More than 4 500 observers from 42 countries are due to be on watch for Zimbabwe’s historic elections, in which the outcome will have widespread repercussions not just for this fractured country but across the region.
The international dimension is very much in evidence in the run-up to the first polls after 38 years under the rule of Robert Mugabe when much of the time was spent in isolation with trade sanctions, and an atrophied economy increasingly detached from foreign trade.
Both President Emmerson Mnangagwa and his main opponent, Nelson Chamisa, are courting links abroad to prove that they will be the one to bring in the desperately needed outside investment for the shattered commerce and industry, and to build diplomatic bridges.
There are attempts to emulate foreign electoral strategies. Chamisa’s campaign, say his officials, is modelled to a large extent on none other than that of Donald Trump. There are certainly some similarities – an impressive ability to work the crowd; disparagement, often crude, of opponents and a drive for the populist vote focusing on rural areas and the young and the impoverished.
Chamisa has also displayed a Trumpian attitude to facts, and on occasion has attempted to play the Trump card. The leader of the MDC (Movement for Democratic Change) declared that the US President was backing him for the Zimbabwean presidency with a promise to pump $15bn (£11.4bn) into the country’s ailing economy. Washington stated that Trump knew nothing about this and the claim was simply fake.
The 40-year-old MDC leader then invoked another head of state to prove his leadership credentials. He said he knew the Rwandan leader Paul Kagame and had been instrumental in achieving his country’s success in digital technology.
Kagame tweeted that he did not even know Chamisa.
Nevertheless, Chamisa and the MDC led alliance is running President Emmerson Mnangagwa and the ruling ZANU-PF close in the opinion polls. And he maintains he has foreign backing from, among others, politicians in the US and Israel. He had paid visits to both countries.
The MDC had pointed to critical statements by members of the US Congress about Mnangagwa, a longtime ally of Robert Mugabe in the ruling ZANU-PF party, until a bitter parting which eventually led to his predecessor’s downfall, as signs of support.
They point to comments by the Republican Senator Jeff Flake, who had pointed out Mnangagwa’s dark past.
“President Mnangagwa is not unknown to us. Until his dismissal as first Vice-President he had been closely aligned to President Mugabe, since Mugabe’s rise to power. He stands accused of orchestrating a string of massacres in the early 80s to consolidate Mugabe’s power, leaving as many as 20 000 dead in Matabeleland”, he said.
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