New Zimbabwean President, Emmerson Mnangagwa, affectionately known as ED or for his fierce reputation Ngwena (crocodile), promised free and fair elections in 2018, which many people naturally took as a breath of fresh air.
Zimbabwe’s elections have been a grotesque affair of vote-buying, threats, and even physical violence. Such calls by the President therefore promised a yearned-for break from the tortuous past.
Snow in hell
However, other people have remained sceptical of the ruling party Zanu-Pf’s machinery in general and the new President in particular; to convince them that “free, fair and credible elections” would happen under the system, would be like trying to convince them it snows in hell.
On the new President, they point out his alleged role in past elections as State Security minister, where his opponents like a former Kwekwe MP have horrifying stories to tell.
The President once told the nation that he was as “soft as wool” but when sacked from the Vice Presidency by his former boss Robert Mugabe, he wrote, himself being of the Shumba (lion) totem, with a lion’s fury, a scathing letter from exile.
In that letter, he vowed against a sitting Head of State, to come back in a few weeks, and take leadership of the country and movie-style did so, as military tanks moved into town in mid-November.
That probably points to the reality of someone, who is outwardly soft, but not as soft inside?
Rogue Lieutenants, or what?
To his credit and applause, the new President has remained consistent, at least in his utterances so far, to his promise for free, fair and credible elections as required by the Constitution.
Nonetheless, some of his most trusted henchmen have been singing from a different hymn.
In a country with a history of marred elections like Zimbabwe, utterances alone alluding to a repeat of that past can take away the forthcoming election’s freeness.
So, here, I point to a disturbing trend.
The Masvingo-based newspaper, The Mirror (11-17 January, 2018) ran a front page story with the headline “Rugeje threatens repeat of 2008”.
The paper quoted the new Zanu-PF National Commissar, Rtd. Lt. General Engelbert Rugeje as having reminded people at Mawunga Business Centre in Gutu: “We are getting towards important elections this year. I came here in 2008 when things were bad. I don’t know where Masvingo had got this spirit and I came and sorted things out.”
The time Rugeje refers to he was a serving military person, when Zanu-Pf unleashed a retributive campaign reportedly assisted by the military, after seeing that the elections were slipping out of its hands.
On December 16, 2017, Special Adviser to the President, Ambassador Christopher Mutsvangwa, was quoted by the News Day as having said: “We will win resoundingly, better than 1980 and we will mobilise with the ZDF (Zimbabwe Defence Forces).”
According to the Constitution of Zimbabwe (2013), the army should not serve the cause of any political party.
Mutsvangwa later disowned the utterances.
A few days before, the Tell Zimbabwe newspaper of Friday, December 08, 2017, quoted newly appointed Minister of State Affairs for Masvingo Province, Josaya Hungwe, thus: “In the Bible, the Kings ruled with the army. Saka patienda ku2018 elections musasiya soja. Chairman, soja apa imi mberi (When we are campaigning in 2018, do not leave the army. We will move side by side with the military).”
All these are people close to the new President and hold high ranking positions in the government or the ruling party or both.
Why has the leader not called them to order, when their statements contradict and even sabotage his stated policy?
Good cop/bad cop game?
Is it that the President is just playing Mr. Nice Guy, while his allies are threatening the people?
“Good cop/bad cop” approach is a strategy used in negotiation or interrogation. The “bad cop” is rough and makes outright threats, but the “good cop” is nice in order to get cooperation.
It shares similarities to what is called the “carrot-and-stick” approach, in which a cart rider dangles a carrot in front of a horse to urge it on, but if it refuses, he resorts to whipping it.
There are similarities to what is happening.
The President has already dangled the “carrot” in his promises for free and fair elections, and economic reforms to Zimbabweans.
But utterances of his “bad cop” comrades remind people that the system still possesses the “stick” to make sure Zanu-Pf retains power in the 2018 elections.
It is also called the use of “soft power”, backed by “hard power.”
Electoral reforms: Good talk vs good walk
For all the nice and good talk from the President, the reality is that nothing has moved in terms of electoral reforms.
For instance, the state media remains very partisan without positive coverage of other political players as is ideal.
In terms of political threats, although Mutsvangwa disowned his statement in December 2017, Rugeje has just picked up where he left in January 2018.
The new head of the army has not spoken whether in opposition or support of the political statements implicating his men and women in the ruling party’s campaign in 2018 elections.
The awarding of brand new cars to the country’s traditional chiefs, timed to happen in an election year, has been seen in some circles as the continuation from where the former President and First Secretary of the ruling party Mugabe left in his vote-buying on behalf of Zanu-PF.
This is despite the Finance Minister Hon. Patrick Chinamasa, promising expenditure cuts in the 2018 National Budget statement.
Many reports from civic organisations and political parties have indicated to the writing down of serial numbers from people who have been registering to vote in many parts of Zimbabwe in order to intimidate them.
Walking the talk, consistent talk
The President’s call for free, fair and credible elections is welcome because it is good talk.
But that good talk needs to be walked.
One of the things the President can easily do is to stop utterances by his allies who make statements that clearly contradict his announced position.
Thus, apart from walking the talk, the President must ensure the talk from his camp is also consistent.
Failure to do so will make people guess that, together with his henchmen, they are playing a “good cop/bad cop” routine, or they are approaching the 2018 harmonised elections with a “carrot” in one hand and a “stick” in another.
The “carrot” being the nice promises for free, fair and credible elections, and economic reforms, and the “stick” being the unfortunate threats that make people wonder about their safety.