AFRICANGLOBE – Zimbabwe and Mali – so far apart, so different but still sharing a number of commonalities, elements where the two nations, one a former British colony, the other a former French colony for the common good of ensuring that democratic values thrive. While the West African nation held the first round of presidential elections on July 28, which saw 27 candidates competing for the top job, Zimbabwe held harmonised elections on July 31 with five presidential aspirants eyeing the top job.
The first round in Mali’s vote did not produce an outright winner forcing the top two candidates, former prime minister Ibrahim Boubacar Keita and former finance minister Soumaila Cisse to face off in a runoff poll last Sunday, August 11.
Zimbabwe has travelled this route before, and bumpy as it was SADC and the African Union made efforts to unite our major political parties and also create a conducive environment for the holding of free, fair and credible elections.
What is unique about the Malian poll is that the West African nation held the election after a 4,500 strong French army intervened in January to fight al-Qaeda linked Arab and Tuareg invaders. The election was also held under the supervision of UN peacekeeping mission of about 6,000 troops from a number of African countries. This was more or less what obtained in Zimbabwe in 1980.
Despite these conditions, Malians voted peacefully and the outcome is being hailed by both regional and international observers. Hopes are high that this watershed moment would turnaround Mali’s fortunes for the better.
But more critical is that Cisse’s camp had initially voiced concerns, citing irregularities and “massive fraud”. They also accused the interim government of acting in favour of Keita’s party.
Cisse’s camp also claimed that their representatives and electoral agents had been “intimidated, questioned, and even detained by security forces and that filled ballot boxes had been found”. They argued that these irregularities had “seriously corrupted the credibility of the results”.
Interestingly, Cisse on Monday conceded defeat in a very honourable manner. Despite the earlier complaints, he realised that Mali was bigger than any of its politicians and that if he was genuine about seeking a true democratic path for Malians, then the best way was to respect the people’s voice and their choice.
It was a humbling experience when he went to see president-elect Keita in person “to congratulate him and wish him good luck”, putting everything behind him. Cisse might have come second, but when he decided to put the people of Mali ahead of his personal interests he won more than he lost in the runoff. He also taught some African opposition politicians a thing or two.
We might not at the moment understand how someone who was crying that he was being robbed decided to change his mind, but the most important thing is that Cisse realised that this was a game where there would be a winner and a loser, and by stretching out his hand to the winner, he was actually doing it to the people of Mali, and making himself a winner as well. He also made a good case for democratic values.
The Malian case also gives us another important lesson. They had regional and international observers who hailed the electoral process. When Cisse cried foul, the observers told him to take his problems to the Constitutional Court, and also told him that he could not make the allegations since the counting was underway.
Even the European Union hailed the election, with its foreign policy head Catherine Ashton urging all candidates to rally behind Keita and “support the future government, the efforts it must make to build a durable peace and restore national unity”.
Meanwhile, Zimbabweans who voted in one of the most peaceful elections since independence in 1980 are still waiting to inaugurate the victors because someone cannot rise above petty personal interests the way Mali’s Cisse has done.
The harmonised poll results were announced in record time although the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission had indicated that results would be announced within five days.
SADC, COMESA, ACP and the African Union among other observers gave the election a clean bill of health and in the process highlighted areas they think that Zimbabwe should improve on. Since the announcement of the results last week Saturday, President Mugabe has continued to receive congratulatory messages about his landslide victory and the manner in which the election was conducted.
However, Zimbabweans still have fully celebrated the fruits of their democratic right to choose their own leaders. Progress has been stalled as MDC-T leader Mr Morgan Tsvangirai is challenging the result, alleging that the process was rigged. Zanu-PF has allowed Mr Tsvangirai to challenge the result in the Constitutional Court, since it is his constitutional right to do so.
However there is a worrying trend as we contrast the recent happenings in Mali with what s happening in Zimbabwe. The Western countries which were not allowed to observe elections here became the lone voice in making unjustified and negative remarks on a process they did not observe. They have been singing from the same hymn book as the MDC-T, with Mr Tsvangirai claiming that he calls the shots because he has the Western countries on his side.
Like a jilted lover, the West is trying to arm-twist Zimbabweans into accepting what they think is right, just because it serves their interests. If the West had been invited to observe Zimbabwe’s elections, would they have agreed with the regional and continental bodies? Is an election in Zimbabwe only deemed free, fair and credible if Western countries observe it? Is the result legitimate if their Trojan horse wins?
What lessons do we learn from Mali? If democracy is government by the people, of the people, for the people, why do some politicians in Zimbabwe take the people for granted to such an extent that they do not respect their wishes? Why do they put Western interests ahead of the National Interest? Are the people being punished for making their choice? When will sense prevail so that people can move on with their lives?