In the lead-up to last month’s Parliamentary and Presidential elections in Zimbabwe, South Africa’s President Thabo Mbeki won some important concessions to the transparency of the ballot procedure. The most significant of these has been the posting of election results outside individual polling booths throughout the country.

This has allowed both independent observers and a well organised opposition to collate results that have been widely reported, allowing a challenge to the results compiled and announced by the ZEC. It should be remembered that the ZEC is a part of the state apparatus and, as such, was appointed and controlled by Mugabe, thus the delay in publishing results in the Presidential election. It is now nine days since Zimbabweans went to the polls.

Indeed, the advantages of incumbency are so great in many countries in Africa that a democratic vote is virtually meaningless. I saw it first hand in Uganda two years ago. Yoweri Museveni used all the power at his disposal to deny the opposition under Kiiza Besigye any hope of winning political control. Among other flagrant abuses of power in the lead-up to the election, Museveni shut down the independent media and had Besigye arrested on false charges of treason, murder and rape (all later dropped but only after he had spent several months in gaol). What is most disturbing about this is that in Africa, Uganda is seen as a bastion of democracy.

There is little doubt that, despite all the advantages of incumbency, Mugabe lost this election. But those who thought the collective will of the Zimbabwean people would be enough for Mugabe and his cronies to hand over power have perhaps overestimated the decency of the man.

Perhaps the saddest aspect of all this is that it didn’t have to be this way. Mugabe was once seen throughout the world in a similar light to Mandela, a man who had overcome great hardship to lead his people to independence over an immoral foe. But unlike Mandela, Mugabe got caught up in his own “greatness” and could not envisage how Zimbabwe would cope without him. The truth is they could not have done any worse.

The nations of Africa are right to take control of their destiny through the establishment of such bodies as the African Union (AU) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC). However such bodies and African nations in general lose all credibility when they hide behind the shameful past of colonial rule in not applying basic standards of accountability to their leaders.

If ever there was a case for United Nations intervention, this is it. Zimbabwe is no Afghanistan or even Sudan or Somalia. Power is heavily concentrated with the President; the army and militia are only well armed against a defenceless civilian population, a legitimate and popular opposition political party exists; and there is little likelihood of real support, either internally or externally for the regime. This coupled with the election result surely provides a compelling case for UN intervention.

The international community must not go back into its shell because of past and present failures. If they learn from those experiences and better understand what is and isn’t possible then successful interventions can be made. Time is up for Mugabe. He has one decision to make — do I walk or will I be pushed? If the UN did truly represent the world’s people, an intervention in Zimbabwe would be a fait accompli.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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