The Zimbabwe presidential and parliamentary election count is, naturally, receiving a lot of attention in the world’s media.
The African Union’s own elections monitoring mission has been given very limited coverage so far. The mission is headed-up by former Nigerian President Obasanjo, who led by far the largest country in Africa for a constitutional maximum of two terms before stepping down. The mission’s view is that the elections were free and orderly, and that the result will reflect the will of the Zimbabwean people, although no doubt they will have many practical concerns to air in their final report.
However, in reports like this, the Zimbabwe Elections Support Network’s much more negative assessment is being given considerably more weight. Indeed, the BBC’s World at One carried the view of the network that a million people eligible to vote were not registered. As it happens, millions of people in the UK are not registered to vote at each general election, so at face value the Zimbabwe figure seemed unremarkable. It’s not to suggest there isn’t an issue here – or course there will be many – it’s simply to say that it was impossible to tell from what was reported.
The AU and SADC missions, the latter of which will report at the end of the week, represent Africa’s own effort to ensure reasonable standards in these elections. Of course, Africans see democratic elections through a different prism from, say, many folk in the UK. The logistical implications are enormous and of course irregularities often exist in African elections which would not be commonplace here. The job of missions like the AU and SADC is to say whether, given all the difficulties we all know about, a reasonable threshold has been crossed.
Those of us in nations like the UK have to be careful not to damn elections in which millions of people have taken part, often in the most challenging of circumstances. There’s an enthusiasm in Zimbabwe for democracy now and it’s absolutely essential to recognise that; Zimbabweans deserve post-election encouragement and not sanctions as their ‘reward’.
For now, the Zimbabwe elections, while clearly not perfect, seem to have been peaceful and orderly with a high turnout.