Old Zimbabwe Is the New Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe’s constitutional court has upheld the election of Emmerson Mnangagwa as the president of the country.

Zimbabwean antiriot police officers at the Rainbow Towers where the election’s

results were announced as supporters of the opposition party, MDC Alliance,

protested against alleged widespread fraud by the election authority and ruling

party, in Harare, on Aug. 1. Credit Luis Tato/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The old guns have retained power in Zimbabwe. On Friday the country’s constitutional court confirmed Emmerson Mnangagwa, the leader of the incumbent Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front, as the president after rejecting a legal challenge by the leading opposition party seeking the annulment of the results of the country’s July 30 election.

According to the official results, the incumbent ZANU-PF led by Mr. Mnangagwa narrowly won the elections — the first after the fall of Robert Mugabe — with 50.8 percent of the vote, and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change Alliance led by Nelson Chamisa won 44.3 percent of the vote.

Mr. Chamisa disputed the results, describing them as “fraudulent, illegal and illegitimate,” and claimed he had won 56 percent of the vote. On Aug. 10, he challenged the results in the constitutional court, which led to the postponement of Mr. Mnangagwa’s inauguration.

Despite the opposition’s optimism, the legal challenge was not expected to succeed owing to the judiciary’s tilt toward ZANU-PF since independence from British colonial rule in 1980. Mr. Mnangagwa, as mandated by the constitution, is expected to take the oath as president within 48 hours of the court’s ruling.

After replacing Mr. Mugabe in November, Mr. Mnangagwa has been eager to gain legitimacy and would repeatedly say in public that “the people’s voice is the voice of God.” The ouster of Mr. Mugabe did bring about the end of petty oppression. The police stopped harassing and taking bribes from drivers on the roads. Zimbabweans actively exercised their newfound freedom to speak out: Many energetically insulted President Mnangagwa in their comments on his social media accounts.

Murehwa, my ancestral village in Zimbabwe, is a ZANU-PF stronghold. In late March, as the campaign season was picking up, my family was surprised to see Mr. Chamisa lead the first opposition rally in the area in years, without any incident. In April, I attended a performance of “Operation Restore Regasi,” a political satire about the ouster of Mr. Mugabe, in Harare. The play was directed by the celebrated Zimbabwean playwright Daves Guzha.

In late July, I had an event about a book I wrote interrogating the events and history leading up to Mr. Mugabe’s fall at the same venue. Despite concerns about the wisdom of holding such an event in high electoral season, we were freely able to discuss controversial subjects such as Gukurahundi — the term used in Zimbabwe to describe the killing and torture of thousands of civilians from the Ndebele minority in the Matabeleland province between 1983 and 1987. The Ndebeles were accused of being “dissident” supporters of Joshua Nkomo, a rival of Mr. Mugabe. Mr. Mnangagwa ran internal security for Mr. Mugabe at the time.

Despite these tentative democratic openings, the cynicism about a fair electoral process remained. On the eve of the elections, a young cousin who supports the charismatic and young Mr. Chamisa remarked, “The boy will win, but the old man will rule.” Many of us, though hopeful about change, were hard-pressed to see an outcome where the old men, the veterans of the liberation struggle of the 1970s, would cede to young Mr. Chamisa the power they consolidated after deposing Mr. Mugabe.

In early August, Mr. Chamisa’s supporters poured into the streets of Harare disputing the election results. In contrast to November, when Zimbabweans formed an unprecedented alliance with the military to force out Mr. Mugabe, the military and the police used tear gas, water canons and live bullets against protesters from the opposition. Six civilians were killed.

The actions of the military and police after the elections made it clear that in Mr. Mnangagwa’s “New Zimbabwe,” citizens enjoy their constitutional rights at the discretion of the state.

Members of the opposition parties continued to be harassed, assaulted and arrested. On Aug. 4, riot police interrupted a news conference held by Mr. Chamisa in Harare. To control the bad press, Mr. Mnangagwa sent a minister to disperse the riot police, tweeted his regrets and promised an independent investigation. The police have reportedly suspended 16 officers for their conduct during the crackdown on postelection demonstrations.

Police had also charged Tendai Biti, an opposition leader and former finance minister, with inciting violence and protests by proclaiming that the opposition had won the elections. A threatened Mr. Biti sought refuge in Zambia but the Zambian officials handed him over to Zimbabwean police.

When Mr. Biti was produced in a Harare court, many foreign diplomats and election observers attended to observe the proceedings. Mr. Biti’s case became a test of Mr. Mnangagwa’s treatment of his political opponents and had ramifications for Zimbabwe’s attempts to better its relations with the global political and business community in the post-Mugabe world.

The United States, the European Union, the United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees and several additional countries criticized the mistreatment of the opposition leaders and activists. To contain the fallout, Mr. Mnangagwa tweeted that he had “intervened” to ensure that Mr. Biti gets bail and is released. Mr. Mnangagwa’s announcement revealed the judiciary’s lack of independence from the governing party.

The United States has enacted a new law imposing tougher conditions that Zimbabwe is expected to meet before the sanctions imposed upon the country during the Mugabe regime can be removed. After taking over as president in November Mr. Mnangagwa has repeatedly stated, including in these pages, that the “New Zimbabwe” is open for business and will ensure democratic and human rights for all.

Supporters of presidential candidate Nelson Chamisa raising their hands in support

during his last pre-election rally in Harare, Zimbabwe, in July.

Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/Associated Press

The new United States law insists that the recent Zimbabwean election must be “widely accepted as free and fair,” and its army has to act as “nonpartisan” and “respect the fundamental rights and freedoms of all persons,” before the sanctions can be removed. Without shedding the sanctions, Zimbabwe cannot readily get loans from global financial institutions such as the World Bank or the International Monetary Fund. The sanctions ban defense-related trade with Zimbabwe as well as government assistance for numerous programs.

The postelection repression and the renewed American sanctions are derailing Mr. Mnangagwa’s attempts to find international acceptance and secure funding from the international community to rebuild Zimbabwe’s fragile economy.
Zimbabwe is rife with tales of multiple centers of power within the establishment. Many believe that Mr. Chiwenga, the army general who ensured Mr. Mugabe’s ouster and Mr. Mnangagwa’s ascension as president, is the power behind the throne. As with Mr. Mugabe, the biggest challenge to Mr. Mnangagwa’s rule is likely to come from his own ranks.
Panashe Chigumadzi is the author of “These Bones Will Rise Again,” a book about the coup that deposed Robert Mugabe.

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Source: The New York Times

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