On the Road to Witness Democracy? in Zimbabwe: March 29 Elections

(Written 03/16/08)

Hello,

On March 29 Zimbabweans vote in what is turning out to be the most anticipated and yet unpredictable general election since the momentous 1980 vote that ushered in the country’s independence and attracted a record 98% participation from the electorate. At a time when Zimbabwe is experiencing the most severe social, economic and political crisis in the country’s history, March 29 embodies the ‘fierce urgency of now’ than any other time. I am on a journey as part of Africa Action’s historic solidarity with democracy, human rights and social justice struggles in Africa that for Zimbabwe, manifested in the 70s as support for the national liberation struggle. It is this same principle fo solidarity that propelled Africa Action [then as the American Committee on Africa (ACOA), the Africa Fund (AF) and Africa Policy Information Center (APIC)] to the forefront of the antiapartheid mobilisation in the U.S. I invite you to walk with me as I retrace the footprints of my predecessors at Africa Action who have been there, in Africa, at key moments not only to capture people’s aspirations and lift up seldom heard social justice voices but also in order to inform and strengthen solidarity and efforts to reshape U.S. – Africa policies.

I will be updating this blog regularly with my experiences and welcome all your questions and comments.

My journey starts now as I step onto this ‘silver bird’ with a strong feeling of a historical mission. 37,000 feet above the Atlantic ocean my impatient mind races ahead to the country I last visited close to one and a half years ago as I try to imagine what awaits me this time. Vague memories of things, the way they were then, play back in my mind like a grainy 60s video. So much has changed, at such a fast pace – it makes me feel like I am going to a totally different place. The most tracked and publicized change is in prices (inflation), – prices went up by over 150,000% in the last 18 months according to conservative official government estimates. I imagine the devastating impact of such skyrocketing cost of living, in survival terms, on families. I think of the thousands of workers who lost their jobs in factory closures, I think of thousands, who could not bear it, and left for the diaspora and i try to the impossible mathematics of estimating the disruption of this forced migration on families, friendships, relationships and culture. I remember a colleague of mine, months back, telling me that when the immigration officer stamped his passport to cross into South Africa, ‘ I felt like I escaped!’. I think of the dilapidated state of health care and education and millions of dreams crushed under the weight of the present crisis, for all these years and i wonder if a single day – March 29, can hold the answer to so many questions.

As I think of the dire humanitarian crisis gripping Zimbabwe and the hopes millions of Zimbabweans place in the coming elections, I start to put together questions i would like to ask Zimbabweans in the run up to this much expected date:

  1. Do you think you will be able to vote for the candidate of your choice on March 29? Why?
  2. What is the foremost priority to you right now?
  3. Which candidate do you think can best tackle the country’s problems?
  4. Do you have confidence that the invited observers will observe the elections impartially?
  5. Take me through your month on a paycheck that is a tiny fraction of your monthly needs?

While the March 29 vote combines the presidential, parliamentary, senate and local government elections, all eyes are on the main price –the presidential election pitting the incumbent Robert Mugabe of the Zimbabwe Africa Union Patriotic Front (ZANU PF) against veteran opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and new comer Simba Makoni, a former cabinet minister and senior member if Zanu PF.

In light of the well publicized coup threats by Zimbabwe’s army and security chiefs in the event of Mugabe losing the ballot, I wonder how much this will influence the vote. In addition to asking people direct questions, I am interested in observing the general environment in the lead up to the election focusing on issues of intimidation, violence, access to state media and impartiality of state institutions.

My first stop is South Africa where i will spend Monday night and Tuesday reconnecting to Johannesburg based vibrant Zimbabwe solidarity movement and also talk to Africa Action’s allies in the social justice movement.

Stay tuned for an update….

Dare to Invent the Future!

Briggs

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One Response to “On the Road to Witness Democracy? in Zimbabwe: March 29 Elections”

  1. Cara Says:

    I have to say I’m extraordinarily jealous that you have the opportunity to observe such a historic event on the ground. I look forward to your updates.

    I am curious about how the local press is covering the elections, since we here in the West are reading the largely anti-Mugabe reports in the international media. Could you pass along anything you come across? Give us an idea of the media coverage in the region? It’d be much appreciated. 🙂

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