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Zimbabwe is a crazy place

As you’ve all been hearing, Zimbabwe isn’t exactly in the best condition ever.  The recent elections were a huge slap in the face to Robert Mugabe. For the first time, this hero of the revolution has had a major setback.  Instead of the suspiciously large victories he’s been used to, Mugabe and his Zanu-PF party actually managed to lose.

That’s nearly unheard of in this country.  Zimbabwe is a place where election fixing, intimidation and other questionable practices have reached a new level of art.  The opposition has been beaten, arrested, outlawed, all kinds of things.

Mugabe has always maintained a strong grip on the armed forces and uses them to enforce his will.  Even more worrisome is his practice of using “war veterans” from the war for independence,  and youth members of his party to harass and intimidate voters.  Of course this is all denied, but seems pretty well documented in international circles.

And throughout it all, Morgan Tsvangrai has been a huge pain in Mugabe’s ass.  The leader of the main opposition (the MDC) has himself been bloodied and has had a tough go of things, and still refuses to give up.  Immediately after the election, he declared victory and steadfastly maintained that his party, combined with that of another opposition party had won enough to take away Mugabe’s majority in parliament.

Since then it’s been a tense time.  Mugabe has been saying that Tsvangrai may have beaten him in the actual presidential election, but not by enough to win outright.  Instead, they need to go into a run-off.

The reason this caused such a big issue is the fact that there was a huge delay in releasing the tallies of the votes.  It took days before any results were officially released.  Some independent monitors released what they could, but these were spotty at best.  Then came the ridiculous recount procedure that involved over a dozen seats. Interestingly enough, the recount still wound up with the opposition taking over a majority in parliament.

Finally, TODAY, more than a month after the election, the BBC is reporting that the official Zimbabwe Electoral Commission has said that Tsvangrai had won the initial vote.  He got 48% of the vote.  2% less than was needed to avoid a run-off.

Now this number is clearly questionable, but the sheer fact that they’re even letting people know that Tsvangrai won at all is a huge step.  Hopefully this will be the tipping point that ends up with Mugabe leaving.

Now as a quick background, Mugabe has pretty much run this country into the ground.  He started off as an incredible, inspirational leader.  But things slowly went downhill.  He was hell-bent on this policy of “land reform”, which basically meant confiscating land from white farmers and redistributing it.  Instead of giving it to the poor and dispossessed as he promised, he gave it to his cronies.  He used this land to help keep his grip on power and ensure loyalty.  This has caused food production to plummet and the economy to tank.  Unemployment is high.  Inflation is over 100,000%.  That’s not a typo.

And the worst part about all of this is no one is even sure if Tsvangrai is a good leader.  He’s a former union leader who became a politician.  I’m not sure if he’s capable.  This is one of those moments that’s become increasingly common (or so it seems lately), where it’s less a vote for a candidate and more a vote against the previous system.

Now we just have to wait and see what happens with the run-off.  Just keep your fingers crossed that we won’t see the same violence we saw in Kenya.

Politics

Zimbabwe opposition declares presidential victory

globeandmail.com: Zimbabwe opposition declares presidential victory

In what is potentially life-changing news for a lot of people in the world, The Globe and Mail (among other news sources) is reporting that the opposition in Zimbabwe is declaring victory.

Now that I’ve started writing this article, it seems as if the OFFICIAL results agree. That’s right, the opposition, led by Morgan Tsvingrai, has taken over parliament. According to Mugabe’s government, Mugabe’s party took 97 seats and the opposition took 99, with some seats going to a smaller party also opposed to Mugabe.

Even more crazy, official AND official sources are saying that Mugabe has so far lost the presidential election as well. Now, under Zimbabwean law, if no candidate gets more than 50% of the vote than the top two must compete in a run-off. The MDC (the opposition party) is claiming they won 50.3% of the vote, thus avoiding the need for one, but Mugabe’s party disagrees. My money is on them being forced into a run off, because Mugabe still has a lot of clout over the government as a whole and is not likely to go quietly.

The extreme delays in counting the votes has really made people worry about the fairness of the election. Before the election, there was concern that it wouldn’t exactly be free and fair. So far, the violence and intimidation has not exactly manifested itself, which is reassuring enough. Some experts attribute this to the presence of Simba Makoni who has some significant sway over the military as well as having some pretty powerful backers. While he only won 7% of the vote in the presidential election, the mere fact that he chose to face Mugabe may have done something to reassure voters that they can choose to vote for whomever they choose.

There has begun to be some quiet muttering about whether there are negotiations going on to allow Mugabe to retire quietly and with honour. I think that this is probably the best idea, because the ideal situation for ZImbabwe is for this election to go completely peacefully. No one wants a repeat of the Kenya debacle from a few months ago, and I think everyone wants to see Mugabe go with some dignity. Obviously he’s made some serious judgement errors in the last 10 years or so, but most people respect what he did originally to lead ZImbabwe to freedom.

Here’s some of what has happened to Zimbabwe since Mugabe took power:

Today, a third of the population depends on imported food handouts. Another third has fled the country and 80 per cent is jobless. Inflation is the highest in the world at more than 100,000 per cent and people suffer crippling shortages of food, water, electricity, fuel and medicine. Life expectancy has fallen from 60 to 35 years.

As well, something that caught my eye is an interesting little excerpt from a BBC article:

Mr Mugabe, 84, has not been seen in public since the election but Mr Matonga has denied rumours the president had left the country.

He came to power 28 years ago at independence but in recent years Zimbabwe has been plagued by the world’s highest inflation, as well as acute food and fuel shortages.

I wonder why they suspect he’s already left the country?

The sheer fact that the opposition now controls parliament (or at least is able to deny Mugabe’s party a majority) is important news, because it means that some of the more contraversial bills and reform ideas cannot be pushed through. So even if Mugabe retains power as president, he may not have the ability to push through more ideas, like his proposed notion that all businesses in Zimbabwe must be majority black-Zimbabwean owned.

So keep a keen eye on the news the next few days. If Zimbabwe settles down, that means that nearly the whole Southern tip of Africa (Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, Mozambique, South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland and Zimbabwe) will become much more stable. If so, there is a pretty good chance that economic growth rates will shoot up and maybe help benefit the whole region.

Also, if Tsvingrai wins, expect huge amounts of foreign aid to start pouring in. Britain, the former colonial power of Zimbabwe (back when it was Rhodesia), has been watching this election carefully, as has the EU, UN, and US.