Dialogue an antidote to the cycle of ineffectual elections

Zanu PF spokesperson Chris Mutsvangwa ventured a response at Chatham House meeting a few weeks before elections: he said if you do not like the current system and way of doing things, take up arms and go to war. Really?

THE reality is that progressively, Zimbabwe has deteriorated in the quality of its elections. The recent 2023 harmonised elections are the crest of such deterioration.

There can be no doubt in any sober mind that has national interest at heart – no matter the political persuasion, that the elections were deeply flawed.

These elections are an illustration of how not to do elections. The only thing worse than these elections is to have a society that does not have elections at all.

So, what now? Ultimately, we must sober up to the reality that bad elections in Zimbabwe are not a legal issue; it is a political issue. The problems are political and so are the solutions. Therein lies where focus ought to be – political solutions.

But Zimbabweans have become depoliticised over time, not through fault of their own. Depoliticised means abrogating civic duty; being on flight mode and not confronting the challenge, with everyone trying to figure out how they can leave the country.

Many able and capable Zimbabweans have resorted to being nurse aids, even those eminently qualified in other fields.

And autocrats and those who subvert the will of the people love depoliticised populations, because they are easier to deal with and provide less pushback and popular responses to autocratic tendencies.

Yes, someone has been announced a winner, but in this election almost half of Zimbabweans voted for change and that is a reality that cannot be ignored.

 Over 47% of the electorate voted for change. That is a statement by the people. All things being constant, it is the kind of situation that requires the “winners” to open up the table to the “losers” with a view to bridge the divide and cure the confidence that has been shattered. That is what national interest would do.

If the winners are not magnanimous enough to recognise this reality, what do these people do? What do the winners expect the “losers” to do?

Zanu PF spokesperson Chris Mutsvangwa ventured a response at Chatham House meeting a few weeks before elections: he said if you do not like the current system and way of doing things, take up arms and go to war. Really? This is plain arrogance; the kind that breeds contempt and repulsion.

What this election has shown us, perhaps more than anything else, is that we need dialogue. It is possible that change will be achieved at some point, and even soon, but the question is at what cost?

For now, it becomes important to limit the damage that can be done by maintaining a status quo that does not work through seeking nothing but total change.

We need a two-track progress. We need political settlement operating side-by-side with a national dialogue process. Political settlement allows the frontline political protagonists to reach some consensus at least on some basic fundamentals that could take our nation forward, possibly ushering Zimbabwe into a process of transition in political culture and approaches.

National dialogue allows us to start understanding and interrogating the deeper national question on what it is to be Zimbabwean, how to build national interest and a national value system, and how to address societal attitudes and practices that take us towards failed governance and collapse of the brand Zimbabwe.

But there is a stronger case for dialogue: a long cycle of ineffectual and manipulated elections has its own limits, and it can either be broken by peaceful resolution or by strife. The latter ought to be avoided.

Zimbabweans are way too divided and this is a threat and a stumbling block to any form of nation-building that is national interest focused.

The polarisation was evident in these polls. Unless this polarisation is confronted, trust deficits remain and where no trust exists collective action suffers.

It might appear like the people have moved on and have resumed going about their daily lives since the polls and their outcome, but the quiet tension in the air is palpable and it is not good. Our collective security is under threat – the winners and the losers.

The reality is that Zimbabwe as a polity and Zimbabweans as a people are at all times the biggest losers in a manipulated and disputed zero-sum game.

It matters not whether one is part of the “winning team” or the “losing team”. We currently have committed to a Debt and Arrears Clearance Process since December 2022 wherein these elections were agreed to be a “low-hanging fruit” and a measure of political will and trust.

This process, by all measures, is all by set to be derailed. We were better off a few months before elections in this process than we are now.

For me, the Debt and Arrears Clearance Process signified the first meaningful platform and process we have had as a nation to dialogue with a reform agenda on the table. But this has now been likely disrupted by such a shameful election we have just witnessed.

If anything is to be clear, it is that Zimbabweans are the solutions to Zimbabwe and any external support is just that: support to what Zimbabweans are leading and doing.

The Sadc Election Observer Mission may state that the elections fell short of regional and Zimbabwe’s own standards, but it was just that. Beyond that, what matters is what Zimbabweans may do about it. It is difficult to see how the “victors” in these polls can enjoy the real fruits and feeling of victory, and not behave like a group partaking in a forbidden fruit or stolen treat, and it is also difficult to comprehend how those who did not get things their way would let things pass as if nothing has happened.

Neither can we expect those outside our borders, those we want to recognise Zimbabwe as an equal and to invest in the Zimbabwean project, to pretend like nothing questionable ever happened.

The more we continue to hold flawed and contested elections and the more our elections are viewed as ineffectual, the more Zimbabweans are polarised and the more we hurt the nation’s social fabric and economy.

It is a zero-sum game with no long-term benefits to the majority.

Dialogue becomes urgent for both sides.

  • Kika is a human rights and constitutional lawyer.

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