Are African polls cursed . . . or there are bad losers?
A man gets to a water well to find a long queue.
After wandering at the tail-end of the queue for a few minutes, he devises a plan to get to the head of the queue and draw water without any pull and push.
“Hey! Hey!” He shouts at the people for attention.
The people stop and look at him as he walks to the head of the queue.
“You are all here while others are skinning a buffalo up the river,” he tells the people.
But before he finishes passing on the message, the queue has already dissolved, leaving him standing alone with the clear water in the well inviting him.
While standing there looking at the water and then the disappearing crowd, he is suddenly unsure whether what he has told the people is a lie or the truth.
The fact that everybody responds positively to his lie, convinced him that there was some truth in it. Then he finds himself running after the crowd to get a share of the buffalo meat.
With an election imminent in Zimbabwe, the above analogy sits comfortably in the hearts and minds of all right-minded Africans who care about the continent’s future.
This is so because already the MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai has already predicted that Zanu-PF led by Robert Mugabe will rig the forthcoming elections.
It’s not clear what rigging elections means but if at all Mugabe can rig elections, how did he sleep and allowed Tsvangirai to win a majority in parliament in 2008?
Could Mugabe, if at all the picture the world has been shown about him being this animal, murderer and power hungry monster is true, forget to rig the elections so that he can embarrass himself by sharing the government with Tsvangirai?
There are some people who will talk about the delay in the release of the presidential result in 2008 as rigging. While that is debatable, real rigging could have helped Mugabe to retain a parliamentary majority and keep MDC-T away from sharing power.
But that has not been the case over the years where MDC-T has been slowly eating into Zanu-PF’s power-base since its inception in 2000. The question then is: Why do opposition politicians dispute almost every African election?
Take Angola’s case for example. In 1992, the slain National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (Unita) leader Jonas Savimbi was beaten at the polls and as expected, he disputed the results even when the United Nations was convinced that the polls were free and fair.
Savimbi who gloated about poll fraud and intimidation demanded an investigation before the results were announced.
As per his demand, the electoral board, held onto the results so that the UN observer mission could verify Savimbi’s claims.
After several meetings, the UN team decided to declare the poll free and fair but Savimbi who had just agreed to stop the 16-year civil war then still felt cheated.
Savimbi’s party had won 34% of the vote as compared to Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA)’s 54%.
Adamant that he had been cheated in a Bicesse Accords poll, Savimbi went back into the bush to resume the civil war even when his backers, the apartheid South African regime and the USA not interested in the war then, had advised him otherwise.
The then South African foreign minister, Roelof Botha said about Savimbi’s stance: “Not one of us (in southern Africa) can afford more conflict. There must be a way to avoid further destruction.”
Ten years later, Savimbi was slain. But that did not put an end to the Angolan election dispute with the 2008 poll queried.
When Isaias Samakuva who took over from Savimbi lost to Dos Santos, he said: “The final result might not fully reflect the will that was expressed by the people of Angola in the ballot.”
Reports by several 2008 election observer missions do not point at rigging but glitches in the execution of the polls especially in the capital Luanda with the European Union observer mission leader Luisa Morgantini saying there was a ‘lack of polling officials, ballots and ink’.
Even MPLA admitted that there were some glitches in the way the poll was administered. This surely does not amount to rigging but shortcomings on the part of the electoral board.
In last year’s poll, just like MDC-T, Unita made it clear from the start that they would contest the poll result.
Another former MPLA politician, Marcolino Moco just like former Zanu-PF finance minister Simba Makoni who said the same about Mugabe, said Dos Santos would not run a free and fair election because he controls everything as if politics is not about control.
Closer home, the Rally for Democracy and Progress rallied other opposition parties for a court battle claiming unrealistically high voter turn-out which raised suspicion of ballot box stuffing and inadequate time to study the voters’ roll.
RDP and the other parties lost that court contest.
Zambia also had its fair share of election disputes. In 2008, Michael Sata who defected from the Movement for Multi-party Democracy (MMD) to form the Patriotic Front (PF) and is now the Zambian president called a stop to the vote counting citing vote rigging just when he started losing out to MMD’s Rupiah Banda.
“I won’t accept it. There is no way Rupiah Banda can defeat me. The way he must defeat me is fairly, not by corruption,” Sata fumed then.
PF campaign manager then, Emmanuel Chiluba was also convinced there was rigging saying: “What’s worrying is the rate at which our competitors are closing in.”
Responding to Sata then, MMD’s Akashambatwa Mbikusita-Lewanika said, “It’s not without significance that the complaint level was lower when their (PF’s) lead was bigger.”
This also happened in Zimbabwe in 2005 when MDC-T swept most of the seats in urban areas and Tsvangirai called a press conference to say the election was free and fair until votes from rural areas started pouring in and again, Tsvangirai called another press conference to say that Zanu-PF was rigging.
In 2006 Sata also disputed the polls when the late Levy Mwanawasa trounced him.
Claiming to be the rightful winner, Sata who grossed 29% compared to Mwanawasa’s 43%, said he would make life difficult for Mwanawasa ‘inside and outside parliament’.
Of course, Mwanawasa died mysteriously.
The same too happened in the DRC where Etienne Tshisekedi declared himself president claiming that Joseph Kabila had rigged the elections in 2011.
The recent Kenyan poll was also disputed with Raila Odinga claiming that Uhuru Kenyatta’s victory was fraudulent. Kenya’s Supreme Court stepped in to diffuse what could have been a repeat of 2007 post-electoral violence.
In almost every disputed case, violence ensued. In Angola for example, Savimbi went back to war and fought for 11 years while in the DRC, chaos is reigning and in Zimbabwe the economy is still crawling.
Most opposition political party leaders are in a hurry to claim the top job just like the man who gets to a well to find a queue. In a bid to out-smart all, they devise a lie but when everybody believes them, they too start believing in their own lies.
Right now, what Tsvangirai claims could be taken as the truth by the rest of the world and when they come to his support, he will also be unsure whether there is rigging or there isn’t when he wins the polls.