By Golden Guvamatanga and Faith Chanaiwa
THERE are many reasons the July 30 2018 harmonised elections continue to hog the limelight, but the recent publication of final reports on those elections by the EU Election Observer Mission (EOM) and a local organisation, The African Cause Trust (TAC), will, without doubt, put focus on the recurring theme of calls for the formation of more local NGOs and think tanks.
These calls are founded on familiar grounds of a nagging history.
Zimbabwe is an attractive proposition in terms of resources for the West, but in the same vein, those resources need to be protected by the locals.
Since February 18 2002, when the EU, at the behest of Britain, imposed illegal economic sanctions on Zimbabwe over the Land Reform and Resettlement Programme of 2000, the bloc has been using every opportunity to demonise Harare.
Their report on the July 30 2018 harmonised elections confirms that their attitude towards Zimbabwe has yet to change.
The EU EOM report, released last month, carried a whole lot of unfounded and unsubstantiated claims over Zimbabwe’s July 30 2018 harmonised elections while the TAC report, released on Thursday last week, carried with it some useful insights into the direction the country must be taking, especially where the West is concerned.
Presenting the EU EOM final report last month, deputy chief observer Mark Stevens claimed the electoral field had been marred by what he said was a biased state media as well as uncertainty over printing and distribution of ballot papers, among other issues.
“The right to stand was provided for, the elections were competitive and political freedoms during the campaign were respected. On election day, voters enjoyed the right to vote and both campaign and Election Day were largely peaceful,” reads the report in part.
“The introduction of a number of legal and administrative changes was welcomed, including increasing the number of polling stations, limiting voters to voting only at registered station, and limiting the number of excess ballots to be printed.
Based on EU EOM monitoring, the state broadcaster, the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC), failed to abide by its legal obligation to ensure equitable and fair treatment to all political parties and candidates.
State-owned TV, radio and newspapers, which dominate the media landscape, were heavily biased in favour of the ruling party and incumbent president in their election-related coverage.
Media operated in a generally free environment during the campaign and freedom of expression was respected.
The legal framework for media, while providing for fundamental rights, needs further improvement to bring it into line with the Constitution.”
But the TAC report gave some useful insights which those who followed the pre and post-electoral periods duly took note of.
There was inclusivity in terms of media coverage.
There, too, was an open season where the opposition, in a marked departure from the past held rallies in every part of the country.
What was lost on the EU EOM was that, besides following the SADC Election Guidelines and Principles, the southern African regional bloc and the AU duly endorsed those elections as free and fair.
Those are the voices that Zimbabwe will listen to.
SADC deployed a total of 63 short and long-term observers to all the 10 provinces of Zimbabwe.
The observers were from 11 SADC member-states; namely Angola, Botswana, the DRC, Lesotho, Namibia, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, South Africa, Tanzania and Zambia.
From the various reports brought forward by different organisations, observers from these different countries arrived on July 18 and underwent specialised training facilitated by the Electoral Institute for a Sustainable Democracy in Southern Africa (EISA) on various technical aspects of election observation and reporting, using information and communication technologies (ICTs).
According to the TAC report, a one-day training workshop was conducted for provincial observer supervisors on July 25 and this was meant to further train the observers.
Furthermore, the training enabled observers to understand the local context; the design and workings of strategic institutions of elections, through interactions with stakeholders such as the faith-based organisations and the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, other political parties, the police, civil society organisations as well as the media.
Soon after the announcement of the election results, one opposition grouping, the MDC Alliance, was allowed to pursue all legal and constitutional avenues to challenge the official result but failed dismally to provide the overwhelming evidence they claimed to have to prove irregularities in the ballot.
AU endorsed the results and urged the parties to put the interests of the people first by respecting their choice.
The opposition parties’ campaigns were covered on state-controlled television while real efforts were made to give divergent political voices media space. That they could not afford to pay for airtime on the national broadcaster cannot be blamed on ZBC.
As clearly stated in the TAC report, the Constitutional Court proceedings were aired live on national television as well as other channels as a way of providing transparency.
The TAC report clearly gives a full insight on the pre and post-election activities and gives credit to the people at large for holding free and fair elections.
Article 3 of the TAC report which is titled ‘Media and Institutional Landscape’ lays bare critical insights into the conduct of the media during the said polls.
‘Mainstream media (radio, television and newspapers) were the most integral communication channels to inform the electorate about the policies and platforms of political parties and candidates running for public office. It is necessary the media present all viewpoints during a campaign so that voters make an informed choice on the most ideal political persuasion,” reads the report in part.
It further makes the following observations:
The TAC Observer Group noted that there was significant improvement and an inclusive approach which accorded all political parties presence in state-owned or controlled media, including the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) and The Herald newspaper than in previous elections. This balance in coverage started well before the campaign began as the opposition, MDC Alliance beamed its manifesto launch live on ZBC.
Most opposition political parties were accorded the opportunity to sell their manifestos on live broadcasts as well as to buy airtime for advertorials dependent on the capacity of the political players.
The Media Monitoring Committee that ZEC established with the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe and the Zimbabwe Media Commission was up to the task as it made sure relevant updates on progress was continuously provided to key and relevant media institutions for onward dissemination.
Social media channels played an important role in the dissemination of opinions and information during the 2018 election campaign though it became increasingly clear that the bulk of the information would be inaccurate and biased in favour of the opposition political parties. Hate speech proliferated on social media during the campaign, much of it directed at ZANU PF and women. The African Cause Trust considers this a violation of the right to free speech which affects the electoral environment and can be a recipe to ignite conflict.
Going by what the EUEOM report, it is clear that there was indeed bias on the manner in which they observed the polls.
They came with preconceived ideas and their report is confirmation of that bias.
History comes in handy on that issue.
In February 2002, the then MDC-T leader, the late Morgan Tsvangirai, acknowledged that his party was financed by European governments and corporations, which channelled money through British political consultants BSMG.
An article in March 2008 by Stephen Gowans reveals the intricacy of the funding network.
Part of the article reads: “It would be truly naïve to believe, for example, that the International Centre for Non-violent Conflict and Freedom House, both headed by Peter Ackerman, member of the US ruling class Council on Foreign Relations, a New York investment banker and former right hand man to Michael Milken of the ‘junk bond’ fame, is lavishing money and training on civil society groups in Zimbabwe out of humanitarian concern.”
Also, in February 2002, the leader of the EU observer mission to the country’s presidential election, Pierre Schori, was deported after he violated terms of his visa.
The then Swedish Ambassador to the UN was told by immigration officials that the expiry date of his two-week tourist visa had been brought forward by a week, necessitating his hasty departure from Zimbabwe.
Harare had then said it would not give observer status to Schori, other Swedish officials or representatives from Britain, Denmark, Finland, Germany or Holland, on the grounds that they favoured the opposition Movement for Democratic Change.
Indeed, their bias was so open it invoked excitement from Tsvangirai, who, in his interviews with several media houses, was adamant his party would be guided by what the EU said in their final report.
The then Home Affairs Minister, the late John Landa Nkomo, said Schori had broken the terms of his visa.
“We take serious exception to Mr Schori’s continued political utterances,” he said.
“He is obviously trying to cheat his way into being recognised as an accredited observer.”
There has always been a plan by the West to create NGOs whose mandate is to demonise the Government through outright lies and malice.
In April 2008, the then Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, Patrick Chinamasa, lashed out at the West for using NGOs to destabilise the country.
“It is no secret that the US and the British have poured in large sums of money behind the MDC-T’s sustained demonisation campaign,” Chinamasa said.
“Sanctions against Zimbabwe (were intensified) just before the elections,” while “…large sums of money…” were poured into Zimbabwe “…by the British and Americans to bribe people to vote against President (Robert) Mugabe.”
Chinamasa further revealed that the goal of the funding was to “…render the country ungovernable in order to justify external intervention to reverse the gains of the Land Reform Programme.”
He described ZESN as “…an American-sponsored civil society appendage of the MDC-T.”
An April 27 2008 article by Gowans titled ‘Expressions of Imperialism Within Zimbabwe’ describes ZESN as follows:
“The ZESN is funded by the US Congress and US State Department through the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Its board is comprised of a phalanx of US and British-backed fifth columnists.”
And there are many lessons to be learned from the two above quoted contrasting reports.
For starters, Zimbabwe needs to create its own NGOs and think tanks that speak to the issues affecting the masses.
It needs to have its own strategies crafted and nurtured by people on the ground like what TAC has done.
In recent weeks, The Patriot has been running a series of articles exposing the nefarious activities of NGOs.
Information we have indicates that Nelson Chamisa, the leader of the opposition MDC Alliance has been holding several meetings with a number of NGOs in a bid to paralyse the Government through a series of demonstrations lined up for this month.
This publication has learned that a purported ‘church’-based organisation has been roped in to help in the mobilisation of demonstrators in the wake of the failure by Chamisa to galvanise ‘enough’ numbers for his demonstrations.
Government must, as a matter of urgency, invest heavily in its people through its own NGOs and think tanks.
The time is now!