Let's get one thing straight: the Zimbabwean election this past Wednesday was not free. It was not fair. And it most certainly has come at a high cost to the government and the 12 million people it represents. Taking into consideration the systemic allegations of fraud, voter suppression, and concerns surrounding transparency, what's in store for the country with Africa's oldest leader?
Recently, Zimbabwe has fit squarely in the popular narrative of Africa rising. The country has painstakingly recovered from a 2008 crash (that left the official inflation rate at a mind-boggling 231,000,000%) and even managed an awkward governing coalition between Robert Mugabe's Zanu-PF party and the dynamically-opposed Morgan Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). Despite small advances in public health, education, and infrastructure, optimism in Zimbabwe's political future seems like it may be very premature.
Even as Mugabe tout's Zimbabwe's free elections, a dossier of documents from senior intelligence sources in the capital Harare have revealed the extent to which the 89-year-old African despot is willing to go to cling to power.
Mugabe and his generals have allegedly rigged ballots to disenfranchise predominately pro-MDC young and urban voters. Further, there are allegations that over 45,000 Zanu-PF youth have been trained as militiamen in order to quickly seize power should Mugabe lose, in an eerie throwback to the violence of the 2008 elections.
The documents further reveal that this covert campaign is financed by an unholy alliance of business interests from Europe and China, diamond companies, and neighboring nations. The election-fiddling is even being managed by an Israeli firm.
Let's consider the fact that there are over 100,000 centenarians registered as having voted in a country where the life expectancy hangs at an abysmal 51. In 63 constituencies, there are more recorded voters than residents.
There are two potential outcomes of the election and both, unfortunately, may prove equally harmful for Zimbabweans struggling to make their voices heard.
Either reforming opposition leader Tsvangirai wins the first round of the election, as he did in 2008, and history repeats itself as the results are contested. A lack of reform in the security sector and a special willingness to maintain the status quo at all costs make a descent into state-sponsored violence probable.
The likelier option is that Mugabe will coast to victory in a carefully-fabricated win that is obviously flawed, but not quite flawed enough to force observers into dismissing the results. His policies will continue, and his three-decade legacy that has already sunk the economy, destroyed key public services, and driven almost one in six Zimbabweans into exile will continue.
These elections offered the country a chance to make amends and take a step forward in the direction of international legitimacy — a chance which, right now, looks to have been squandered. Zimbabweans deserve better.
Election results are scheduled to be officially announced Monday, August 5.