Monday, March 31, 2008

Despondency as election results trickle in

Initial jubilation by opposition supporters in Zimbabwe is fast turning into despondency as official election results are being announced at a seemingly deliberate trickle.

All Sunday the Movement for Democratic Change was telling the world that its leader, Morgan Tsvangirai had won the presidential poll by up to 67%.

However, by early Monday afternoon in the country, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission had not released any results in that poll and the opposition has begun to suspect rigging of the already counted votes.

Other sources said the presidential race was actually inconclusive with the possibility of a second round run-off between Tsvangirai and either President Robert Mugabe of the ruling Zanu PF party or Dr. Simba Makoni, an Independent candidate who is a former cabinet minister in Mugabe’s government.

In the parliamentary poll, which is equally important, the ZEC had released results from 24 constituencies by 1 pm Zimbabwean time (7 am EST). The results were evenly split between the ruling party and the opposition.

However, MDC tallied the results officially posted outside polling stations throughout the country to conclude that it had so far taken 95 seats against Zanu PF’s 40 and 20 for independents. There are 210 contested parliamentary seats and, if indeed, MDC won 95, it is just 11 seats away from claiming victory (which it has already done).

News agency reports say up to nine of Mugabe’s key cabinet and politburo members had already lost their seats to the opposition. These include vice president, Joyce Mujuru; the minister of security, Didymus Mutasa; minister of justice, Patrick Chinamasa; minister of youth services, Elliot Manyika and minister of local government, Ignatius Chombo.

Some of the Zanu PF big wigs who lost their seats appeared to have taken the losses so hard that Manyika killed a polling official and is now in custody. There are unconfirmed reports that Chombo and another losing minister, Webster Shamu were also involved in gun-related disturbances in their constituencies.

All this comes at a time when President Mugabe’s sister and long time confidante, Sabina Mugabe died on Sunday after suffering a suspected heart failure. She had been very ill for a long time.

Her two sons, Leo Mugabe and Patrick Zhuwawo (both senior members of Mugabe’s government) are said to have lost their parliamentary seats.


Sunday, March 30, 2008

Minister commits murder after losing election

Even a serious event like an election has its own anecdotes. Some are sad, some are outright funny and some are just horrible.

As Zimbabweans eagerly await official results of yesterday’s landmark elections, unofficial results are already being floated around.

But, before we get into that some serious and rather said tidbits.

Elliot Manyika, an outgoing member of Mugabe’s cabinet and the ruling Zanu PF party’s political commissar (lead campaigner) lost his parliamentary seat and his mind. Upon being told that he had been beaten by an opposition Movement for Democratic Change candidate, Manyika is said to have lost all control and shot someone dead. He then bolted from the scene and was only apprehended at the airport where he attempted to skip the country. He is now in police custody facing murder charges.

That Manyika would do that is not surprising. This is the man who personified the brutal aspect of the ruling party’s campaign tactics as the leader of the Green Bombers (the ruthless Zanu PF national youth service). Besides, his very life is (or should I say was) Zanu PF.

Another liberation war veteran and former perpetual cabinet member, Webster Shamu is also said to have been barring polling officials from announcing results of his being trounced by the opposition in his “safe” seat in the Chegutu commercial farming area. A gun was also sighted. Let’s hope nobody is going to be shot there.

Other Zanu PF heavyweights reported to have lost (but have not gone berserk yet) are:
Vice President, Joyce Mujuru
Party National Administrator and Minister of the Secret Police, Didymus Mutasa.
Minister of Local Government (as corrupt as they come), Ignatius Chombo
Minister of Agriculture, Joseph Made

Many more Zanu PF titans are expected to fall as the day goes by.

One cabinet member who had already fallen at the Zanu PF primary election level, Aeneas Chigwedere, Minister of Education, epitomized the saying “the harder they fall”.

He was on Sunday bestowed the headmanship of a village in Hwedza. From leading the entire education system in a country reputed to have the high literacy rate in the developing world, to heading a village of peasant farmers. Chisingaperi chinoshura (everything comes to an end).

On the presidential election. The unofficial results show things are not good for old Bob. It appears at best he will make a second round run-off. But with his close allies (who were campaigning for him) losing to the opposition, it becomes difficult to imagine how he would win.

In fact, the delay in announcing elections could mean either of two things. That election officials are trying to find a way to give him a win (rigging) or they are giving him time to gather himself before he faces the music.

More to follow.


Saturday, March 29, 2008

Change is in the air, I can smell it

Change is in the air comrades. I can smell it all the way from Zimbabwe. There are two aromas, both sweet (the scents of Makoni and Tsvangirai) competing against a stench so foul it can only be that of an aging dictator (Sekuru Bob).

Frankly, on this day of reckoning, I just don’t care which of the two sweet ones lingers in my nostrils when all is done. It is the foul one I want removed from my space forthwith.

Actually, foul smells aside, did you see the suit Bob was wearing when he cast his vote. Now, that’s an attire for one who knows retirement is nigh. Very grandpa-ish, in a strange way, for those who know how Mugabe can really don them sunjaz.

But the man still talks of “conquering”, “knocking each other out”.

Oh, hey, Bona (the first daughter) is voting. I wonder if she did some of that youthful rebellious stuff and voted for Makoni or Tsvangirai, instead of her father. You, know the kind of stuff someone will reveal in a biography or something, years later.

But I digress. I was talking about the sweet smell of change. It is permeating its way here from those long lines at polling stations, and from the news that almost everywhere the catch word is “change”.

The sweet aroma comes from the dozen or so people I talked to this morning, from across the entire country, all saying: “Forget the rally attendances and the messages of doom. We are changing things.”

One elderly lady in a high density suburb of Bulawayo whose son I grew up with (and he has travelled to Zimbabwe from South Africa to vote) told me this: “My son, the fact that you are calling me from that far, not across the road and that my own son is having to travel from across the border to vote, is enough for me to vote for change.”

“By the way, I am not alone in this,” she added as I was about to bid her farewell.

Now, if Bob wants to scuttle this dear lady’s dream for change by stealing the vote, then he should not wonder if she “knocks him out” with her cooking stick.


Friday, March 28, 2008

Army deployed to protect people against Mugabe

I spent the whole election eve worried sick about the massive military deployment in Zimbabwe – tanks on the streets and even Air Force planes criss-crossing the countryside.

This has never happened before in a free Zimbabwe and like everybody else I reached the conclusion that Mugabe is ready to unleash the mighty Zimbabwean army on the people should they; either vote him out or he steals the vote and they revolt.

But then I reached a sort of eureka moment and I almost jumped out of my own skin. This deployment is actually for the good of the people, I reason.

Now before you throw your ballot papers on me, just follow, okay!

See, right from the beginning Simba Makoni has been harping about overwhelming support in the government, the ruling Zanu PF party and the security forces.

Although all the serving chiefs have uttered words to the effect that they will not salute anyone other than Mugabe, this time their declarations have not been as forceful as in 2002. They, in fact, personified puppets going through programmed motions.

Besides, we hear of Mujuru being on Makoni’s side (he has not disputed that yet), Dabengwa has come aboard and so have some other lesser military types (albeit retired). We have had the Bonyongwe issue at CIO.

We heard of police officers defying Zanu PF instructions to protect the opposition in some cases. Even some war vets and Green Bombers have been reported to shed their brutal Zanu PF past to join the progressive forces of the the opposition.

Then we had Tsvangirai telling his supporters not to worry about the army, followed by Nkosana Moyo (Makoni’s strategist) declaring that “we have people in the management” of elections (that includes the army).

In fact, the general response from the opposition is that of “oh, boys are just being boys”.

So, I reached my own conclusion that, in actual fact, the army is being deployed to make sure “Mission Remove Mugabe” is accomplished without a hitch.

My theory is that upon realizing that he has lost the plot, old Bob will try to set his presidential guard against the people, but the regular army - so deployed - will shiled the people.

But hey, I am not holding my breath.


Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Fist vs The Open Hand vs Clasped Hands

After all that has been said by all and sundry over the past months about the state of politics and the economy in Zimbabwe; after the opinions, wishes and predictions, it now falls on the people of Zimbabwe to pull their country out of the brink of total collapse or tie heavier weights on its underbelly.

The much awaited presidential election in Zimbabwe is here.

The candidates and their surrogates, journalists and observers, pundits and critics; have all had their say. Variously they have pontificated on who should win the election and why. Individual and collective opinions, wishes and hopes have been mixed with facts and reality to form predictions.

Depending on whom you talk to or whose account you read, the three main candidates; outgoing President Robert Mugabe (84) of the ruling Zanu PF party, main opposition Movement for Democratic Change leader, Morgan Tsvangirai (56) and Independent Simba Makoni (57) have been tipped to win this election.

The predictions are very compelling for each of them. Mugabe’s ominous fist of fury crushes all dissent so much that people would rather vote for him than face the wrath of his security machinery, we have been told.

Tsvangirai’s “change” mantra has been so loud and poignant this time around that voters no longer fear Mugabe’s promised Armageddon if they abandon him.

We have also been told that fresh-faced Makoni’s message of unity has resonated with a nation so tired of the polarizing status quo – on both sides of the political divide – that they will elect him enmass.

Well, they say words are cheap - or better still - action speaks louder than words. It is now time for the Zimbabwean voters to do what has always been their absolute right – to determine the country’s destiny on Saturday.

The choice they have may seem so simple. Vote old Bob out and manna will fall from heaven, the proverbial milk and honey will flow along the country’s rivers and the glory days of yesteryear will return instantly. Leave him in power and unprecedented doom will befall the entire nation. The reverse has been argued by Mugabe and his supporters.

It is assumed that Zimbabweans should and would vote one way or the other as a block.

Might it be that simple?

Will a peasant farmer in the remote Zambezi Valley feel compelled to vote for Makoni in the same way as a professor in the City of Bulawayo will be?

Can an MDC activist who was jailed and tortured for his political preference convince a government worker who benefited from the land redistribution exercise to dumb Mugabe?

Would a landless white farmer and a liberation war veteran agree to unite for the purpose of national peace, reconciliation and progress?

These are difficult questions to ask anyone, and yet, Zimbabweans have to ask themselves these questions and answer them through the ballot.

From afar, it seems easy to say: Mugabe is too old to remain in power and that he has ruined the country. It also seems easy to say Tsvangirai is unsophisticated and too polarizing and that Makoni is inexperienced and rather naïve.

But the fact is that a voter’s choice is based on immediate and local needs. Whether these needs are similar for every voter will only be seen after the election.

What is not in dispute is that the country is in ruin. Inflation runs beyond 100,000%, unemployment is rated at 80%, there is virtually no food or services and a quarter of the country’s 12 million people are in exile.

Those in the country – the voters – have endured various forms of human rights violations such that not a single one has escaped emotional, mental or physical persecution.

But on Saturday these same hobbled people have to pull their country out of the brink of total collapse or tie heavier weights on its underbelly and let it sink deeper into the abyss of misrule and economic plunder.

For better or worse; they have to make a choice. Is it gonna be Mugabe’s fist that threatens to crush all, Tsvangirai’s open palm of change or Makoni’s clasped hands of national unity?

Zimbabwean voters will tell us on Saturday.


Monday, March 17, 2008

Gono turns Reserve Bank into "Elect Mugabe" Bank

Of the four candidates in the Zimbabwe presidential election due in two weeks, former finance minister, Dr. Simba Makoni, is the only one who has made it clear that, among his immediate tasks in office, would be to “examine and define the mandate of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe and its relationship to the state.”

He stated in his election manifesto that he would “restore the autonomy of the Central Bank as a regulator.”

It is not surprising why Makoni would prioritize a re-look into the workings of the Reserve Bank which has been transformed by incumbent governor, Gideon Gono into anything but.

A Central Bank is universally defined as an entity responsible for the monetary policy of a country. Its primary responsibility is to maintain the stability of the national currency and money supply.

The RBZ, under Gono, has failed to fulfill its mandate. It is common knowledge now that the monetary policy of the RBZ has been consistent on printing and dishing out useless bearer cheques to the nation, a function that nobody would find easy to classify as a role for a Central Bank.

As for the primary responsibility of maintaining the stability of the national currency and money supply, well, reality suggests that has not been practiced either, with the USdollar exchanging at more than ZD 30 million and inflation at more than 100,000%.

The RBZ has also been involved in black market currency transactions, something tantamount to a policeman joining thieves instead of arresting them.

But these are the obvious failings of the RBZ that Gono may even defend successfully to those who sympathize with his self-made situation.

What is really worrying – and even embarrassing – is how Gono has transformed the RBZ into an “Elect Mugabe Bank”, with departments to supply farming equipment and rural transportation.

The RBZ is directly involved in funding and active distribution of tractors, ploughs, scorch carts and other implements under a project called the Farm Mechanisation Programme.

It’s a project specially designed and timely introduced to begin at the same time as President Robert Mugabe is seeking a sixth term in office. Last week, in an interview with The Financial Gazette, one could feel the glee in Gono’s words as he proudly enumerated the thousands of tractors, ploughs harrows and other implements the programme is offering to farmers.

Ironically, Zimbabwe has an agricultural bank, but nothing is heard of it in the programme which should really be within its mandate. But the Reserve Bank, together with its governor, has become a personal tool of Mugabe’s and no prizes for guessing who will benefit from the implements.

As if that is not enough, the Reserve Bank is also in the forefront of funding and implementing another “Elect Mugabe” project; the so-called National Transport Enhancement Programme under which Mugabe and his surrogates are going round the country donating buses, 35 for each of the country’s 10 provinces.

What boggles one’s mind is that Zimbabwe’s rural transportation system has always been a private enterprise affair and never before has the government been required to provide buses.

Nobody knows who will administer the buses and under what statute. All we know is that Mugabe said the buses will charge affordable fares, by whose definition, we don’t know.

But is a direct role by the RBZ necessary? Where is Gono getting the money to embark on all these schemes, including a “Food for Votes” programme that has gone awry as nobody wants to load the maize in Zambia.

But I digress. My issue is with the RBZ being on the forefront of an election campaign on behalf of one candidate. This can only happen in Zimbabwe.

Itching to react!? Bring it on:


Sunday, March 09, 2008

Mugabe bangs down phone on Chissano?

Been away from blogosphere for a week or so attending to pressing bread and butter issues – the family has to eat.

Anyway, while I was away, I met three senior government officials from South Africa, Zambia and Mozambique. As I introduced myself (or was introduced – in one case) the issue of elections in Zimbabwe would come up almost immediately.

Although I met them separately and they actually do not even know each other, the three officials would ask me the same question: “So, what do you think is going to happen on March 29?”

My one important question to them was what were their governments thinking or doing about the situation in Zimbabwe.

The one from Mozambique had this to say: “You know that our former president, (Joquim) Chissano is Mugabe’s best friend, right? He tried to tell Mugabe to retire but that man (Mugabe) does not listen. Chissano persisted but he had to stop when Mugabe stopped taking his calls or if he got through, your president would cut him off the moment he heard his voice.”

“We respect Mugabe. We are forever indebted to him and Zimbabweans for their help during the Renamo war, but right now he is costing us. Investors cite our proximity to Zimbabwe as a risk. He must go.”

The South African turned out to be a man of a few words: “Our current president (Thabo Mbeki) and our future leader (Jacob Zuma) have both agreed that anybody else is preferable to Mugabe. We know he is gone.”

The Zambian official added: “Mugabe must be hard of hearing because our president has been bending his ear since he came to power but he sits there like he is listening yet, he is not. Nobody wants him anymore.”

Their words, not mine. These are very senior people in the three governments who would know.

My final question to the three officials (separately, of course) was, if what they told me were the actual views and feelings of their leaders and governments, why were they not ganging up to approach Mugabe as a group and tell him that they do not support him anymore.

Almost to the letter, the three said: “He has been told.”

Uhmm, interesting.

Itching to react!? Bring it on:


Zim journalists committing electoral fraud too

Journalists of my generation at Ziana – between 1992 and 2000 – will agree that the best way to incur the wrath of the news agency’s editors was to submit a story without background, cross-references or with figures that did not add up.

Being a student of some of Zimbabwe’s best editors of that era, like Tarcey Munaku, Ndaba “Ndasto” Nyoni and “Sekuru” Tambayi Nyika (may their souls rest in peace), I cringe when I read some of the stories being churned out from Zimbabwe, particularly at this time of elections.

Very few reporters – and editors – produce complete stories that would make a reader understand an issue even if they have missed earlier accounts and I find it very frustrating.

Coverage of the highly contentious presidential election is the case in point here. Ruling Zanu PF candidate, President Robert Mugabe is quoted extensively by both the government-owned and private press as he bashes his opponents Dr. Simba Makoni and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change leader, Morgan Tsvangirai.

We read that at almost every rally, Mugabe accuses Makoni and Tsvangirai of being funded by British and American businesses. The Herald even published names of companies alleged to be funding Makoni.

The reporters doing these stories may be young and without much knowledge of what happened in the 1980s and 1990s, but their editors will definitely recall that every election before 2000, Mugabe received public financial donations (solicited and unsolicited) from mostly British individuals, companies and organisations.

I recall vividly that in preparation of the 1996 presidential election, Mugabe dispatched the late Eddison Zvobgo to go and fundraise in London, no less. Zvobgo raised more than 1 Million Pounds from the likes of Tiny Rowland and others.

I made several trips to London and other European destinations with Mugabe as a presidential reporter. There were meetings with white businessmen, which we would not be allowed to report on. I don’t suppose Mugabe discussed cricket with these men.

Lately, Tsvangirai has ganged up with Mugabe in accusing Makoni of being funded by foreign “embassies” in Harare. This sounds to me like a jilted lover venting on a rival suitor.

Was it not a few short years ago that Tsvangirai prided himself with being seen in the company of the same diplomats and even travelling to their countries to seek (and receive) endorsement and funding as the next president of Zimbabwe.

Could it be that after failing to deliver in three attempts, his former backers have decided to pursue a new and perhaps more acceptable option and Tsvangirai is lashing out in bitterness?

Whatever the case, the point is that Zimbabwean press (and to a large extent Diasporan and foreign press too) has been complicit in not being diligent enough to provide this background and cross-referencing or balancing their reports.

And the funding issue is not the only problem. There is the fact that Mugabe’s message at this year’s election rallies is exactly the same as he delivered at every other election campaign since the 1980s. He would give people land and food, increase salaries of government workers and make sure “bad ol’ whitie” doesn’t come back.

Yet, not a single reporter has raised this background in the thousands of stories we read each election period. No effort is made to go to the people and ask them if they ever received the things Mugabe promised them every election period.

Then there is the issue of rally attendances. Last weekend when Makoni addressed a rally at White City stadium in Bulawayo, depending on the newspaper one read, the number of his audience ranged variously from 4,000 to 7,000. That’s understandable.

Then this weekend, it was Tsvangirai’s turn and the range was 12,000 to 40,000.

I covered many rallies and other functions at White City stadium and unless its carrying capacity was increased in the years that I have been away, I know that there is no way 20,000 people can fit into White City; let alone 30,000 or 40,000 which is the capacity for Barbourfields or Rufaro.

Then there is the issue of generals who declare that they will not salute any leader other than Mugabe. Why doesn’t anybody tell these gentlemen the truth that if Makoni or Tsvangirai are elected by the people of Zimbabwe, it is a simple fact of military rules that they will perform a crisp salute to their new Commander-In-Chief or else they will be court-martialed.

In any case, President Makoni or Tsvangirai will remove them from the positions they hold now and replace them with generals befitting that rank.

These are just a few of many inadequacies I notice in reports from Zimbabwe and I wish someone could ensure that we get backgrounded and balanced news.

Neglecting these ground rules of good journalism is, in itself, an act of electoral fraud.

Itching to react!? Bring it on: