A letter from the diaspora

Dear Friends.
Iran has dominated the news here this last week. The sight of thousands of people, many carrying placards asking Where is my vote? has a tragic resonance for anyone who has ever participated in a supposedly democratic process only to find, when the results are announced, that their votes counted for nothing.

It is all too easy for outsiders to criticise the internal politics of countries ruled by a different system of government but that is not my purpose here. What is, however, tragically familiar to Zimbabweans watching the Iranian situation unfold is the resemblance to our own electoral process: an electoral commission controlled and staffed by the ruling party, media outlets in the hands of pro-government officials, a partisan police force, a youth-wing comprised of armed youngsters indoctrinated with so-called cultural values and the banning of all foreign reporters. All this is very familiar to Zimbabweans; above all, we recognise from our own experience the stunned disbelief of the voters when they hear results they perceive to have been rigged in some way. Irans Guardian Council has announced that they will allow a partial recount of some of the ballot boxes but its hard to see how that can satisfy the very real discontent felt by a large swathe of the electorate who feel cheated by the results.

It is that sense of the unfairness of the process that has brought Iranians out on the streets in their thousands. The non-violent demonstrations have been going on for days now, seven people have been killed so far. What the demonstrators want is fresh elections, partial recounts will not satisfy them or assuage their anger and conviction that their vote has been stolen.

Zimbabweans know that feeling only too well; they may not have taken to the streets in their thousands but they have not forgotten how they were cheated time and again at the ballot box by a ruling party and a dictator intent on remaining in power. They have not forgotten why they are in exile all over the world.

Do you re-engage Robert Mugabe or do you continue to alienate him? Morgan Tsvangirai is reported to have asked in an interview he gave in the US. Coincidentally, on the African continent, President Jacob Zuma was indirectly tackling the same topic in a TV conversation with President Paul Kagame of Ruanda after the World Economic Forum held in Cape Town recently.

How do we deal with leaders who will not relinquish power, Zuma asked, naming no names. It is President Zumas belief that one of the reasons these Big Men hold on so tenaciously to power is their fear of prosecution for past misdeeds. A way out of this dilemma, the South African President suggested, was to grant them immunity from prosecution. It sounds so easy, doesnt it? Secure in the knowledge that they are untouchable for the rest of their lives, Africas dictators would quietly leave the stage and live out their lives in peace and luxury no doubt while their ruined countries were left to rebuild their shattered economies and mend millions of broken lives. Quite apart from the injustice of such a solution, there is a fallacy in President Zumas argument.

Having let the prime suspects off the hook, what would happen to all the dictators foot soldiers who carried out their leadersorders to kill, maim and terrorise the populace? Would they also be granted immunity? And what is it that makes President Zuma so sure that the offer of immunity would be enough to tempt these power-hungry dictators to surrender power when it is power itself that provides them with the adrenalin to keep going. Take away the adrenalin of power and you would very soon see the natural aging process take over.

The rumour that it is Chinese drugs and other medical interventions that keep our own 85 year old President looking so youthful may or may not be factual but to my mind it is the operation of naked power that provides him with his eternal youth. He is not lightly going to give that up. We see evidence of that already with the so-called Inclusive Government where the army, the police and control of the judiciary remain firmly in Mugabes hands. One look at events of the past week in Zimbabwe illustrates the point.

Even while the Amnesty International Head is in the country, seeing for herself the shocking abuse of human rights at every level, the shameless exercise of brutal power by the police goes on. The MDC Director General is arrested and gaoled facing a charge of perjury; Woza women are once again subjected to police beating and imprisonment for daring to take to the streets to commemorate World Refugee Day; violent farm invasions continue unabated and Zanu PF youth are still occupying schools in some areas, threatening and intimidating teachers and children. The truth is that Zanu PF are in election mode and this is all part of the softening up process to prepare the voters for what is to come. The message is loud and clear: Mugabe and Zanu PF will never cede power. Mugabe has said as much. It is the bullet not the ballot box that keeps him in power.

What is needed now is for Africa and the international community to ensure that Zimbabwe has the right procedures in place to ensure that this time elections will be run by an independent body with international monitors at every step of the process. Unless that happens, Zimbabwe is fated to endure more years of the dictators rule as he steals yet another election.

Prime Minister Tsvangirai is due to speak to Zimbabweans in London on Saturday and will apparently attempt to persuade his audience to return home. Not much chance of that, Id say, while Mugabe is still there. Morgan Tsvangirai and Tendai Biti may be taken in by the famous Mugabe charm and smooth manners, most Zimbabweans simply dont trust the man. They have good reason not to.

Yours in the (continuing) struggle PH. aka Pauline Henson author of Going Home and Countdown political detective stories set in Zimbabwe and available on Amazon and Lulu.com

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