance and Debt Resolution Process Governance Reforms Matrix, Zimbabwe agreed upon seven sub-indicators under the Mo Ibrahim Index and has undertaken to improve on its rankings.

The sub-indicators are:   Democratic elections; absence of violence against civilians; impartiality of the judicial system and judicial processes; civil society space; institutional checks and balances; and transparency in public procurement procedures.

Zimbabwe currently scores 49.54 (in 2022) out of 100.0 in overall governance, ranking 29th out of 54 in Africa. The country scores lower than the African average (48.9) and lower than the regional average for southern Africa (54.2).

Under the implementation matrix seen by The NewsHawks, Zimbabwe seeks to improve the governance index to 51.03 this year from 49.54 reported last year. Next year, the country sees the score improving to 52.56 before further climbing to 54.14 the following year.

Published since 2007, the Ibrahim Index of African Governance assesses governance performance in 54 African countries over the latest available 10-year period.

It provides a framework and dashboard for any interested audience to assess the delivery of public goods and services and public policy outcomes in African countries.

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