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Implications of the disputed elections in Zimbabwe on the SADC region

By Whitney Mulobela

The August 23 2023 harmonised elections in Zimbabwe provided yet again a ray of hope for many Zimbabweans as they braved the odds to exercise their right to elect leaders in the troubled Southern African Country. For many, the 2023 elections were an opportunity to end the 43-year rule of the ruling ZANU PF that has been at the helm since independence in 1980. Despite the desire for change by many, as per the dictates of democracy, the much-anticipated change still seems far-fetched as the election results reaffirmed the dominance of the ZANU PF.

In the disputed election, which had two front runners for the presidential office - ZANU–PF's Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa, was declared winner beating the closest rival Citizens Coalition for Change's Nelson Chamisa. However, many political pundits continue to question the legitimacy of the Mnangagwa Government given the glaring irregularities observed during the elections. The biggest question therefore, post August 23, has been whether the election results give legitimacy to the Emmerson Mnangagwa Government?

What would be the far-reaching implication of these results on the Southern African Development Community (SADC) economically and politically?

In this article we examine the implications of the Zimbabwean elections beyond the borders of Zimbabwe and indeed the region. Over the last few years what has been manifestly evident has been the socio-economic effects of the economic meltdown in Zimbabwe. For instance, Zimbabweans have been fleeing the country because of the economic downturn to seek opportunities in other countries in the region. Fleeing economic turmoil, Zimbabweans have been flocking into the neighbouring countries, such as South Africa, Namibia, Zambia, and Botswana to mention a few to seek opportunities. This influx of Zimbabwean migrants to these countries continues to put pressure on these countries. With the 2023 elections however, there seems to have been an escalated challenge which may have political implications, and possibly threatens regional peace and security.

The “cold war between Lusaka and Harare”

As Head of the SADC Organ on Politics, Defense and Security Cooperation, Zambia’s President, Hakainde Hichilema appointed former Zambian Vice President Dr. Nevers Mumba as Head of the SADC Election Observer Mission (SEOM) in Zimbabwe. Dr. Mumba, a politician and tele-evangelist, led a 68 member mission that was deployed in the ten provinces of Zimbabwe. Just as other observer missions including the European Observer Mission the SEOM cited glaring irregularities characterising the harmonised elections, almost condemning the polls as a sham.

According to the SADC Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections, “credible elections” mean ‘electoral processes enjoy considerable support and confidence of the citizenry and international or regional community, leading to mutually agreeable results from competing entities that participate actively in the electoral process.’ The question therefore is does the Zimbabwean election pass the SADC definition of a credible election?

Some of the shortcomings as observed by the SADC Election Observer Mission included restricted access to the voters’ roll by stakeholders. Competing Political parties never had access to the voters’ roll before the elections.

“Some stakeholders decried the delay in releasing the voters’ roll in a searchable and analyzable format as prescribed by the Electoral Act. Some stakeholders expressed displeasure that the delay in releasing the voters’ roll resulted in missed opportunities for them to audit the voters’ roll and therefore give the public confidence about the veracity of the voter’s roll,” reads the SEOM report in part. The report also observes that the delimitation was not well conducted.

“The Mission noted that the use of the average number of voters per constituency is inconsistent with the provision of section 161(6) of the new Constitution of Zimbabwe that was adopted in 2013,” reads the report. In its conclusion the SADC report observed, “The Mission noted that some aspects of the Harmonized Elections, fell short of the requirements of the Constitution of Zimbabwe, the Electoral Act, and the SADC Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections (2021).”

The report does not seem to have been well received by the ZANU PF as there are now “desperate” attempts to discredit it. In a brazen breach of diplomatic etiquette, ZANU PF sponsored a Journalist of the Zimbabwean Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) to travel to Lusaka where he lined up some opposition figures to scandalise Dr. Nevers Mumba and President Hakainde Hichilema as head of the SADC Troika. The Zambian opposition figures interviewed by ZBC took turns in scandalising Dr. Nevers Mumba in a documentary that has been described as treasonous.

In reaction to the documentary Dr. Mumba wrote:

“I have just finished watching a derogatory, hateful and anti-Zambian documentary done by a foreign news agency and a foreign government. If it had just ended at that, I would have remained silent and simply allowed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to diplomatically deal with this by raising a red flag.

However, the scary part is that this anti-Zambian documentary is a handiwork of five Zambians in collaboration with a foreign government. Mr. Fred Mmembe, Mr. Given Lubinda, Mr. Raphael Nakachinda, Mr. Emmanuel Mwamba and Mr. Chilufya Tayali joined hands with the ZANU-PF of Zimbabwe and the ZBC to produce one of the most irresponsible videos in recent history.

The five Zambians took turns to misinform, to lie, to insult and falsely accuse the President of the Sovereign Republic of Zambia, Mr. Hakainde Hichilema of allegedly deriving or having a mandate from Western Imperialists to effect regime change in all the countries that are led by liberation movements in our region.

Fellow Zambians, this reckless behaviour borders on espionage. To suggest that your President is working to topple neighbouring governments on behalf of the West is one of the most dangerous and irresponsible statements or acts I have ever seen from any set of politicians in Zambia’s history.”

It is clear from the narrative in the documentary that ZANU PF is trying hard to discredit the SADC Election Observer Mission report as a Dr Mumba report. However, credible voices including the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, have called upon the people of Zimbabwe and the region at large to defend democracy and the will of the people.

“We declare through this statement, the people of Zimbabwe’s unwavering solidarity with Zambian President Hakainde Hichilema, the Chairperson of the SADC Troika on Politics, Defense and Security, and the Head of the SADC Electoral Observer Mission (SEOM) to Zimbabwe's recently held election, Dr Nevers Mumba, and his team. We also acknowledge the SADC Chairperson, His Excellency, the Angolan President Mr. João Lourenço for diplomatically saving Zimbabwe,” reads the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition petition in part.

SADC on the spotlight

The world is therefore now watching how SADC will handle the Zimbabwean crisis following the disputed elections of August 23. The spotlight is also on President Hichilema as Head of the SADC Troika as to whether he will provide the needed leadership to ensure the will of the people of Zimbabwe is respected.

Whitney Mulobela is a Zambian Lawyer and a Civil Rights and Governance Activist. He is passionate about governance issues in the region and the continent at large. He has monitored Zimbabwean elections since 2018. Currently, Whitney Heads the Communication, Advocacy and Networking Unit of the Non Governmental Gender Organisations Coordinating Council (NGOCC), a Zambian umbrella NGO that champions women’s rights and women’s empowerment.

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