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Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Mugabe and Zanu PF now constitute a coup

By permission of Briggs Bomba...

Mugabe and Zanu PF now constitute a coup
Briggs Bomba
April 07, 2008

The unfortunate, yet predictable drama unfolding in the wake of Zimbabwe’s March 29 elections resurrects Josef Stalin’s ghosts reminding us of his uncanny words that ‘Its not who votes that counts, its who counts the votes’. Mugabe’s crafty actions since the elections evidently show that he is determined to win the count after losing the elections.

Seven days after peacefully casting votes in the most anticipated election since 1980, Zimbabweans still await the official announcement of the results. The profound sense of hope that characterized the voting day is now turning into downright bewilderment as it becomes clear that President Mugabe and his Zanu PF are doggedly bent on disregarding the people’s sovereign will as expressed on March 29.

The revelation from State media that Zanu PF ordered the Zimbabwe Elections Commission (ZEC) not to announce the presidential election results is baffling to anyone with a sense of how the Zimbabwean elections process must work. ZEC is a constitutionally mandated body tasked to independently administer elections. For such a body to take orders from Zanu PF whose legal status in this case is a mere contestant demonstrates what is wrong not only with elections but with everything in Zimbabwe. It is this rotten state of democratic institutions and the subordination of state bodies to the ruling party that is at the heart of the country’s decay.

The important point that must be made now is that President Mugabe’s continued hold on power, after an election he visibly lost, now constitutes a coup. Zimbabweans, supported by the international community must immediately act to thwart this violation of the people’s democratic will. The unprecedented and unconstitutional move by Zanu PF’s to bar the ZEC from announcing the presidential election results is clear evidence of mischief and unwillingness by hardliners in Mugabe’s regime to respect the sovereign will of the people of Zimbabwe. By heeding this illegal request, ZEC has failed the crucial test of independence, thus confirming the longstanding fears by Zimbabwe’s civic society that the elections body will sacrifice Zimbabwe’s democracy at the alter of partisan interests.

Zanu PF’s calls for a recount and already ongoing preparations for a presidential election rerun, before the results are known, is not only bizarre but also evidence of utter contemptuous disrespect to not only Zimbabweans but also the whole world. With the current machinations, the Mugabe regime has reached the height of illegality because they have in actual fact staged what is essentially a ‘veto coup’. By definition this is when ‘people’s mass participation and social mobilization to govern themselves’ is vetoed.

By refusing to bow to popular will Mugabe is daring the people of Zimbabwe who have demonstrated legendary restrain and patience under the most unbearable living conditions. The March 29 elections presented a singular opportunity for many to peacefully speak out and entrust the future of the country in a leadership of their choice. The consequences of frustrating and thereby rendering irrelevant such a democratic arena of struggle are dangerous not only to Zimbabwe but, potentially to the whole of Southern Africa. Mugabe’s reckless actions risks destabilizing the whole region by provoking people to extra democratic means in Zimbabwe with certain adverse spill over effects in the region. As such the responsibility to defend the March 29 vote goes beyond Zimbabweans. SADC, the AU and the United Nations, as bodies with longstanding commitment against illegal usurpation of power must play a key role in breaking the impasse in Zimbabwe. If these bodies are to remain relevant it is they speak out now to pressure Mugabe to release and accept the election results, otherwise they will be faced with a serious crisis of legitimacy.

At this very late hour, statements by South African President Thabo Mbeki that ‘the situation in Zimbabwe is manageable’ and that ‘it is time to wait’ are not only unhelpful but a slap in the face for long suffering Zimbabweans, who at considerable risk and sacrifice went out to vote on March 29. There cannot be any plausible reason why results are not known seven days after voting! No, Mr President, this is not ‘a time to wait’; neither is it a ‘manageable situation’. This is more like a time bomb that can only be defused if the people’s vote is respected.

President Mbeki’s unfortunate statements and the deafening silence from other African leaders in SADC and the AU raises serious problems of accountability with the current crop of African leaders. Where is the moral outrage in this clear case of daylight robbery? Diplomacy seems to have been redefined to ‘see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil’ within the old boys club. Africa is not helped by this blind, uncritical support amongst its leaders.

The opposition in Zimbabwe must now show decisive leadership. While it is commendable that we have not seen ‘Kenyan style’ violence in the post election period, Zimbabwe’s opposition must learn from Kenyan opposition that the business of appealing to an incumbent’s courts does not work. There are pending cases in courts from the 2000 elections. In fact, with a compromised judiciary, such as Zimbabwe’s, court appeals only serve the purpose of disarming people’s vigilance by creating a distracting sideshow and reinforcing illusions of mitigation. Already a dilly dance has started in the courts with all sorts of delaying tactics meant to buy Mugabe time until its too late, rendering the court challenge academic. The opposition is best advised to resort to peaceful mass mobilization of people power to defend the vote. The opposition must lead unions, students and the full range of civic society in defending the people’s vote. Mugabe will only pay attention if he is convinced that he can no longer govern in the old way, therefore the strategy must be to paralyze the state through effective, peacefully direct action. I personally hope that Professor Masunungure will be proved wrong on his recent assertion that Mugabe will get away with mischief and fraud because Zanu PF is ‘risk taking’ whereas the opposition is ‘risk averse’.

The despicable levels of suffering by many Zimbabwean make resolving the current impasse in Zimbabwe an urgent matter. Having been on the ground myself for two weeks around election time, I can attest that the humanitarian disaster I witnessed is heartbreaking. An old man I talked to in one of the rural areas told me that “now we wait to see which bush the goats are feeding on, and we eat that because we know it will not be poisonous”. Their village had always voted Zanu PF, this time they voted out one of Mugabe’s ministers despite all their fears of what could happen. They voted to restore their dignity.

It is time to defend the vote.

* Briggs Bomba is a Zimbabwean born Economist working for Africa Action in Washington DC, and writes here in his personal capacity. He can be contacted at

*Originally posted at:



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