From 1988 to 2017, power in the Republic of Zimbabwe was in the hands of Robert Mugabe. The Mugabe regime was characterized by a lingering economic crisis and food shortages, lack of freedom of speech, total control over the media, as well as high levels of corruption. The veterans’ organizations and youth militarized movements were actively used to fight against the opposition; a ban on international funding was applied to non-governmental organizations; the law entitled the authorities to violate the privacy of citizens’ e-mail correspondence.
From 2002 to present, Zimbabwe has been under the sanctions of a number of Western states. The European Union introduced restrictive measures first in 2002, at the initiative of the UK, which included freezing of assets of individual members in the Zimbabwean government and the associated persons. In 2002 and 2003, the USA took targeted measures against the Government of Zimbabwe, including financial and visa sanctions against individuals, a ban on the transfer of defense supplies and services, and the suspension of non-humanitarian assistance between governments. Australia introduced autonomous sanctions in 2002, targeting individuals and organizations involved in activities that seriously undermine democracy, human rights and the rule of law in Zimbabwe. In 2008, Canada’s imposed sanctions on Zimbabwe included arms embargoes, import and export restrictions, assets freeze and financial sanctions against 181 designated persons and organizations.
In mid-November 2017, riots broke out following Mugabe’s dismissal of Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa and a military coup occurred in Zimbabwe on November 15, 2017. The military blocked the major highways, seized government buildings, and protests took place in the largest cities. On November 24, 2017, Emmerson Mnangagwa was sworn in as the country’s new President.
The presidential election was scheduled for July 30, 2018. For the first time in the history of Zimbabwe, elections assumed an exceptional political heat and intrigue: the main candidates for the presidency were Emmerson Mnangagwa and a member of opposition Nelson Chamisa.
At the end of May 2018, a group of IAC experts, which included sociologists, political scientists, and economists, arrived in Zimbabwe to study the socio-economic and socio-political situation in the country.
The results of the first wave of sociological research performed by the Russian expert team showed that President Mnangagwa, representing the ZANU-PF (The Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front) party, had a lower rating among the population, as compared with the MDC (Movement for Democratic Change – Tsvangirai) party leader Nelson Chamisa, the pro-American politician, who was also loyal to the UK. 33% of respondents were ready to give their vote for Mnangagwa, while 51% of respondents planned to vote for Chamisa. This pattern of politicians’ rating was primarily related to the ZANU-PF negative legacy and the general demand for change, which the public associated more with the MDC opposition, due to the lack of an efficient program with Mnangagwa at this stage.
However, as can be seen from the comparative table below, the situation has changed fundamentally after the start of the active campaigning phase.
The analysis of campaigning of the main candidates and the national media space shows that the ZANU-PF headquarters applied the following technologies to improve the candidate’s electoral rating:
▪ active coverage of the President’s daily activities aimed at the country development and defending the interests of citizens;
▪ development and active circulation of “The Future of Zimbabwe-2030” strategy (“ZimFuture-2030”), which represents a strategic socio-economic program to improve the living standards of Zimbabweans;
▪ active dissemination of outreach materials in the form of leaflets covering the activities of President Mnangagwa, dissemination of inserts in print media;
▪ dissemination of graphics, comics, memes, infographics, photos and videos via social networks.
At the same time, bulks of information discrediting Nelson Chamisa appeared in the public space, including “The voice of people for Zimbabwe and freedom” newspaper.
The following cases contributed to the loss of rating by Nelson Chamisa:
▪ viral distribution of negative videos about Nelson Chamisa through social networks;
▪ SMS-messaging to residents of Harare and Bulawayo cities.
Mass public events were held on the main squares of the capital just before the elections, such as the Broadcast of the FIFA World Cup Final (15.07.18), “Out Arts. Culture. Heritage” Festival (July 17 – August 6, 18).
According to the IAC poll, 9 days before the election, Mnangagwa’s rating was 48%, Chamisa’s – 42%. A few days before the Voting Day, on July 27, 2018, Emmerson Mnangagwa attended the BRICS summit in Johannesburg, where he met with a number of politicians, including the President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin.
On July 30, 2018, the ZANU-PF candidate Emmerson Mnangagwa was elected a President on the first ballot with 51% of the vote, while 44% voted for the opposition candidate Nelson Chamisa.
One of the most important recommendations for the Zimbabwean presidential elections suggested by Russian experts was to make them as open and transparent as possible, ensuring the work of international observers and foreign journalists. International observers were not allowed to the elections during the Mugabe’s rule. The presidential elections in July 2018 were the first ever in the history of Zimbabwe, in which the presence of foreign observers was allowed. According to the ZEC (Zimbabwe Electoral Commission), it accredited 1,007 international and 11,019 domestic observers.
The election was attended by international observers from the following organizations:
1. Zimbabwe International Election Observation Mission (ZIEOM), organized by the IRI (International Republican Institute) and the NDI (National Democratic Institute; represented mostly by American researchers), approximately 60 observers.
2. The European Union (EU). The EU assigned more than 140 observers from all EU member states, as well as from Canada, Norway and Switzerland, to observe the election process throughout the country. The mission was headed by Elmar Brok, a long-time German member of the European Parliament.
3. The African Union (AU). The delegation was headed by Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn.
4. The Southern African Development Community (SADC, including several teams representing SADC bodies) led by Antonio Tete, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs of Angola. The delegation also included Justice Dr Patrick Matibini, Head of the SADC Parliamentary Forum Election Observation Mission, and Judge Semistocles Kaijage, Head of ECF – SADC Observation Mission.
5. The Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA).
6. The Carter Center, founded by former US President Jimmy Carter in 1982, one of the leading groups of the US election observers.
7. The Commonwealth of Nations (the British Commonwealth), the delegation was led by former President of Ghana John Mahama and included 23 observers.
8. The Association for Free Research and International Cooperation (AFRIC), 40 observers.
The government of the country provided favorable working conditions for international observers and journalists who ensured the transparency and security of the election process.
Throughout the election campaign, members of opposition led by the candidate Nelson Chamisa warmed up the protest mood among the country’s population. Thus, on the voting day July 30, mass protests started, with arson attacks and seizures of government buildings. A prompt response from the government, adequate and concerted actions of the trained police staff made it possible to avoid mass civilian casualties and to rapidly stabilize the situation in the country.
Despite the positive changes in the development of Zimbabwean democracy, Trump administration officials stated that the sanctions would stay in effect until the government of President Emmerson Mnangagwa amends the national laws restricting media freedom in Zimbabwe and allows the protest actions at the legislative level. According to the US officials, there are 141 legal and physical entities in Zimbabwe, including Emmerson Mnangagwa and former President Robert Mugabe that are under current US sanctions.
By now, the European Union is disposed more favorably towards the current government of the country.
To summarize the outcomes of the IAC monitoring and research mission in the Republic of Zimbabwe, it should be noted that:
▪ the sociological monitoring of the situation in the country has revealed the characteristics of voters’ electoral behavior and aided in the development of effective recommendations for the national government and the ZEC (Zimbabwe Electoral Commission), which ensured the competitive, open and fair elections;
▪ the IAC team has established working partnerships with local specialists with the purpose to develop democratic institutions;
▪ thanks to the collaborative work of Russian and local specialists, they were able to share experience and apply a number of best practices, as well as to develop plans for further research;
▪ the country faces the emergence of unique democratic traditions, including those with Russian experts’ contribution through their analysis and recommendations.