BY MATHEMBE DIBANDA
AFRICA is witnessing increasing resistance to autocratic regimes, Zimbabwe included, where opposition and human rights activists are taking to the streets at the risk of being arrested or shot, the Human Rights Watch (HRW) has said in its 2022 report.
Just last week, 16 Zimbabwean teachers protested in central Harare demanding improved working conditions. They later spent days in remand prison following their arrest.
In August 2018, six civilians were killed in post-election protests after soldiers fired live ammunition. The trigger-happy soldiers have not been brought to book.
In the January 2019 anti-fuel price hike protests, 17 people were shot dead, according to civic groups, and hundreds others were injured as State security agents quelled the protests.
In its report, the HRW said the arrests and fear of being shot were no longer deterring protesters in their push for good governance, and improved living conditions.
“As people see that unaccountable rulers inevitably prioritise their own interests over the publics, the popular demand for rights-respecting democracy often remains strong,” HRW executive director Kenneth Roth said.
“In country after country, large numbers of people have recently taken to the streets, even at the risk of being arrested or shot.”
The HRW said opposition parties in countries such as Zimbabwe, Uganda, Kenya, Malawi and Zambia were also forming coalitions to challenge long-serving rulers and autocracy.
In 2017, the late former President Robert Mugabe was booted out in a coup with the ordinary Zimbabweans from different political backgrounds rallying behind the coup organisers.
“In some countries ruled by autocrats that retain at least a semblance of democratic elections, opposition political parties have begun to paper over their policy differences to build alliances in pursuit of their common interest in ousting the autocrat,” Roth added.
“And as autocrats can no longer rely on subtly manipulated elections to preserve power, a growing number are resorting to overt electoral charades that guarantee their desired result but confer none of the legitimacy sought from holding an election.”
Zimbabwe is set to hold by-elections on March 26, which critics say are a window dresser for the 2023 general elections.
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