Opinion: Zibabweans were forgotten amidst “democratic” elections

By: Emma Bider
Today will see Robert Mugabe of the ZANU-PF party sworn in for his seventh term in office. On Aug. 16 his main opponent, MDC’s Morgan Tsvangirai, withdrew his legal challenge to the election result, leaving the road clear for Mugabe’s inauguration.

Robert Mugabe, who has been Zimbabwe's president since 1980, will be sworn into office again today.

By: EMMA BIDER

Robert Mugabe, who has been Zimbabwe's president since 1980, will be sworn into office again today.

Robert Mugabe, who has been Zimbabwe’s president since 1980, will be sworn into office today for his seventh term.

Today will see Robert Mugabe of the ZANU-PF party sworn in for his seventh term in office. On Aug. 16 his main opponent, MDC’s Morgan Tsvangirai, withdrew his legal challenge to the election result, leaving the road clear for Mugabe’s inauguration.

Zimbabwe’s elections have come and gone. Amidst the media’s loud whispers about the potential for violence, Zimbabweans voted and then were forgotten. Despite the opposition crying foul, many countries – notably South Africa – and many institutions like the UN and the South African Development Community (SADC) praised Zimbabwe for holding peaceful elections.

Clearly something has been gained here. Zimbabwe’s political elite have learned to, if not play fair, then to shield any alleged wrongdoings from the international gaze.

Yet democracy is never just about elections. The recent violence in Egypt should be enough to emphasize this fact. While Mugabe and Tsvangirai battled it out up to election day, one wonders who exactly they were fighting for.

No 2013 election platform could be found on the ZANU-PF website. MDC had a manifesto stating that Zimbabweans deserved a government that cares and works for the people, outlining assurances that they will “responsibly align and manage Zimbabwe’s natural resources” and “support all people.”

While these may seem like lofty and noteworthy promises, Tsvangirai’s reputation is not without some tarnish. There have been allegations of corruption at the local level, with local councils allowing houses to be built in parks, for example. This led to suspicion and lost him votes, according to the BBC.

Mugabe of course has his own allegations of corruption that have followed him over his decades in office. Corruption allegations surrounding this year’s elections and around elections in 2008 are widely known, yet Mugabe continues to receive tacit support for his regime from the international community.

What of Zimbabwean human rights? Mugabe pledged in a speech “hell for gays” if re-elected. On MDC’s website under Frequently Asked Questions, the party states it will “not condone gay marriages.”

What of conditions of the average Zimbabweans living in rural regions? The majority of those living in rural areas are subsistence farmers, with little or no access to reliable health care or any form of real employment

And what of those people living with HIV/AIDS? According to 2009 statistics 1.2 million Zimbabweans live with the disease and 2011 statistics report just 1.7 hospital beds per one thousand people.

This depressing list could go on. Zimbabwe’s infrastructure is crumbling, its rate of infectious disease is high, and the average life expectancy is 53 years.

It is understandable to cheer on positive news from the country. A peaceful election is seen as a step forward, a step towards greater things.

But there are good things that come out of Zimbabwe too.  Think grass roots soccer initiatives which host voluntary HIV testing tournaments. Or Theatre Services Zimbabwe, which specializes in theatre for development. Tellingly, neither of these services gets funding from the government.

The definition of democracy is a system of government by the whole population. A definition that suggests it is ultimately the wants and needs of the whole population that are taken into account by their government representatives.

This is not the case in Zimbabwe.

So while elections have taken place and – as far as we in the West know – no blood was shed, it is fairly obvious that the man once again in power is not there because he wants to give Zimbabweans what they need, and perhaps only give a certain lucky few what they want.

There should not be any celebrations in the wake of these elections. And democracy should not only manifest itself every five years. It is an ongoing process. One that Zimbabwe has yet to master.

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