A few days ago, Emmerson Mnangagwa, 75, was declared president-elect of Zimbabwe with a 50.8 per cent vote tally, avoiding a run-off against his runner-up Nelson Chamisa, 40, who won 44 per cent of the vote. In Parliament, in the lower House, ZANU-PF, the ruling party, won more than two thirds MPs in the 210-member chamber winning 144 seats to MDC’s 60 seats.
The election had been believed to be much closer than the final outcome, as a few dramatic actions happened right before the election. First Robert Mugabe expelled from ZANU-PF in the lead up to his removal from office last year, declared support for Chamisa, a move that may have cost the opposition some votes. Second, the white farmer population long a target of Mugabe’s land policies, switched support from MDC, which they helped found to ZANU-PF after the incumbent promised the farmers fresh 99-year leases.
Gerrymandering, the manipulation of constituency boundaries to maximise the effect of the incumbent party was partly responsible for downing the Opposition’s tally. MDC is very popular in the urban centres of Harare and Bulawayo in Matebeleland. In Uganda, urban constituencies like Busiro East carry nearly five to 10 times the population of peripheral seats carved all over the country.
In Uganda, the Opposition has turned up between 20 per cent and 35 per cent of the presidential vote between 1996 and 2016, but has never enjoyed those numbers in Parliament.
Inside Parliament, Mugabe often boosted his numbers by encouraging factionalism in the Opposition. At one time, MDC had broken into three factions using State favours and inducements to cause mayhem in the Opposition. This mnusu kati (half a loaf) has worked to great effect in Uganda, Kenya (where the big three from the Opposition) are now in cohabitation with the ruling party.
MDC’s results while a cause of despair when the political landscape provided the best promise in years are respectable. Mnangagwa rode on political capital from saving Zimbabwe from becoming a basket case after Mugabe left it reeling in bad debts, a collapsed currency and widespread mortgaging of national assets.
Zimbabwe’s fortunes look better now, but it will remain beholden to foreign lenders led by China, who are owed billions in cash sent to prop up the economy. It seems the West led by the United States after agreeing to remove sanctions on the incumbent, are eager to return and partake of Zimbabwe’s vast mineral wealth.
Descendants of the British settlers, who ended up taking most of Zimbabwe’s arable land have kept a semblance of an economy running and are looking for new security from ZANU-PF. Margaret Thatcher’s reneging of the land compensation deal in 1983, was the cause of this problem. Class and ethnic politics were also on display. In Zimbabwe’s dark days of war between ZANU and ZAPU, the contest was framed between the majority Shona mostly ZANU, and minority Ndebele, who were mostly ZAPU.
Mnangagwa and his deputy Gen Chiwenga are Shona and simply come from a larger clan than Mugabe whom they replaced. Zimbabweans rarely admit this schism and how it has nativised politics in their country. Zimbabweans are highly educated, with some of the highest literacy rates in the world, a formerly very stable and highly regarded education system compared to their neighbours, Zambia, South Africa, Mozambique and even Botswana.
In terms of class, Mnangagwa comes from the deep elite, a very wealthy group of people, who have been in and around State power for years. Talk of Museveni’s opponents in 2016, and Kizza Besigye and Amama Mbabazi come to mind. He is a lawyer, Chimisa graduated from a polytechnic, the only option for poorer families, who cannot make it to university. This is a subtle factor in many swing constituencies.
Mr Ssemogerere is an attorney-at-Law and an advocate. [email protected]