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Election looks like it will bring change to Zimbabwe

Sunday, April 6, 2008 | 10:00 a.m. CDT; updated 4:58 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Stuart Loory, who holds the Lee Hills Chair in Free-Press Studies at the MU School of Journalism, is the moderator of the weekly radio program “Global Journalist.” It airs at 6:30 p.m. Thursdays on KBIA/91.3 FM or at www.globaljournalist.org.

Loory: Reports out of Zimbabwe say Robert Mugabe, the country’s undisputed leader for 28 years, has conceded defeat in the March 30 election. He hasn’t made the concession publicly but reportedly to his family and his closest advisers. If there is a transition to a new administration, will that transition take place peacefully? We are in a waiting mode, the outcome of which could not only affect beleaguered Zimbabwe, now suffering an economic shutdown, but all of southern Africa. Mugabe may be more ready to give up his position than his subordinates are to give up theirs. Army leaders have said they won’t serve another administration. Police commanders must worry about the retribution that will follow if they are replaced. Those who have lived by corruption have to be worried about facing charges. If there is a new leadership, it will have to come to office prepared to do something about the world’s highest inflation rate of more than 100,000 percent per year and an unemployment rate of 80 percent. In the meantime, things are not going smoothly in a transition to the coalition government in Kenya, where the ruling party lost an election in January but refused to give up power. In Botswana, however, there was an orderly, joyous inauguration of a new president. Will Kenya or Botswana be a model for Zimbabwe? SW Radio Africa is reporting that Morgan Tsvangirai has won more than 50 percent of the vote and can assume the presidency. Is that right?

Gerry Jackson, station manager, SW Radio Africa, London: That is the figure the Movement for Democratic Change, the opposition party, is releasing based upon election figures that were posted outside polling stations. They’re saying Tsvangirai has won 50.3 percent of the vote, so no runoff is required. Other independent figures suggest Tsvangirai won 49 percent and that a runoff will be needed. The government is saying it’s prepared for a runoff, but there’s been no official presidential release of election figures. Parliamentary figures have been released, and the opposition has a majority in parliament.

Loory: What about reports that Mugabe has conceded, at least to friends, family and staff members?

Jackson: We haven’t heard that. The government shut down the information highway years ago, so it’s almost impossible to get accurate information. We have heard that the politburo and the chief of staff are split about the way forward.

Loory: Are these really the final days of Mugabe’s 28-year rule?

Andrew Meldrum, Nieman fellow, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts: If not days, it’s weeks. Mugabe’s options have narrowed, and if he goes into the runoff, it has to be held within three weeks. He will probably try to rig the runoff so that he wins, but he doesn’t control parliament. Mugabe has never ruled in a way that he would be working with an opposition party that has a majority in parliament, but his options have become limited.

Loory: Is it a surprise the election has gone this far and hasn’t already been rigged?

Meldrum: It was rigged, but the opposition vote against Mugabe was so strong it wasn’t rigged enough. There was an element of transparency with voting results posted outside each polling place for the first time. Opposition supporters took pictures of that data, and they’re collating it so they can measure those results against the official ones when they’re released.

Loory: Will Mugabe concede publicly and will Tsvangirai assume the presidency?

Phyllis Kachere, deputy news editor, Sunday Mail, Harare, Zimbabwe: I’m not sure because the election result hasn’t been announced yet.

Loory: Why is it taking so long to announce it?

Kachere: The Zimbabwe electoral commission announced it is still collecting the results. That is the official position.

Loory: Do you think the results released by the MDC are false?

Kachere: I don’t think they are false. Perhaps there has been a bit of exaggeration, but the indication is Tsvangirai has probably won.

Loory: Hasn’t Mugabe’s party conceded the MDC will have control of parliament?

Kachere: That is very true.

Loory: What will happen if Tsvangirai takes over? Will there be retribution against the Zanu-PF, the police and the corrupt members of Mugabe’s staff?

Kachere: The MDC secretary general says they would be too busy sorting out the problems in Zimbabwe so that they wouldn’t have time for retribution.

Loory: Is that having an impact on Mugabe’s government, and will it help them give up power?

Kachere: Everyone would like to think if there have been transgressions in the law, they would want to allow the law to take its course. I’m not sure what is going to happen, but there have been assurances there won’t be retribution.

Loory: Will a new government be able to bring the economy back into control, to lower inflation and unemployment?

Kachere: I’m not sure, but they have said the World Bank or the International Monetary Fund, with the balance of support with trade, will shape up the economy. With that kind of assistance, a lot could be done.

Jackson: The West and the offices of the IMF and the World Bank are offering lots of money, and Zimbabwe is going to need a lot of money. But more importantly, it’s going to need committed, honest people to use that money properly to rebuild true destruction. That is going to be a tough task.

Loory: Is the MDC going to be significantly more honest than the Mugabe government?

Meldrum: There is a big hope, not so much that the party is going to be more honest, but that with a new constitution there are going to be mechanisms in place to hold any government more accountable than this government has been held. Zimbabweans can’t put their faith in any single party, but they could put it into a new constitution and into a new system whereby every government ministry will be held accountable.

Loory: How is the transition to a new government going in Kenya?

Boni Odinga, reporter, Kenya Television Network, Nairobi, Kenya: In Kenya, there is a light at the end of the tunnel because it seems like they finally have agreed on sharing the cabinet positions equitably. What is happening in Zimbabwe shows how quickly an autocratic regime will follow suit and use underhanded means of clinging to power. What happens in Kenya should be a good example because of where we came from in 2002. When a party wins, it has won. There is no middle ground.

Loory: Why did the transition in Botswana go so easily, and what could Kenya and Zimbabwe learn from that?

Outsa Mokone, editor and publisher, Sunday Standard, Gaborone, Botswana: The difference between the transition in Botswana and the transition in Kenya is the transition here didn’t involve an opposition government taking over power. We had a member of the party ascending from vice presidency. Secondly, the party managed the transition more than the people in power did and lastly, Botswana has amended its constitution.

Loory: When we talked about Zimbabwe three weeks ago, the outlook for change before the election was not at all hopeful. Today we can be more optimistic, but we still don’t know for certain what may happen.

Producers of Global Journalist are Missouri School of Journalism graduate students Jared Gassen, Eunjung Kim, Hui Wang and Catherine Wolf.


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