How the US is influencing Zimbabwe’s elections


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United States President Barack Obama yesterday called on Zimbabwe’s government to stop harassing its citizens and to implement reforms ahead of the coming elections. The story made headlines all over.

To the outsider, the United States has no say at all in Zimbabwe’s elections. President Robert Mugabe has barred it and the European Union from sending observers because the two imposed sanctions on Zimbabwe and therefore are biased.

But does it really matter if the US sends observers or not? That is what Washington would like us to believe. The reality, however, is what Washington is already too deep into the Zimbabwe elections and has a lot more influence than it wants us to believe. Mugabe is only barring them as a matter of principle more than anything else.

According to the testimony given to the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on African Affairs by Earl Gast, assistant administrator in Africa for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Washington assisted in the development of the new constitution, which was adopted in May 2013.

The US government worked with the Zimbabwean Parliament and civil society to ensure that the new constitution would expand protections under the bill of rights and enhance gender equity provisions.

USAID support for civil society activities culminated in an awareness-raising programme highlighting the need for youth to peacefully participate in the March 16 referendum through which a record voter turnout overwhelmingly endorsed the new constitution.

USAID continues to provide support based on three core pillars:

  • empowering citizen participation in the elections,
  • observing the election process, and
  • supporting credible election administration.

USAID is targeting the country’s youths through USAID-supported youth clubs and the “youths” have designed a groundbreaking voter mobilisation campaign that is broadcast on weekly radio programmes and through social media outlets.

“For the first time, Zimbabwean youth are discussing and debating issues related to their participation in elections. The campaign’s popularity continues to expand, and the ZEC has been critical to its success. ZEC staff members regularly participate in the radio programme and field live questions from listeners on the challenges they face in attempting to register.

“Similar programmes use engaging events such as theatre and music concerts as an opportunity to have well-known Zimbabweans disseminate information on elections and the importance of voting. Other voter outreach activities have been conducted through town hall style meetings, community dialogue, and community newsletters,” Gast said.

Ironically, while Obama was calling on Zimbabwe to implement reforms to pave way for elections, his government has not complied with one of the terms of the Global Political Agreement, namely that governments that are hosting and/or funding external radio stations broadcasting into Zimbabwe should cease such hosting and funding; and encourage the Zimbabweans running or working for external radio stations broadcasting into Zimbabwe to return to Zimbabwe.

The United States funds the Voice of America’s Studio 7 which broadcasts specifically to Zimbabwe in the country’s three major languages- English, Shona and Ndebele, though VOA is not allowed to broadcast to United States citizens because its news is classified as propaganda.

Studio 7 employs about a dozen Zimbabwean journalists.

USAID was a major contributor to Studio 7 which was launched in 2003 to replace the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation.

According to Gast, the United States is also supporting faith-based organisations’ efforts to conduct large-scale peace rallies that feature gospel music and other performances.

“Messages calling for peaceful elections are delivered by representatives from across the political spectrum as well as religious leaders, and thousands of Zimbabweans turn out for each event.”

USAID and other donors are supporting domestic election observation efforts.

It is also supporting election administration.

“Efforts are underway to secure approval of a memorandum of understanding between the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) and the Government of Zimbabwe, which would enable USAID to provide support for the ZEC’s priority actions.

“In the interim, USAID supports election administration strengthening and civil society efforts to provide evidence-based research and information on election-related best practices in the region. The goal is to provide this information to key stakeholders, including Parliamentarians and members of the ZEC, to ensure that Zimbabwe’s legal and regulatory frameworks provide a foundation for transparent and credible electoral processes consistent with international norms and guidelines.”

Despite its nice sounding name, IFES is partly funded by the United States government through USAID, the Department of Education and the Department of State.

But that is not all. USAID is also working with the Ministries of Finance and Economic Planning to strengthen human and institutional capacity for economic policy analysis, and to rebuild Zimbabwe’s statistical foundations for economic analysis.

Now that the cat is out of the bag, when Finance Minister Tendai Biti insists that the country has no money for elections, should one really wonder who that is coming from?

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Charles Rukuni
The Insider is a political and business bulletin about Zimbabwe, edited by Charles Rukuni. Founded in 1990, it was a printed 12-page subscription only newsletter until 2003 when Zimbabwe's hyper-inflation made it impossible to continue printing.

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