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Zimbabwe: British interest in poll telling
Posted: Friday, April 4, 2008

By Peter Mavunga
April 04, 2008

IT HAS been a momentous week. The harmonised presidential, parliamentary and local elections have concentrated the minds of many Zimbabweans wherever they are. But they have also attracted a level of interest from beyond our borders; a level of interest that left me intrigued.

In Britain, the interest has been keen. This has manifested itself in acres of newsprint devoted to the subject; journalists (like John Simpson) smuggling themselves into Zimbabwe despite the ban on the BBC; and a debate in the House of Commons in which David Miliband, the British foreign secretary, made a full statement.

Miliband said the level of interest is due to their concern for Zimbabweans whose will, he argued, had to be respected. He called for the results of the elections to be published as soon as possible as further delay was likely to heighten suspicion.

This of course sounds wonderfully balanced and diplomatic although it does not hide the fact that the statement is given from the point of view of a government minister who, like many before him, wants President Mugabe to go.

If anything, the whole media coverage has been about maximising the President's discomfort to facilitate his "departure". A good example of this pre-occupation was Jeremy Paxman's question for Cde Boniface Chidyausiku, Zimbabwe's USA envoy, on Newsnight on Wednesday night.

"Why doesn't he just go?" Paxman asked.

"To go where?" came the rhetorical question in reply. And quite right too!

For all their "good" intentions and ‘‘love'' for the people of Zimbabwe, the British interest in Zimbabwe's electoral process ought to be seen in the context of their perceived interests in the country. If we lose sight of this we do so at our own peril.

The purpose of this article is not in any way to argue that President Mugabe should not go if that is what the people of Zimbabwe desire. He himself will not deny this given that he is the man who brought democracy to a troubled people who had been denied the vote since colonial times by the white man.

The point I make here is that the responsibility to remove Cde Mugabe from office or any public servant for that matter, is, after due process, a matter for Zimbabweans. It is certainly no business of the British to inject haste and sense of urgency in the process.

Election results in Iraq after the removal of Sadam Hussein took months to come out without questions being asked of the British and the Americans.

There is a due process, though, that has to be gone through. Zimbabwe has a Constitution that sets out the rules of how the electoral business is conducted in circumstances similar to those that we saw during the course of this momentous week.

Even John Simpson the BBC's world correspondent conceded back on Wednesday that the Zimbabwe Constitution allowed the presidential election results to be published by today, Friday. Yet the sense of urgency in British political circles and media alike implies wrong doing on the part of the Zimbabwe authorities when, in actual fact, due process, which Morgan Tsvangirai, MDC faction leader said quite sensibly on Tuesday he was going to allow to take its course.

British intervention in matters like this, I am afraid, has tended to be partisan, condescending and unhelpful. It has implied that Africans, those ‘‘benighted heathens'', cannot manage their affairs, let alone resolve their own differences peacefully.

The coded messages inherent in what they were saying was that very soon Zimbabwe was about to descend into Kenya-type chaos of murder and destruction. Talk of "tensions rising" was designed to whip up feelings of grievance to trigger a violent reaction.

Once Zimbabwe was in smoke; images of dead bodies like we saw in Kenya, would become the subject of western cameras. It is all done in the interest of informing the world what is going on in the African country. Yet, if truth be told, bodies of dead British soldiers coming from Iraq are quite rightly never paraded in public. This would be an affront of public decency.

It is essential, that Africans should consider themselves capable of doing what they have to do for themselves. Sikhanyiso Ndlovu put it nicely when he told an interviewer earlier this week that: "We do not do things in order to please you."

Yet there is an unhealthy desire to report issues of national interest to the British.

The harmonised elections were held in an atmosphere of self-imposed peace and tranquillity. It should be a measure of what a people can do without outside interference despite their differences.

The only blot to this sense of maturity was the constant stream of unofficial "results" that kept coming out as if to undermine the official results from the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission. True, there was political posturing and manoeuvring, as there was something in it for the MDC Tsvangirai faction.

For instance when the faction's secretary general, Tendai Biti, repeatedly said on Sunday, the day after the elections, that "there was no room for doubt, in fact no shadow of doubt" that the MDC had won 67 percent of the vote or had won the election, it served two purposes.

First, it was a clever way of creating in the collective mind of the British public that the opposition had finally won the election. The clever bit was that given that the strategy of the opposition party was to portray Zanu-PF as a party that "rigs" and "lies" about the elections, any figures that came out officially afterwards would be dismissed by the British public as such.

But Biti's repeated claims served another purpose: of making black people look silly. I would have thought that one claims that there is "no room for doubt" about anything when one is in possession of the full facts, not when this is but an opinion. Or one should tell the world the basis on which the claim of total sureness is made.

Another contribution to the silly season was Basildon Peta's suggestion that Morgan Tsvangirai, whom he believed to have won, should go to State House accompanied by supporters to claim the presidency.

I notice, though, that the MDC faction leader did not choose that option. For a start it serves to undermine the very institutions that allow due process to take place in peace. It also begs the question as to whether Peta would be willing to travel from South Africa to lead the supporters?

And Bishop Desmond Tutu was also suggesting in the "London Paper" that foreign troops must be deployed to "watch Zimbabwe". He is concerned about human rights and that the country might "descend into chaos." I do not know how the cleric came to that view.

What is known is that ours is a professional army that has performed its duties excellently.

There will be no requirement of an outside force to keep it in check.

And so to depart! This has been a momentous week and one in which Zimbabweans ought to reflect coolly what happened and continues to happen. For, as I write on Wednesday night, the end results of the parliamentary and presidential elections remain unknown to me.

But whatever happens, the will of Zimbabweans must prevail not through the coercion of an external force that has an axe to grind, but through the efforts of our own people.

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