The Western world judges Zimbabwe at a higher standard than it does other African countries, and that’s not entirely a bad thing.
The temptation is to demand that the European Union (EU) and the United States (US) use the same low standards on Zimbabwe as they use elsewhere on the continent, where they turn a blind eye to sham elections and ply nations led by violators of human rights with aid and investment.
However, there is no reason why Zimbabwe should not, even without the incentive of foreign assistance, aspire to the high standards in Europe on decent elections and open societies.
Many commentators will say what drives the EU and US positions on Zimbabwe is the country’s broken politics.
This is true, but it’s only part of the picture.
Broadly, the West treats countries differently based on geopolitical and economic interests; countries that are positioned to be allies in the war against terror and those that produce oil, will be given a longer leash than countries like Zimbabwe, which offer very little in return.
And where countries like Zimbabwe that offer little by way of security and economic benefits to Western giants act waywardly, by doing stuff such as upsetting the core capitalist values of property rights via white land takeovers, then they will be made an example of.
As it stands, despite a full embassy in Harare — and a very large new one being built for $200 million — and the presence of aid agencies and dozens of diplomats, it may be puzzling to realise that America’s entire foreign policy on Zimbabwe is being driven by two rightwing senators in Washington. But it should not be that puzzling.
The only thing that’s surprising is our belief that we are somehow special. We are not.
America and the EU treat Zimbabwe harshly, compared to other countries.
Instead of seeing this as a curse, perhaps it’s a blessing; we can be better than others.
The past one year has been a long, useful lecture on US and EU hypocrisy.
It’s, therefore, important to look at how the EU and US have responded to other cases of democratic deficiencies on the continent in 2018, and what Zimbabwe can learn from each particular case.
Earlier this year, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, an army man who grabbed power via a coup reversing all that feel-good Arab Spring stuff, won an election with 97% of the vote.
The result was hardly surprising; he was virtually running against himself.
All the other real contenders pulled out; the main rival was arrested and his campaign chief was beaten up.
The rest withdrew out of fear. The one contestant left was an avowed supporter of al-Sisi.
Within months of such a sham poll, the US released $1,2 billion in military assistance to Egypt.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF), pleased with al-Sisi’s reforms, which include raising taxes and cutting subsidies, including on fuel, bread and electricity, approved a $2 billion tranche of Egypt’s $12 billion extended fund facility.
Zimbabwe is unlikely to get any such bailout; Egypt is key to US interests in the Middle East, so they get a pass.
We are of no such strategic importance, plus we owe people money.
In November, the Nigerian army shot into a crowd of over a thousand protesters in the capital, Abuja, and killed 45, mostly young people.
To justify the killings, the army used Donald Trump’s anti-immigration rhetoric, in which he said a rock is just as deadly a weapon as a gun. In response, the US urged “calm and restraint on all sides”, and let it all slide.
Nigeria is not just an oil producer, but it is a useful US ally in the fight against Islamic extremism. Zimbabwe is neither.
In August, Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita won a 67% victory in a run-off against opposition rival Soumaila Cissé Keita.
How did that election go?
In the first round, 644 polling stations, almost 14% of the total, didn’t open at all because they were attacked and burnt down by militants.
Electoral officials were attacked, ballot boxes grabbed and burnt.
Some 300 people were killed in ethnic violence in the months leading to the election.
Some 250 000 people, 3% of the electorate, could not vote because of violence in the central and northern parts of Mali, and Cissé accused Keita of stuffing ballot boxes there.
The opposition claimed fraud; they said by their calculations, some voters cast their ballots in just 40 seconds at some polling stations, while in others, 100% of the votes went to Keita.
This is all very familiar, right?
The opposition went to court to challenge that first-round election, and the court dismissed their case.
The EU congratulated Keita on his re-election, and added, nonchalantly: “European Union expects all the stakeholders to work together to promote the interests of their country and their people.”
And was the election, in which polling stations were burnt down and large populations could not vote, and in which the opposition cried fraud, credible? The EU said “our observers did not see fraud but irregularities”. And that was that.
With al-Qaeda and Islamic State active in parts of Mali, the West cannot afford to shake too many tables as it would easily do in Zimbabwe.
On our own
Yes, the world is unfair on Zimbabwe.
It imposes standards on Zimbabwe that it does not impose on others.
They expect, it would appear, less of other African nations than they do of Zimbabwe.
Yet, those high standards are not anything that Zimbabweans do not deserve, in any case.
For example, we could have seen people shot by security forces and moved on, like they did in Kenya.
But, for all the other drama before it, the commission on the August 1 violence made sure this would be a big deal.
The West has turned a blind eye to more brazen voter fraud and widespread electoral violence in many polls on the continent this year.
For all the election’s faults, we did not close out certain areas to observers, kill election officials, burn down polling stations or bar half the country from voting.
Others did, and they are moving forward with the West’s help.
We could beg to be judged by those low standards too, and point to other countries and engage in whataboutery, but we should aspire for better, despite the blatant hypocrisy. Africa deserves better.
Zimbabwe, coming in from outside, had to make an extra effort to be good this year.
But even where it was evidently better than others, or at least no worse, it still was not good enough.
The West are hypocrites, clearly, and their hypocrisy must be called out. But the reality that Zimbabwe must live with, and deal with, is that the world is indeed unfair, and this is unlikely to change.
Zimbabwe’s leaders must find their way around that reality, for the benefit of their people, or they are of no use to their country whatsoever.