Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) chairperson, Priscilla Chigumba, waded into her first controversy as the head of the elections management body, when she was pictured in Russia with President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s adviser, Christopher Mutsvangwa.
There is a logical explanation for this, Zimbabwe had been invited to observe Russia’s elections and as the head of ZEC she felt it prudent to go, but as she has found out, perceptions matter in politics and she will be slated for that appearance.
Being pictured with Mutsvangwa ahead of elections also does not do her any favours, and to use a political term, the optics are not very good for her.
To add fuel to a raging fire, Russia has just recently been accused of meddling in some countries’ elections, notably the United States’ in November 2016 and Brexit referendum in United Kingdom.
Zimbabwean elections have always been marred by controversy and five years ago there were allegations that Nikuv had somehow gerrymandered the election result, so going to Russia and being pictured with Mutsvangwa might not be the cleverest thing that Chigumba has done.
Russia’s record regarding elections is tainted and ZEC would have not lost anything had they seconded someone else on that trip instead of Chigumba.
In future, Chigumba ought to be circumspect, select her trips carefully if she has to travel, because without this, there is risk that her trips could compromise the whole integrity and credibility of the election.
We doubt that Zimbabwe would have lost anything had Chigumba skipped the Russian trip.
Instead, if she wants to learn how elections are conducted, she can visit other countries in the region or on the continent, as there is really nothing to learn from the Russian excursion.
Chigumba was badly advised on that Russian trip and posing for pictures with Mutsvangwa was naivety on her part.
There is a lot riding on these elections, with the world keen to see whether Zimbabwe can hold free and fair polls, which could act as a guide for future investments.
Never mind the political legitimacy that the incumbent is hoping for, the economic benefits could be immense and maybe Zimbabwe could move from the doldrums and take its place among nations on a development trajectory.
Thus, the integrity of the person running elections is quite important in this regard and we expect Chigumba should know better.
She did not need to go to Russia, there was nothing in it for her.
If ZEC was desperate to send someone, they should have sent a junior official, whose presence would not have been robustly questioned as happened in this case.
As we have pointed out above, the optics are bad and the perception could harm Chigumba.