Bravo Botswana

As southern Africa’s leaders lined up to congratulate President Mugabe on his unbelievably crushing victory in Zimbabwe’s elections, it seemed as if the region was once again putting pals before people – siding with aged liberation leaders rather than letting the voters choose. Zuma was very quick off the mark with his ‘profound congratulations’, while Angola’s dos Santos and Namibia’s Pohamba swiftly followed suit.

Richard Lee's picture

Author

Strategic communications for WWF

August 6th, 2013

As southern Africa’s leaders lined up to congratulate President Mugabe on his unbelievably crushing victory in Zimbabwe’s elections, it seemed as if the region was once again putting pals before people – siding with aged liberation leaders rather than letting the voters choose. Zuma was very quick off the mark with his ‘profound congratulations’, while Angola’s dos Santos and Namibia’s Pohamba swiftly followed suit.

Unsurprisingly, the US, UK, Europe and Australia disagreed, issuing statements that called the polls into question – but their bark is much worse than their bite these days (indeed they’ve been easing sanctions over recent years and many people are calling for them to continue easing them despite ZANU-PF’s latest electoral theft).

What was needed was an African voice – ideally a neighbouring African voice – to criticise the polls and call for an investigation into the clearly rigged results. But who?

The answer was Botswana. Often the lone voice of reason in relation to Zimbabwe, the government in Gaborone has once again spoken out against Mugabe’s machinations – citing a host of issues that undermined the entire electoral process.

While it was careful to try and stay close to the preliminary findings of the SADC Electoral Observer Mission, Botswana clearly does not believe the official results – and has the guts to come out and say so. It even went so far as to call for an independent audit of the whole process to ‘indicate any shortcomings and irregularities that could have affected its result. This will ensure that all involved in future elections would be aware of what to look out for and that there is no repeat of the same’.

While it seems hard to imagine that Mugabe – or his friends in SADC – will agree to a real, independent audit, Botswana’s call has paved the way for other ‘progressive’ or 'pro-democratic' African states to voice their concerns. And it has – critically – shown that this is not a West v Africa fight.

But sadly, Botswana’s brave defence of democracy will probably fall on deaf ears in SADC – or at least on the deaf ears of SADC leaders. But the people of SADC – and all those fighting for democracy and openness – will have been emboldened by the statement since it shows that all hope is not lost. Authoritarian leaders and parties continue to hold sway in southern Africa – but Botswana has at least broken the silence and told the truth about Zimbabwe’ rigged elections. It's not much for the disenfranchised people of Zimbabawe to hold onto but at least the truth is out there.

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