Zimbabwe: A game plan that went awry
Posted: Tuesday, April 29, 2008
By Stephen T. Mambodei
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April 28, 2008
IT was a well-planned and well-calculated psychological game plan whose execution was supposed to produce a certain desired result.
Its takers wanted nothing else, but that result.
Three weeks after the poll, while the nation awaits the announcement of the full result of the historic March 29 poll, one has the feeling that the decisiveness, sense of finality, and the matter of fact mission accomplished attitude with which MDC and their backers in the Western community talk with respect to President Mugabe's leadership, is a pointer to a well-planned and well-orchestrated campaign to ensure that, that objective of "Mugabe must be stopped" designed a long time ago looks set to be realised.
To them, the 2008 harmonised polls could not have presented a better opportunity as the Zimbabwean President was surrounded by a slew of problems, which they thought they would use to their best advantage as election issues. It was also a game plan meant to shock, paralyse, immobilse.
It had an instant killer instinct. It was believably tactfully planned, just like a laboratory experiment.
It was also executed with immense speed and in some cases with military-like "precision".
On hindsight, the planners, as they revisit their strategy or go on to Plan B, they must really be wondering what went wrong, for the experiment produced a fluke.
The groundwork had been well-prepared by none other than American ambassador, James McGee, when he wrote in the Financial Gazette on February 21: "The citizens of Zimbabwe will go to the polls on March 29 to choose their representatives for public office. Despite the concerns about whether the conditions for free and fair elections . . . a growing chorus of voices is expressing doubt about the coming poll.
"My government shares the concerns expressed in recent weeks by a wide variety of organisations about the pre-election environment including reports of voter confusion and inadequate preparation, evidence of irregularities associated with registration and inspection of the voters' rolls and concerns that the violence of the past year will inevitably affect the campaign and election.
"Despite all these ominous signs, however, we urge all Zimbabweans to vote."
Then what followed were outcries of an "uneven level playing field'' with some players claiming that the election would be rigged or stolen from them.
A well-oiled international media machinery was also working for nothing but an opposition win, come what may. For hadn't Tsvangirai himself proclaimed: "Gore rino! Hazvikoni!"
As expected, people cast their ballots peacefully on March 29, and the whole nation naturally started waiting for the election results after close of polling at 7pm.
It was with amazement therefore that barely 12 hours after polling stations had closed, urban dwellers woke up to an euphoric atmosphere.
Put simply, people were celebrating an MDC-T "win" and they were also celebrating that at long last "More Morgan" was going to State House.
Car hooters and music were blaring away and people were congratulating each other.
Thanks to satellite TV, mobile phones, the Internet and the many brothers and sisters in the Diaspora who had taken over the constitutional mandate of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, and had made it their responsibility to announce results of an election in which they had not even been directly involved.
Simply stated, ZEC's independence was usurped and it did not seem to worry some sections of our society that they were setting a very dangerous precedent, and tampering with the nation's sacrosanct document - the Constitution.
With the exception of a few who had crossed over from neighbouring countries, how many from the purported three million Zimbabweans in the Diaspora returned to Zimbabwe to cast their vote?
From then on, the rumour-mill ran riot.
Allegations, counter-allegations, conspiracy theories, claims and counter-claims abounded.
Everyone suddenly became an expert, and everyone suddenly had information from impeccable sources substantiating his or her claims about the results they were peddling around.
In less than 24 hours, Zimbabwe became a stage of number crunching "experts", with the players upstaging one another, each time there was another rumour in circulation,
Then it became clear that the battle for Zimbabwe has always been a psychological one fought primarily in the public domain, the media.
This is why personalities like Morgan Tsvangirai, Simba Makoni and Arthur Mutambara are branded media constructs, for without the image building done by some media sources they would have gone nowhere politically.
By midday on March 30, this writer cross-checked to see whether the dates and times were correct. Was it a Monday morning or what?
He wondered how ZEC officials had managed to meticulously finish counting ballots from the presidential contest; 210 House of Assembly, and 60 Senate constituencies as well as 2 000 wards; collate the information and send it to the National Command Centre and broadcast it all within a space of less than 12 hours?
Where had I been when the results were announced, for I was awake for a good part of the night, waiting for the results, and my neighbourhood had had uninterrupted power supply for quite some time?
Well, more was to come. This writer was to later learn that the high spirits were a common phenomenon in a number of urban centres. There were also allegations of an influx of text messages coming from people in the Diaspora.
Then the third phase of the psychological game was put in motion. That Sunday morning, by 10am apart from President Mugabe, names of some key personalities in Zanu-PF started doing the rounds that they had dismally lost the election.
The announcements were done also in stages. The first psychological shocker was the claim that key provinces in Zanu-PF's rural strongholds of Mashonaland East, West and Central had all gone to MDC-T.
But the best of them was that MDC-T had also won major constituencies in Zanu-PF's stronghold of Uzumba Maramba-Pfungwe. As they claimed: "Zanu-PF yaita kutsvairwa chaiko". (Zanu-PF has been whitewashed).
One middle-aged lady remarked in shock and awe: "Nhai veduwe, ko inga nyika yaipa. Toringepi?" (The picture does not look good. Whither Zimbabwe?)
One of the celebrants said: "Zvino kana atorerwa (President Mugabe) Mash East neMash West kunosara ndokupi iwo matowns ari mastrongholds eMDC?" (Now if he (President Mugabe) lost Mash East and Mash West, what will he be left with since urban centres are MDC strongholds?)
Another one remarked: "Tiri kunzungu, tiri kunyimo. Chiringazuva chiya chazotsvuka chikakwata. Takati isu musi wa29 March mumwe nemumwe ngaamire panzvimbo. Mugabe kumunda. Makoni kuFinance. Tsvangirai kuState House." (Let's us look at the issue from both perspectives. Time is up. We made it clear that come March 29, each one should stand in his appointed place. President Mugabe should go back to the land. Makoni, to Finance and Tsvangirai should go and occupy State House).
The blatant lies were deliberate, but also harmful.
Within those 12 hours, the Zimbabwean landscape was deemed to be so untenable for some Zanu-PF big guns, and it was alleged that this had forced some of them to flee the country fearing people power and vengeance.
One alleged Harare International Airport employee wrote to BBC claiming that one of the airport wings had been closed to allow certain people to escape.
The alleged "massive loss by Zanu-PF" had to be credible as names of well-known politicians started being floated around. These included Zanu-PF national commissar Cde Elliot Manyika and Deputy Secretary for Youth Cde Saviour Kasukuwere.
Apart from Tsvangirai, Edgar Tekere of the Simba Makoni camp was also alleged to have made a clean sweep in the Mutare Senate constituency he was contesting, and it was claimed that he was having the last laugh on Zanu-PF.
But with time and patience, the whole nation was to learn that the former Zanu-PF secretary-general had come a dismal fourth, garnering just over 2 000 votes.
The puzzle would not be complete without further damaging information, the allegation that Cde Manyika had shot and killed an MDC supporter after the announcement of the results.
To give the so-called results credence, they had to be authenticated by none other than Basildon Peta, who claimed in an interview with Julian Marshall on News Hour, at 14:15hrs that President Mugabe was politically finished, and that all he could do was to pack his bags and retire to his Zvimba rural home.
This threat that was later repeated on April 18, by none other than Arthur Mutambara on the pirate radio station, VOA's Studio 7.
Peta claimed there was no way Cde Mugabe could survive since the unofficial results they were receiving in South Africa showed that one of his vice presidents, Cde Joice Mujuru, had lost dismally in Mt Darwin.
One wonders how Peta could make such claims when he knows full well that exit poll or no exit poll, opinion poll or no opinion poll, it was practically impossible for ZEC to have had completed the counting exercise in so short a time.
If there was no sinister agenda, it would not have made sense for anyone working under the auspices of ZEC to release results to the outside world before fulfilling their national mandate of announcing them to Zimbabweans who were primary stakeholders in the whole exercise.
That the results were a subject of interest not only nationally, but also regionally and internationally was well known, for since 2000, Zimbabwe has become a battleground, and every activity is always put under microscopic scrutiny.
This is why ZEC invited a number of authoritative organisations and individuals to observe the process.
If people had wanted to use their common sense, they would have asked themselves how results from one or two wards in a constituency could be translated into a national result, even a representative sample and irrespective of who had won or lost in that particular ward?
This writer also realised that it was an exercise in futility to argue, let alone disagree with people who were celebrating a result that had not been officially announced.
Late Sunday, as the rumor mill went into overdrive, with the merrymaking going on and the onslaught continuing, some people started showing signs of exasperation and frustration as ZEC had not yet announced any result.
As usual, the term "rigging" started being floated around as some of these people thought that the delay was a tactic being used by ZEC and Zanu-PF to rig the election, and automatically, steal the victory from Tsvangirai.
But the psychological game was still being played.
The big one came on Sunday evening when Studio 7 hosted by the Voice of America made a special announcement from the American Embassy in Harare advising all American citizens resident in Zimbabwe to move to safe areas as they expected that violence would break out at any moment, due to delays by ZEC in announcing the results.
In the same bulletin, Cde Manyika was also interviewed about the alleged shooting incident, an allegation he vehemently denied.
By Monday, the euphoria started dying down, and what was on people's lips was when ZEC would start announcing the results.
When the results started coming in for the better part of the week, it was evident that people were doing nothing but making post-mortems of a partial result and making conclusions based on that.
But the damage from Sunday had already been done, and it is a damage that will take time to repair.
MDC-T also heightened the tempo, when they threatened that if ZEC did not announce the presidential result they would announce their own version of the presidential result, which they actually did on April 2.
And, it was a result that gave Tsvangirai a lead over other presidential candidates.
And this was followed by Tsvangirai's "victory" speech, all actions, which were meant to force ZEC to announce premature results, especially the presidential results.
This is why this writer maintains that the post-election posturing by MDC-T and their backers was nothing but a psychological game.
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