Another Zimbabwean election, another ZANU-PF victory, another cry of ‘foul’. And another pile of bodies. The more things change, the more they stay the same in the southern African nation. Or so it seems.
As the dust and gun smoke settle, two very different narratives are emerging, as a number of commentators have noted. There’s nothing new in that, to those familiar with Zimbabwean electoral ritual. For the opposition MDC-Alliance, bitter anger has replaced naive euphoria, its expectations smashed by this latest drubbing at the hands of the ruling party, ZANU-PF.
The only explanation, it contends, is massive rigging by an ossified regime that hasn’t really changed, bar the absence of Robert Mugabe. The brutal reaction of security forces to street protests over the vote, during which (officially) six civilians were killed and 14 injured, is grist to this well-worn storyline.
Naturally, ZANU-PF’s version of events may be found in its traditional place at the opposite pole: this was a clean break from the Mugabe era, brought about by a clean vote—one underwritten by electoral reforms (such as biometric voter registration) and strenuous efforts to create a peaceful campaign environment. It was tarnished only by the MDC hooligans who took to the streets and the ‘tragedy’ that resulted.
Leaving aside the customary international supporters of ZANU-PF and/or of ‘non-interference’—the African countries, Russia and China, among others (which have already ticked off on the vote)—the MDC’s perspective would ordinarily carry the day in the West.
Zimbabwe would drop off the radar again, cast for another electoral cycle into the darkness reserved for other pariah states such as North Korea. And there are some international opinion makers who have been quick to damn the regime in time-honoured fashion.
But things will not be so simple this time around. With the election over, there will now be a real and fierce battle over international legitimacy, rather than usual, pro forma appeals to existing allies.
It’s a contest that will impact the country’s short- and medium-term future—and maybe its longer-term destiny, as well.
Hopelessly powerless, the MDC’s one remaining card is the sympathy it has in the West, and it has a reasonable prospect of wrecking the reputation of president-elect Emmerson Mnangagwa, just as it worked to undermine Mugabe’s.
Mnangagwa, for his part, is determined to secure the Western funds—both private and institutional—that he needs if he is to have any chance of rebuilding Zimbabwe’s economy and lifting ZANU-PF out of perpetual crisis mode.
It is this extended hand that has made the post-mortem so much more complex for the West this time around. Mnangagwa has continued to say all the right things.
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