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Zimbabwe’s presidential election offers opportunity for post-Mugabe progress. By Wilf Mbanga

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Today, Monday July 30, 2018, Zimbabweans [went] to the polls to elect Robert Mugabe’s successor. For pretty much the average life expectancy of many Zimbabweans, one man has ruled the country with an iron fist. Eight elections were held during his rule – and every time, that fist ensured victory for Mugabe.

The current president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, 75, the man who finally ousted Mugabe in a bloodless coup last November, has also crushed his enemies ruthlessly in the past – but his iron fist lies within a well-padded velvet glove.
Mnangagwa goes head to head at the polls with Nelson Chamisa, 40, who took over as leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) after Morgan Tsvangirai died earlier this year.

Whoever wins, this election heralds a new dawn for Zimbabwe. Mugabe has gone. Things will never be the same again. Certainly, Mnangagwa brings a lot of baggage from the Mugabe era – having been the former president’s righthand man.

But he is different in many significant ways – today, Mugabe even urged voters to turn their backs on his leadership, and went so far as to wish Chamisa well. Most importantly, Mnangagwa understands business and is determined to resuscitate Zimbabwe’s moribund economy and give the people what they so desperately want and need – jobs.

He is primarily a soldier, having left Zimbabwe as a teenager in the early 1960s for military training in China. He has fashioned himself after the former communist leader Deng Xiaoping, who modernised China and laid the foundations for the economic powerhouse it has become, while maintaining a strictly authoritarian regime.

Deng abandoned many orthodox communist doctrines to incorporate elements of the free-enterprise system. Mnangagwa seems determined to do the same for Zimbabwe. He is a wealthy man in his own right, having run Zanu-PF’s and his own businesses since the early 1980s. He has been mentioned in a UN report on the plundering of mining and logging resources in the Democratic Republic of the Congo together with General Sibusiso Moyo, who is now the foreign affairs minister.

Over the eight months since he took the reins from Mugabe, Mnangagwa has given clear signals of a clean break with the past – actively courting the west, preaching and practising peace instead of violence, eschewing corruption, meeting business leaders and white farmers, and generally projecting himself as a reformist. He has met personally the many business missions that have visited the country this year, and has promised to get rid of the cumbersome bureaucracy that currently stifles new investment. He has suspended Mugabe’s populist indigenisation act, which required foreigners to cede 51% of their shares to locals (ZANU-PF, of course) in all sectors except gold and diamond mining. He has even made it his election slogan – with party supporters everywhere sporting T-shirts proclaiming “Zimbabwe is open for business”.

While Mugabe was a consummate manipulator, skilfully playing people off against each other and weaving a complex web of patronage, Mnangagwa is a much more of a strategist. He will be prepared to make tough decisions that could ultimately benefit the economy. He has certainly been more successful in attracting foreign investment in the short time he has been in power than Mugabe was in decades of berating the west.

 

The MDC’s Chamisa is just as pro-business as Mnangagwa, and to his credit has surrounded himself with several capable technocrats. There is no whiff of corruption about him and he has been drawing massive crowds in many rural areas which, under Mugabe, were no-go areas for his party. And of course the MDC’s democratic and human rights credentials are well established – while those of Zanu-PF are a constant cause for concern.

Should Chamisa win the election, there is no doubt that the world would welcome Zimbabwe back into the fold with open arms. But Mnangagwa is smart enough to realise that international recognition of his government can only come if this election is acknowledged as free and fair by the global community. While Britain has been unswervingly supportive of the post-Mugabe regime, the US has reserved judgment – recently renewing its sanctions on Zanu-PF leaders and companies, but promising to lift them once credible elections have taken place.

And there’s the rub.

Many believe it is impossible for the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission to run a free and fair poll. It is accused of rigging every election since it was established in 2004; it is still staffed largely by the military and Zanu-PF loyalists; and it has shown shameful bias towards the ruling party in recent months. For example, the law says the ballot paper should be in alphabetical order, which places Chamisa second on the 23-person list. The commission cleverly formatted the paper into two lop-sided columns, in order to place Mnangagwa at the very top of column two.

So this election could bring three possible results: if Mnangagwa wins, the MDC already has enough ammunition against the electoral commission to cry foul.

If Chamisa wins convincingly, it will be a new dawn indeed – but the military might not accept this, as the Generals have already invested a lot in Mnangagwa.

But if there is no clear winner, the most sensible way forward would be for the two protagonists to agree to a marriage of convenience – otherwise known as a government of national unity.
• Wilf Mbanga, once falsely classified by Mugabe’s government as ‘enemy of the people’, is the founder, editor and publisher of The Zimbabwean weekly, published in the UK and Johannesburg

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Gabon President Ali Bongo recovering from an undisclosed illness in Saudi Arabia

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Gabonese President Ali Bongo Ondimba is recovering from an undisclosed illness in Saudi Arabia and still performing his duties, according to a statement released on Sunday amid mounting speculation about his health.

The issue is a particularly sensitive one in the Central African nation. When Bongo’s father died in 2009 after more than four decades in power, Gabonese officials angrily denied French media reports of his death for almost a day, and shut down the internet in the country for several hours.

The statement said that Ali Bongo was suffering dizziness at his hotel in Riyad, Saudi Arabia on Oct. 24 when he sought medical care at King Faysal Hospital.

The information about the president’s health is “extremely reassuring” and the president “continues to perform his duties,” the presidency said.

The communique came amid a swirl of rumors over the president’s health back home in the Central African nation. Some media reports suggested that Bongo had suffered a stroke, though government spokesman Ike Ngouoni cautioned people about “fake news”.

“It would be in his interest entirely to make his presence. I think they’re not putting him in front of the cameras intentionally,” said Douglas A. Yates, a Paris-based Gabon expert.

One of the world’s largest producers of oil, Gabon’s wealth is far from evenly distributed. About a third of the population, estimated to be below 2 million people, live below the poverty line, according to the World Bank.

The elder Bongo, who ruled the oil-rich nation from 1967 until his 2009 death, was viewed by many as the father of the nation. His time in power, though, was dogged by allegations of corruption and the use of oil profits for personal luxuries, including properties in several European and American cities, and lavish trips abroad.

Ali Bongo won a special presidential election that was held a few months after his father’s death. The opposition claimed it was rigged.

In 2016, protesters took to the streets of the capital, Libreville, and the Parliament building was burned after Bongo’s opponent, Jean Ping, accused Bongo of vote-rigging. The European Union, the United States, and France also expressed concerns about some of the results. Gabon’s constitutional court later upheld Bongo’s victory. AP

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Nigerian army posts Trump video to justify shooting muslim Shiites

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Nigeria’s army (has) posted a video of US President Donald Trump saying soldiers would shoot migrants throwing stones to justify opening fire on a Shiite group (last) week.

In the video, Trump warns that soldiers deployed to the Mexican border could shoot Central American migrants who throw stones at them while attempting to cross illegally.

“We’re not going to put up with that. They want to throw rocks at our military, our military fights back,” said Trump in remarks made on Thursday.

“I told them (troops) consider it (a rock) a rifle. When they throw rocks like they did at the Mexican military and police, I say consider it a rifle.”

Nigeria’s defence spokesman John Agim told AFP that the army posted the video in response to criticism that its security forces had acted unlawfully.

The Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) said 49 of its members were killed after the army and police fired live bullets at crowds who marched near and in the capital Abuja. The army’s official death toll was six.

Amnesty International said Wednesday it had “strong evidence” that police and soldiers used automatic weapons against IMN members and killed about 45 people in an “unconscionable use of deadly force by soldiers and police”.

The United States embassy in Nigeria said Thursday it was “concerned” and called for an investigation.

“The video was posted in reaction to the Amnesty International report accusing the army of using weapons against pacifist Shiite protesters…. Not only did they use stones but they were carrying petrol bombs, machetes and knives, so yes, we consider them as being armed,” said Agim.

“We intervened only because the IMN members are trying to harm our people, they are always meeting us…at security check points and trying to provoke us, they even burned a police vehicle.”

Nigeria, Africa’s largest economy, is almost evenly split between a mostly Muslim north — which is predominantly Sunni — and a largely Christian south.

Experts have warned the government that a heavy-handed response to the group risks sparking conflict in a volatile region where poverty is widespread.

IMN leader Ibrahim Zakzaky has been in custody since 2015, when an army crackdown killed 300 of his supporters who were buried in mass graves, according to rights groups.

Zakzaky is facing a culpable homicide charge in connection with the 2015 violence. He remains in jail despite a court order granting him bail.

On Thursday, 120 of 400 IMN members arrested by police on Monday were  charged with “rioting, disturbance of public peace and causing hurt,” said a court official in Abuja on Friday.

According to court documents seen by AFP, the IMN members had been ordered to disperse but they “refused and started throwing stones at the police officers and other members of the public and thereby caused them bodily harm”.

All the suspects pleaded not guilty and were granted bail with the court hearing to resume on December 5.

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U.S calls on Nigeria to investigate killings of Shiite muslims by soldiers

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The United States embassy in Nigeria said on Thursday it was “concerned” and called for an investigation after supporters of an imprisoned Shiite cleric were killed in clashes with security forces.

The Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) said 49 of its members were killed this week after the army and police fired live bullets at crowds who marched near and in the capital Abuja, calling into doubt the military’s official death toll of six.

“The United States embassy is concerned by the deaths resulting from clashes between Nigerian security forces and members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria in areas surrounding Abuja,” said the US embassy in a statement.

“We urge government of Nigeria authorities to conduct a thorough investigation of the events and to take appropriate action to hold accountable those responsible for violations of Nigerian law. We urge restraint on all sides,” it added.

Amnesty International said on Wednesday it had “strong evidence” that police and soldiers used automatic weapons against IMN members and killed about 45 people.

“We have seen a shocking and unconscionable use of deadly force by soldiers and police against IMN members,” said Amnesty’s Nigeria director Osai Ojigho.

Nigeria, Africa’s largest economy, is almost evenly split between a mostly Muslim north – which is predominantly Sunni – and a largely Christian south.

Experts have warned the government that a heavy-handed response to the group risks sparking conflict in a volatile region where poverty is widespread.

IMN leader Ibrahim Zakzaky has been in custody since 2015, when an army crackdown killed 300 of his supporters, who were buried in mass graves, according to human rights groups.

Zakzaky is facing a culpable homicide charge in connection with the 2015 violence, and is in jail despite a court order granting him bail. ref: AFP

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