“We had to show them who is in charge.”

By Tony Reeler

We all have an unscientific weakness for being always in the right, and this weakness seems to be particularly common among professional and amateur politicians. But the only way to apply something like scientific method in politics is to proceed on the assumption that there can be no political move which has no drawbacks, no undesirable consequences. To look out for these mistakes, to find them, to bring them into the open, to analyse them, and to learn from them, this is what a scientific politician as well as a political scientist must do. Scientific method in politics means that the great art of convincing ourselves that we have not made any mistakes, of ignoring them, of hiding them, and of blaming others for them, is replaced by the greater art of accepting the responsibility for them, of trying to learn from them, and of applying this knowledge so that we may avoid them in future.” (Karl Popper, The Poverty of Historicism)

The comment from Blade Nzimande says it all, and the scales have finally dropped from the eyes of all in Southern Africa. As the South African parliament descended into chaos, we realize now that the “miracle” that is (was?) South Africa was merely a temporary aberration from “normal” Southern African politics, and we can see that the “deep structure” of democracy – tolerance of criticism – has yet to embed itself in South Africa, as it has not in the whole Southern African region. This is the point of the Popper quote: that unless there is tolerance for criticism, democracy cannot flourish.

Democracy is not merely the separation of powers, regular elections, or the rule of law: it is much more than that if it is to truly flourish, and it is more than mere tolerance, but active encouragement of criticism.

South Africa and Zimbabwe are interesting in this respect. Both countries have executive presidencies, and currently both are led by presidents who seem hugely intolerant of any criticism, but the consequences are very different. In South Africa, President Zuma is regularly criticized, even ridiculed, and the latest events in the South African parliament show that there is no place that he can hide from criticism; as much as the ANC tries to keep him away from having to answer questions, the people keep demanding answers to their questions, and, despite the Stalingrad strategy, they will hunt him down even in parliament.

Zimbabwe, by contrast, has a president that seems wholly unaccountable, rarely having to answer any critical questions from any quarter, and certainly not in parliament. Parliament will debate the president’s state of the nation address, but the president will not be present to answer the questions, which President Zuma now seeks to emulate. Furthermore, publicly criticizing the president is a tricky business, even if we are now allowed to call him a goblin according to the Chief Justice. However, this may be trickier than we think, because only idiots would do this according to Chief Justice, and presumably anyone who did the call the president a goblin might be put to proving that he or she was an idiot in this ferociously intolerant country.

What seems to be the major problem in our Southern African “democracies” is the refusal to see that criticism is the basis of both good politics and good development. This is what Amartya Sen pointed out a while ago: good democracies have sound economic development, and this is considerably more than merely having robust institutions. This is not to say that robust institutions are not important. Independent courts and electoral bodies, professional state agencies, and a parliament that rigorously exercises its oversight function are of course critical, but without the acceptance of the fundamental role of criticism, these institutions erode and become shells.

Now, this is not to say that all criticism is valuable. Insult, ridicule and hate speech that so frequently masquerade as criticism serve no great purpose. Contrast the media storm over the President tripping and falling with the tepid response to his remarks about women at the recent AU summit. The former seems to have been predicated exactly by the way that the president immunizes himself against criticism, and thus his minor misfortune provides many frustrated citizens with an opportunity to show their anger, but this is trivial.

His remarks about women – amounting to a view that their best place is in the home and having babies – are much more serious, and especially when assuming the chairmanship of a body that is committing itself to empowering women in 2015. This should require demands from Zimbabwean citizens, and especially Zimbabwean women, to explain whether he is serious in this view and whether this view will render him conflicted about implementing the AU agenda. This is the kind of criticism that politicians should expect, and is what Popper is pointing out.

The point here is that politicians, just like scientists, are rarely right. Policies enacted by governments are very similar to the experiments carried out by scientists, but, unlike scientists who know that they are only likely to get partial truths (and will have the errors pointed out very quickly), politicians tend to insist that they have the right answers, that there are no hidden problems likely to emerge from their policies, and that criticism is unpatriotic. Yet history is largely a record of poor policies and mistakes by governments. One could construct an immensely long justification by reference to all the failed policies revealed in the historical record.

Take one small example from our own recent history. Government decides to follow the strictures of the World Bank and the IMF and implements an economic structural adjustment programme, with the inevitable impact on the poor as the social support framework largely disappeared. The many critics of ESAP pointed out, with recourse to the empirical record across the world of dozens of ESAP programmes, that this would have exactly the effect of marginalizing a substantial number of people. Some of those marginalized were those supporters of the government that had been responsible for removing the former colonial government, the war veterans, and they were not happy. Nonetheless the policy was applied, and the “hidden effects” that followed were the looting of the War Veterans Compensation Fund, the massive unbudgeted payout to the war veterans – leading to collapse of the Zimbabwe dollar – and food riots in 1998.

And when, during all this time in the 1990s, everyone (bar the capitalist enclave) said this is not working for us and change the policy, government merely persisted in telling us that it would work in the end. As Naomi Klein has put it, shock therapy is good for you!

And why do politicians and governments not behave like scientists? Give up their precious views when confronted with refuting evidence? It is precisely because they abhor criticism. As Popper puts it, they practice the great art of convincing themselves that they have not made any mistakes, of ignoring them, of hiding them, and of blaming others for them. Even worse than merely being immune to criticism, governments can take steps to prevent criticism: by banning political parties, shutting down the press, and even resorting to violence. In the farce that was the State of Nation Address in South Africa, both shutting down the press (by jamming electronic media) and violence (forcibly ejecting MPs) were seen. But worse happens elsewhere in Southern Africa!

Acceptance of criticism is the fundamental basis of democracy, and, even more than this, is the active fostering of criticism. It is what politicians should expect, encourage, and practice: without criticism, we can never learn from our mistakes, and we should expect to make mistakes – it is the human condition to do so. As Karl Popper has eloquently put it:

The war of ideas is a Greek invention. It is one of the most important inventions ever made. Indeed, the possibility of fighting with words and ideas instead of fighting with swords is the very basis of our civilization, and especially of all its legal and parliamentary institutions.” (Conjectures and Refutations: The Growth of Scientific Knowledge)


New politics, margin of terror, and the 2013 elections

by Tony Reeler

One of the enduring questions raised by the 2013 elections is the magnitude of the win by ZANU PF, and the even more staggering win by Robert Mugabe.  Questions about rigging aside, one relationship that keeps being posed (and answered) is the notion that ZANU PF did so well because the MDCs are so bad. Stephen Chan, a respected Zimbabwe commentator, has raised this recently, pointing out (in his view) that “…Morgan Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) performed appallingly. Outwardly confident, it made the same mistakes it had in previous elections – as if internal reflection, self-criticism and learning from mistakes were impossible”.

A similar view is expressed by the Solidarity Peace Trust (SPT):

All these issues point to a party that has not been able to strengthen its organizational and strategic framework against a repressive regime that has constantly harassed its leadership and structures. However, since 2009 these weaknesses have eroded the support of both MDCs, as was evident from opinion polls carried out in 2012, which showed a drop in support for the MDCs and Tsvangirai and an upsurge in popularity for Mugabe and his party. These weaknesses and, of particular importance to the election campaign, the failure of the two MDC formations to develop an electoral pact in 2013, resulted in the loss of several seats to ZANU PF due to a split vote. For example in Matabeleland South, 8 of the 13 seats were lost to ZANU PF because of the this factor, while in Matabeleland North a united opposition would have won 11 of the 13 seats instead of which ZANU PF won 7 out of the 13. Together these factors meant that the MDCs were a much weaker force in 2013 than they were in 2008.

Now we must also note the arguments about ZANU PF developing a strong social base due to land reform and indigenisation, and also the problems of explaining this social base by reference to Mugabe’s 1 million voter margin over Tsvangirai, and concentrate on another source of “evidence” for the result. This is the evidence deriving from public opinion surveys. Essentially, there is an argument that ZANU PF has been increasing in its popularity with the citizens of Zimbabwe, and it is this popularity that explains the election result.

But before looking at this “evidence”, let us look briefly at the argument that ZANU PF obtained this enormous increase due to a massive increase in its “social base”, and we will ignore the issues of whether this is a social base due to “positive affiliation” (identification and voluntary support) or due to “patronage” (compliance and support based on comparative advantage for supporting ZANU PF).

The basis for this “social base” is generally argued to be three-fold: old Liberation War allegiance (mostly in the rural areas), access to land from land reform, and access to the benefits (or hoped-for benefits) of indigenisation. As regards the first of these, it is indisputable that ZANU PF commands voluntary allegiance from substantial rural supporters, and it was largely this group that gave Robert Mugabe his 43% in March 2008. And, in 2008, most land reform had already been in place for nearly 10 years, and that did not seem to give Robert Mugabe the advantage that is alleged he got in 2013. The big benefit on land seems to be increased tobacco production at the cost of food production.

As for indigenisation, it seems fairly clear that there have been few actual beneficiaries in rural communities, especially in Matabeleland North and South, although there are promises for the future when ZANU PF wins the election. So the benefits of indigenisation on the voters must have been expected in the future and a reason to vote for ZANU PF, which may be a possible explanation. However, it should be pointed out that very little of the US$4 billion supposedly realised from indigenisation seems to have landed in the fiscus, so it can equally be argued that the lack of benefits for the ordinary citizens of Zimbabwe should have counted against a vote for ZANU PF.

However, the assumption is that the “social base” can be inferred mostly from voter turn out, and there seems a missing step in the logic here.

Contrast these two statements:

If ZANU PF has a social base, they will get lots of votes.
ZANU PF got lots of votes.
Therefore, ZANU PF has a social base.

If ZANU PF gets lots of votes, they have a social base.
ZANU PF has a social base.
Therefore, ZANU PF gets lots of votes.

What is obviously missing here is any obvious link between lots of votes and social base. We can empirically verify the votes: they were in the boxes and counted. We can believe that land reform and indigenisation can make people ZANU PF friendly, but there is a missing step in the logic that shows that being ZANU PF friendly comes from land reform and indigenisation independently of the voter turn-out. This is where public opinion surveys and other forms of social research have their application.

Partial support for many has been a 2012 report by Freedom House, which concluded that support for the MDC-T had slipped markedly – from 38% to 20% – and that for ZANU PF had risen by the same amount – from 17% to 31%.  This report (and the SPT report) is being mendaciously used by the ZANU PF media to “explain the victory”. Essentially, the spin is that, in the period from 2010 to 2012, MDC-T’s support was sliding, and, one year on, ZANU PF’s support had increased so dramatically that the result was intelligible to all on the basis of changes in political party support.

However, basing election outcomes on public opinion surveys is always a dicey affair, especially when so many of the people do not give an opinion. In the Freedom House 2012 survey, 47% were unwilling to state their voting intentions, and this needs to be thought about carefully: nearly half would not say. But presumably, and in the light of 2013, these were interviewees who were worried about declaring their affiliation to ZANU PF for fear of victimisation. Reality suggests that this is not the case!

But there is a more serious problem with reliance on the Freedom House report – that it is not methodologically sound, and its conclusions are probably erroneous. A more empirically sound report, “The Margin of Terror”, was compiled by Michael Bratton and Eldred Masunungure of the Afrobarometer, and this came to rather different and more nuanced conclusions than those of  Freedom House. They also provided a number of reasons why the Freedom House report was methodologically unsound.

Firstly, this report concluded, on simple voter preference, that ZANU PF and MDC-T were in a “statistical dead heat”, with the former getting 32% and the latter 31%, and only 22% were unwilling to state their preference. This did represent a decline for the MDC-T from the post 2008 election heyday to early 2009 where expressed preference for MDC-T was 57% to ZANU PF’s 10%. So the difference here between Freedom House and the Afrobarometer is both over the extent of the decline and the final positions that both parties found themselves in 2012.

Secondly, Bratton and Masunungure posed two hypotheses to account for the decline: one was the positive effect of improved government performance, and the second was the negative effect of political fear. They tested both, and the conclusions, on face value, supported both working in favour of ZANU PF.

After careful statistical analysis, it appears that some voters attributed the improved “right” direction, the “good” management of the economy, and “improved educational services” to ZANU PF’s role in the Inclusive Government. This is a paradoxical finding, given that MDC-T was responsible for fiscal control and MDC for education. This would support a view that the MDCs were not marketing themselves as effectively during the GPA as ZANU PF, and even provides support for the SPT thesis about a growing social base. But there was more to come.

On political fear, the study revealed a negative relationship between an interviewee’s expectations of violence and an intended vote for ZANU PF, and, more interestingly, that silencing opponents was more likely to make an interviewee vote against ZANU PF. Most interesting of all, the more likely an interviewee was to perceive the survey as government-sponsored, the more likely they were to express preference for ZANU PF. Furthermore, this last factor had the strongest effect on whether a person would come out openly in support of ZANU PF, and strongly suggests the operation of political fear.

However, Bratton and Masunungure then tease out the effects of people that perceive the survey to be government-sponsored and hence fearful of being honest. Through a slightly complicated analysis, they then conclude that the probable split of support for the various political parties in 2012 was MDC-T (49%), ZANU PF (45%), and all the others put together (7%). This was almost exactly, as they point out the split that obtained in the March 2008 poll, and, as they say, the analysis implies that, if voting intentions do not change, Zimbabwe can expect another close election in 2013.

If this had been the case, then Tsvangirai should have got 1.7 million votes and Mugabe 1.5 million, but actually Mugabe got 700,000 more votes against this supposed trend, and actually got 1.03 million more votes than he got in 2008, a more than 95.46% increase. But interestingly, Tsvangirai got pretty much the same number of votes as he got in 2008.

Well, opinion surveys certainly cannot argue against ballots in the box, all 3.4 million of them. But then Zimbabwe tends to disconfirm all the more general findings of political science, as we have pointed out before: clearly trends only mean things in countries other than Zimbabwe. However, given the support of analyses of the Voters’ Roll (especially in comparison with the census), it can be argued that the survey is likely to be more accurate than election result, and it still remains to explain the result on grounds more closely related to the process of the election itself.

In Zimbabwe, other trends seem to apply. Zimbabwe sees ZANU PF losing ground, regaining it through violent elections, and then being returned with two-thirds majorities in a subsequent “peaceful” election. 2013 marks the end a second such cycle in Zimbabwe: 2000 was fairly violent, 2002 was at least as violent as 2008, and 2005 was peaceful. Then we have the peaceful poll in March 2008, the horrors of June 2008, and the peaceful poll in July 2013. And obviously citizen’s opinions (and their votes) have very little to do with it. No wonder some commentators, like Dr Mandaza, wonder why we bother with elections: all they do is make a mockery of the best that political science can offer!

Being even handed under the Law

When we read in the newspaper that policemen have been charged under the Police Act for attending a political meeting we can be pleased that the Zimbabwe Republic Police are finally obeying the law that governs them. However, we have to ask whether this new found zeal for obeying the Act will now be applied in an even-handed manner? This should happen forthwith as the Police Act is unequivocal about policemen being involved in politics.

Look at what the Police Act says in Paragraph 48(1) of the Schedule to the Police Act:

48. (1) Actively participating in politics.

(2) Without derogation from the generality of subparagraph (1), a Regular Force member shall be deemed to be actively participating in politics if he—

(a) joins or associates himself with an organization or movement of a political character; or

(b) canvasses any person in support of, or otherwise actively assists, an organization or movement of a political character; or

(c) displays or wears rosettes, favours, clothing, symbols, posters, placards or like articles having a political significance; or

(d) attends a political meeting or assembly when wearing the uniform of the Police Force or any part of such uniform likely to identify him as a Regular Force member:

Provided that the provisions of this subparagraph shall not apply to a

Regular Force member who attends such meeting or assembly in uniform in the

course of his duties; or

(e) asks questions from the floor at a political meeting; or

( f ) publishes views of a political character or causes them to be published in speeches, broadcasts, letters to the press, articles, leaflets, posters, placards, books or otherwise; or

(g) does any other act whereby the public or any member thereof might reasonably be induced to identify him with an organization or movement of any political character.

photo accredited to www.zimeye.org
photo accredited to http://www.zimeye.org


So it is not okay for the Commissioner-General to publicly associate himself with ZANU PF, and he should be charged. It is not okay for Assistant Commissioner, Oliver Mandipaka, to announce whilst still a serving officer that he will stand as a candidate for ZANU PF in the next elections, and he should be charged. And all officers and ranks in the ZRP that wear any insignia of a political party should be charged, but then we might no longer have a police force left. This is clearly not a trivial problem, but, in fairness, many members of the ZRP might be ignorant of Section 48 of the Police Act, as presumably were the three benighted police officers that attended a MDC-T meeting. Probably they thought they could do so since all their colleagues were taking their lead from the Commissioner-General and declaring their party affiliations.

 So this very thorny question of Security Sector Re-Alignment that SADC keeps banging on about is probably not as complicated as we all think, at least as far as the Zimbabwe Republic Police is concerned.

 There is very clear legislation under which the ZRP must operate. No member of the ZRP shall be a member of a political party, and all the Commissioner-General needs to do is set the tone.

 Firstly, he could publicly apologise for being ignorant of the Act, and publicly resign his relationship with ZANU PF if he intends to continue in his post. Or he could resign if his allegiance to ZANU PF is more important than his job.

 Secondly, if he decides to stay and has done the decent thing, apologized, and resigned from ZANU PF, he could make a public statement indicating that he will be making it clear to the members of his force that they shall all resign from any political party. Even more than this, he will make it plain to the members of the ZRP that they should act so impartially that no member of the public might reasonably be induced to identify him with an organization or movement of any political character.

 It might be that at one aspect of Security Sector Re-Alignment  could happen very easily, but, even more important than this, the ZRP could return to the position that they had in 1999 when the Helen Susman Foundation survey showed that the public had confidence in their police.



Women don’t like female bosses

As we draw closer to elections, constitutionally to be held by the 29th October 2013, Zimbabwe has been gripped with election fever.  No day goes by without a headline or an article on elections or civil society organizations putting out statements or launching campaigns and programmes related to elections. What sparks my interest is the newly launched vote for a woman campaign which is aimed at encouraging women to vote for other women in the up-coming elections at whatever level, ward, constituency, senate, and even presidential.

In principle this is a great campaign because it aims to increases the number of women in decision making positions and thereby increases the chances of women’s issues being discussed in parliament. At a national level, in line with the new constitution, hopefully will bring about the gender equality we have been seeking for decades.  The campaign has to be strategic as women need to vote for women they identify with and who can deliver once they hold the esteemed seat.  This brings about the debate about what kind of women should be voted into political positions which almost always gets tempers flaring as it is asked why women need to have certain qualities to be voted into political officers but men do not?  For me it is about a woman with potential, who recognizes her strengths and weaknesses and has the ability to ask and accept help where she is out of her depth.  It is not about her educational qualifications and how well she speaks, but how well she can articulate an issue, be it in English or in the vernacular. 

Historically, women do not hold political power; this we must accept and therefore we are not raised to aspire to take this power, our positions were to support the men and not question their decisions, this however is changing. The women that do decide to challenge this and hold political positions state that it is an uphill battle constantly: as a woman you have to work harder and prove yourself where men do not. 

Women in power have challenges not only raised by men, but by other women who do not believe that women can hold political positions. In 2012, RAU produced a report entitled Do you have the PHD Syndrome?  [available at www.researchandadvocacyunit.org]which discussed the lack of support that women give to each other. This was based on focus group discussions held with several women’s groups. The women discussed reasons why there are so few women in politics and what are the impediments for women to enter into those spaces.  And they pointed out that women too often undermine each other!

President J Banda, photo accredited to www.maravipost.com
President J Banda, photo accredited to http://www.maravipost.com

There is need to address the PHD syndrome during this campaign as sweeping it under the carpet will not achieve the desired results.  Recently speaking during a new global talk show, South 2 North on Al Jazeera, Joyce Banda the President of Malawi,  the second African woman head of state after Ellen Johnson Sileaf, who came into power in April 2012 after the sudden death of President Bingu wa Mutharika, lamented the unwillingness of women to support and uplift one another.  She said that in Malawi she is supported by grassroots women as she used to work with them before taking up politics. As she said, “The problem comes when it is now women that are higher up, women that are your level that usually won’t stand with you, that usually don’t support you”. 

She said she was surprised to see the amount of support she gained from men during her ascendency to presidency.  “Men came out more than women. There were more men than women fighting for me. Women at the top don’t support one another. Women don’t like female bosses,” said Banda. This needs to change and the vote for a women campaign can go a long way to change perceptions about women leaders and their support base.

Women’s right to participate in decision-making in Zimbabwe

Here is an Executive Summary of a recent report by one of our researchers which appeared on the Sokwanele website:

Women in Zimbabwe constitute 52% of the population meaning that they are in the majority. This statistic does not translate to women’s proportionate representation in decision-making processes. Women are under-represented and are often left on the sidelines, while men position themselves as the front runners in politics as political leaders, in the law as judges, in business and corporate giants as directors and top management. The advantage that men enjoy, and the disadvantage that women endure are due to a number of political, social and economic factors including the nature of politics characterised by patronage and violence, the patriarchal nature of society, gender stereotyping and how these factors impact women’s decision making abilities, the distribution of wealth and women’s inability to access resources to improve their financial status.

However there are various regional and international instruments that seek to improve women’s participation in decision-making among these the Protocol to the SADC Gender and Development Protocol, the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (the Maputo Protocol) and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). Zimbabwe has done very well in ratifying these regional and international instruments, signifying its willingness to be bound by the provisions therein. The implementation of these regional and international norms has, however, not been as smooth. It has been hampered by a plethora of challenges- top of which is the non-domestication of these norms.

This has largely been a function of the dualist system that the Constitution of Zimbabwe advocates; namely that any conventions or treaties that Zimbabwe signs and ratifies cannot become binding and have the force of law unless Parliament puts in place an Act of law giving them such force. Now, Zimbabwe is in a process of making a new Constitution, whose likelihood of becoming ‘THE’ Constitution of Zimbabwe is becoming more real by the day. It is hence trite that in light of that development this analysis be conducted to determine if at all, the possible adoption of a new constitution will improve the implementation of regional and international standards that seek to improve women’s participation in decision-making processes.

If you would like to read the full report, please follow this link:


Whose Democracy?

On Monday the 22nd of October President Mugabe was reported to have told legislators, who make up the Constitutional Parliamentary Portfolio Committee (Copac), to “know where power resides” and reminded them that the reform process had been initiated by coalition principals when they signed the Global Political Agreement (GPA). “Ndisu takanyora chiya chamunoti GPA, tikachiendesa kuParliament tikati maMP vhoterai chinhu ichi. Vose vakachivhotera vachitya kudzingwa. Zvino ndodemocracy here iyoyo?, “We started this process pasina (without) democracy. Sometimes Parliament thinks it’s so sovereign that it controls the Principals. Ah kwete;(no) we are the ones who caused everything!  He said.

These statements and the question posed by the President should be asked by every Zimbabwean. What is democracy?Who does it begin with and do we have democracy in Zimbabwe? The answers that each individual gives could be unique to their understanding. Shouldn’t democracy be a means by which Zimbabweans  choose their leaders and hold them accountable for their policies and their conduct in office? Should Zimbabweans not be able to decide who represents them in parliament, and whol heads the government at the national and local levels by making choices amongstcompeting parties in regular, free and fair election? Must government not be based on the consent of the governed who are the teachers, doctors, unemployed people, vendors, farmers, mothers, brothers and others? In a democracy, is it not the people who are sovereign—are they not the highest form of political authority? Shouldn’t power flow from the people to the leaders of government, who hold power only temporarily? Is democracy something that can be purchased in a store? Can it be the rule of a whole nation by three individuals? Isn’t democracy a system of rule by laws and not by individuals? Does it not require compromise and willingness to sit down and negotiate by groups with different interests and opinions?

In a democracy, should one group always win everything it wants or should it not be the case that different combinations of groups win on different issues?  If one group is always excluded and fails to be heard, could that not turn them against the government  in anger and frustration?  Is it not the case that everyone who is willing to participate peacefully and respect the rights of others should have some say in the way the country is governed in a democracy?

Inferring from the words of the President, can a process incited by three people as a result of a negotiated effort be termed democratic? Or can such a process then change to become democratic after it started off on the wrong note? And if within that process there seems to be a dominant group that is always winning or rather forcing its will on the rest of the population, can that be democracy?

It is your call…

The Fear Factor.

There has been some controversy over two recent reports produced by Afrobarometer and Freedom House dealing with the comparative popularity of ZANU PF and MDC-T.  However, it is a controversy with greater bearing than appears at face value. It is important because the issue is not merely over political party support and which party might win an impending election. We do not need to consider popularity of other political parties since both reports indicate that their support is negligible. The crunch issue is not whether support for MDC-T is waning and increasing for ZANU PF, and why. It is the problem of explaining why such large numbers of people will not express a preference for one party or another, why this has been the case for nearly a decade, and whether the “fear factor” affects the crucial variable in political party support: does it affect who citizens actually vote for? Here are some salient points when considering how people vote in Zimbabwe:

  • The equation, politics=elections + violence, is burned into the understanding of all Zimbabweans, no matter which party one supports.
  • The relationship between fear and votes is not a simple one.
  • How free are all people from intimidation and fear, physical violation against their person, arbitrary arrest and detention?
  • To what extent are people able to protect themselves against discriminatory treatment by the state?
  • What is the point here? Fear (or its absence) measured by opinion poll does not necessarily translate into votes, as the Afrobarometer report rightly states.

Research in 2010 may shed some light, albeit on women only. In a national survey of women’s opinions on a range of issues, 78% of the sample indicated that they had voted in 2008, 70% said they felt unsafe during elections, and 63% stated that they had experienced violence during the 2008 elections. Again, a large percentage (20%) would not express a political party preference. However, women voted despite being unsafe, or experiencing or witnessing violence, so fear was present but not a factor that stopped them voting.

It therefore seems that coercion is a dubious political tool. Fear may inhibit what citizens are willing to say publicly, and it may be difficult as a consequence to easily understand what support political parties may have, especially the parties that are the cause of coercion and violence.

Presidential elections in particular are likely to be very violent, given the enormous powers of the presidency under the current constitution and legislation.

Zimbabwe can only become a fully democratic state if political freedoms are guaranteed allowing for the presence of a vigorous civil society, independent organisations, mass media, and think tanks, as well as other networks which foster civic norms, raise citizen consciousness, empower citizens to scrutinise government conduct and lobby for good-governance reforms and also fully participate in the country’s development process.[i] The guarantee of such freedoms sustains a democratic political culture.[ii] However, in Zimbabwe there continues to be widespread suppression of political freedoms to restrict political access and repress competition for power.

If you would like to read the full opinion piece please go to our website: http://www.researchandadvocacyunit.org

[i] Larry Diamond The Democratic Rollback: The Resurgence of the Predatory State p.2 adapted from his new book, The Spirit of Democracy: The Struggle to Build Free Societies Throughout the World (Times Books, 2008), © Larry Diamond..

[ii] Michael Guereritch and J Blumler Political Communication Systems and Democratic Values in J Liechtennberg (Ed) Democracy and the Mass Media Cambridge, Cambridge University Press 1990.