Mugabe Has Left, but His Legacy Haunts Zimbabwe’s Election
Posted July 19, 2018 3:03 p.m. EDT
HARARE, Zimbabwe — When Robert G. Mugabe stepped down as Zimbabwe’s president last fall, jubilant citizens poured into the streets of Harare, the capital, hoping that the end of his 37-year rule would lead to competitive multiparty elections and the revival of a moribund economy.
But as campaigning intensifies ahead of elections on July 30 — the first without Mugabe’s name on the ballot since independence in 1980 — the ex-president’s heavy legacy hangs over the country.
The political party Mugabe led for decades is now represented by Emmerson Mnangagwa, a former vice president who has been accused of organizing brutal repression during Mugabe’s rule. The opposition has been fractured and weakened after the death this year of its longtime leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, who challenged Mugabe in successive elections in 2002, 2008 and 2013.
The 2008 vote was marred by deadly postelection violence, and observers fear a recurrence this year in the contest between Mnangagwa and the new opposition leader, Nelson Chamisa. Already, there are accusations of threats, intimidation and vote tampering. Last month, a grenade tore through a rally, narrowly missing Mnangagwa, killing two of his aides and injuring several others. Who set off the grenade is unknown, but suspicion has fallen on members of a rival faction in the governing party, ZANU-PF.
Zimbabweans seem less interested in the political intrigue than in high unemployment and persistent inequality. Once one of southern Africa’s wealthiest economies, Zimbabwe experienced a severe deterioration in industry and agriculture during the 1990s. As Mugabe moved to seize land concentrated in the hands of the white minority that once controlled the former British colony, investors pulled out their money, leading to currency devaluation and soaring inflation. The country is crippled by debt.
“Mnangagwa doesn’t represent the interests of the black majority here,” said Stanley Hungwe, 32, who studied sociology at the University of Zimbabwe and is one of many jobless college graduates. “Look at how he has projected himself as a darling of the Western countries whose interests he represents, instead of our own interests.” Terrence Chiwawa, 46, a schoolteacher waiting to withdraw money from a bank in Harare recently, complained about a chronic currency shortage.
“Manangagwa has kept on claiming that Zimbabwe is now open for business, and even claims that he has brokered investment deals that he has signed since he came to power, but we can’t see any change in reality,” Chiwawa said.
Kipson Gundani, a leading economist, said the economy was unlikely to revive without electoral stability. “What has worsened in Zimbabwe is the government’s appetite to spend money,” he said. “The appetite to invest in Zimbabwe has also increased, but investors are looking to what will happen in the elections.”
Whether the markets will be reassured remains in doubt. Mnangagwa has agreed to allow international election observers into the country to observe the polls, but the opposition alliance, dominated by the Movement for Democratic Change, remains unconvinced. There are fears of a repeat of the 2008 election, in which Tsvangirai placed first, garnering just under half the votes and triggering a runoff. After a wave of violence, Tsvangirai withdrew from the runoff.
ZANU-PF consolidated power over decades, giving Zimbabwe the trappings of a Soviet-style one-party state that might long outlast Mugabe, now 94.
The government has collected a vast array of personal data on citizens, and has been accused of misusing the information by prioritizing party supporters for food aid and other benefits. It has set up a system of biometric voter registration.
Jestina Mukoko, executive director of the Zimbabwe Peace Project, a human rights organization, said the new technology, which includes fingerprints and facial scans, was vulnerable to abuse.
“Villagers are being intimidated with the use of the biometric voter registration technology, which is the tool that was used to compile the voters roll to be used in the 2018 elections,” she said. “Citizens are being told that the BVR is actually a surveillance tool which can smoke out those who vote against the ruling party.”
So far, international observers say they believed the country’s elections commission was committed to a fair and free vote.
“It’s a very big job, and it’s a difficult job, but they say they are ready and they are moving toward the printing of ballot papers very shortly, and the recruitment and training of staff,” said Mark Stevens, deputy chief of the European Union’s election observer mission, which is expected to deploy 140 observers from the bloc’s 28 countries. But two American organizations, the International Research Institute and the National Democratic Institute, have raised concerns about interference.
“We have heard reports of a military presence in Zimbabwe’s rural areas from different stakeholders, and we have asked our long-term observers to examine these claims during the next few weeks,” said Larry Garber, co-director of the organizations’ Zimbabwe International Election Observer Mission.
A spokesman for the Zimbabwe Defense Forces, Overson Mugwisi, said the military had “no direct role” in the elections and denied that the military was helping the governing party. “We are disturbed by false reports through social media alleging that ZDF has been deployed to campaign on behalf of ZANU-PF,” he said.
Gift Ostallos Siziba, a political analyst, said that Mnangagwa was struggling to manage his relationship with the military and with his vice president, Constantino Chiwenga, a retired general and former commander of the armed forces.
Several military veterans who were involved in the struggle for independence that led to the establishment of black-majority rule under a newly independent Zimbabwe in 1980 have criticized Mugabe and Mnangagwa, saying that they maintained the repressive police state they inherited from a period of white-minority rule that lasted from 1965 to 1979.
“The change that took place when whites left power was in the color of the skin, but the system of militarization of the state remained, which we see even today under Mnangagwa’s government,” said Ngoni Thomas Chitauro, a veterans’ representative.
Chamisa, the main opposition candidate, is struggling for name recognition. Trained as a lawyer, Chamisa was a leader of the youth wing of the Movement for Democratic Change, and later served as a minister from 2009 to 2013, in a unity government involving both Mugabe and Tsvangirai. But Chamisa has labored to keep the opposition unified: A leading member of the alliance, Thokozani Khupe, broke away to run a rival faction with Joice Mujuru, a former vice president whom Mugabe purged in 2014, after accusing her of plotting a coup.
Mlondolozi Ndlovu, an independent political analyst, said he feared that Mugabe’s divide-and-rule strategy had been effective at sowing divisions within the opposition alliance.
ZANU-FP is also divided: A faction associated with Mugabe’s wife, Grace, has been causing trouble for Mnangagwa, and one member of the faction, Jonathan Moyo, an exiled former minister of higher education, has thrown his support behind Chamisa.
Chitauro said the divisions within both ZANU-PF and the opposition alliance reflected the embryonic nature of Zimbabwe’s democracy.
“Thirty-seven years of Mugabe rule made Mugabe, and what he says, goes,” Chitauro said. “We need to re-educate ourselves, and have a new thinking. One center of power thing, just doesn’t work, because you can’t know it all.”