Now, with an election due on 30 July, it seems like a good time to ask the question: why should people believe that Mugabe’s old supporters have transformed into democrats?
“I can assure you the President is a different person. He is now the chief executive of the country. He has learned. He has had the experiences of where things went wrong and this is exactly where he is correcting issues.”
Hundreds of international election observers and foreign journalists are expected in Zimbabwe for the elections.
Their presence could be crucial in influencing whether the polls are free and fair and ultimately whether the promise of a genuinely democratic dispensation is met.
In a country that has suffered so much from election violence in the past, the patronising notion of an election that is “good enough for Africa” will not stand.
Human rights groups strongly criticised election observers at the Kenyan elections last year for initially crediting the polls as “free, fair and credible”, in the words of former US Secretary of State, John Kerry.
They were embarrassed when Kenya’s Supreme Court later ruled the poll “neither transparent nor verifiable”.
This year, they will be watching closely for any attempts at rigging in Zimbabwe.
Diplomats and opposition politicians in the country have worried over the late issuing of the voters’ roll – key to a fair election. Human Rights Watch has been logging incidents of intimidation by ruling party supporters in the rural areas.
There is no comparison – so far – with the terror of the Mugabe years – when elections often meant open season on opposition politicians. There were killings, kidnappings and widespread torture.
I ventured tentatively onto this year’s campaign trail. After all, I was one of a number of BBC reporters banned from Zimbabwe until the fall of Mugabe. Journalists, human rights activists, opposition politicians were all targets of the old regime.
It was an extraordinary experience to watch the opposition MDC (Movement for Democratic Change) leader, Nelson Chamisa, campaign outside a police station in rural Masvingo province.
Those who might once have attacked him could now only watch from behind the wire fence of their barracks.
Zimbabwe’s hopes of definitively ending international isolation depends on the police and soldiers abandoning the old brutal habits.
By Fergal Keane for the BBC