By Crispy Kaheru
Coordinator – Citizens' Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda (CCEDU)
The pre-election environment in Zimbabwe was described by many as a 'confusingly calm' one. Back in 2008, six months prior to Zimbabwe elections then, all streets and villages were abuzz with campaign slogans, songs, rallies, political meetings and candidates' posters. Of course six months before an election, campaigns had not yet been officially sanctioned – but they were happening. Come 2013, it was very different – very quiet, a handful of campaign rallies, low enthusiasm and it could pass as a somber environment – even a week to the polls.
A recent conversation with a leader from one of Zimbabwe's major political parties revealed that this time round, 'they' had chosen to do it differently but strategically; 'feed the cow at home and only bring it out for sell on the market day'. Now, what does this mean? Probably it provided the clearest answer to why the pre-election environment was too calm. He explained: "you don't show everyone that you are 'feeding the cow'; you only bring it out on the market day when it's going to be sold off. Well, this is more confusing. So, how do you feed the cow? Many in Zimbabwe contend that feeding the cow entails doing those undercover things that matter most and that will definitely assure you of a win, come the Election Day. For instance, two weeks ago, Zimbabwe conducted the special voting exercise where security and civil service personnel cast their ballots prior to the main Election Day. Many have argued that because the ballots of the special voting exercise had to be stored for two good weeks before they are counted together with those from the July 31st general election, that was a way of 'feeding the cow' at home by one of the political parties. And that because some traditional rulers (chiefs) were distributing food stuff to their subjects and asking them to vote in a particular manner, they were 'feeding the cow at home'. And because the traditional chiefs are officially facilitated by the government in terms of salary packs, they feel obliged to 'feed the cow' but also bring 'the cow' out to the market on the market day.
With all these correlated perceptions or realities, it was hard to take away the belief that the Zimbabwe election was a purely a Harare boardroom business that was taken to the polling stations only to paint illusions of public participation. For Chideu an elderly truck driver in Harare, the Zimbabwean population was being hoodwinked that this was an election yet in real sense it was a mere soccer match between the military and the international community (western powers). Whichever side applied tact with unrelenting brutality was the side that would take the day in the July 31st poll. In Chideu's eyes, this exercise had nothing to do with the ordinary people of Zimbabwe. Chideu's opinion is not an isolated one; it is a popular belief amongst many other average citizens.
Whether or not the cow was fed well, it was herded to the market on 31st July and whether it was healthy to catch the eye of the first buyer, the entire world will be able to tell very soon. Stakeholders however remain optimistic that what was seen as soccer game or a cow feeding business is likely to end up into a second round where the top dogs will then throw away the veil of pretence and run ruthless, blunt, and overt campaigns. This will probably be the time when candidates will prove their 'true colours', when the military is anticipated to draw out its political daggers and when the international community is likely to show its hand.