So much for the talk of Africa headed in a democratic direction. We have just witnessed open theft of an election in Zimbabwe when it was clear from the beginning that President Robert Mugabe intended to rig the polls in his favor. Ever since he was forced into a coalition government with the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) he has been preparing his ruling ZANU-PF party and its functionaries to make sure that all state institutions would be used for rigging the election at the end of July, 2013. I have written in this blog before that Zimbabwe was not ready for free and fair elections because there were no credible institutions or mechanisms in place to ensure an outcome anywhere near what can be described as a free and fair election. I said then that Zimbabwe had recently adopted a new constitution but several laws, including free elections, free speech and association, broadcasting, to name a few, had yet to be amended or completely rewritten to reflect the new constitution. Even voter registration procedures needed to be revised in line with the new constitution. None of this had occurred when the elections were held, when in fact Mugabe held all the levers of power. Could there really have been a free and fair election when the fox was still guarding the chicken coop?

What is most disconcerting is the behavior of the African Union (AU) and the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) who rushed to endorse the election results. They couldn’t possibly have believed that the election was credible. Or are they simply tired of having to deal with Mugabe and the crisis in Zimbabwe? Had they not reread their own rules for democratic elections in the region when they endorsed these farcical elections and went further by rewarding Mugabe with the rotating Chairmanship of their organization, for 2014? Having guaranteed the people of Zimbabwe that they would foster democratic rule in the country when they forced Mugabe and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) to form a unity government in 2008, they proceeded to abandon their own promise by violating their own rules.

It was obvious even three months ago that Zimbabwe would be where it is right now.  With the same incompetent and corrupt politicians who ran the country aground for 30 years. Except that this time they have had their legitimacy restored by an African community that seems to have been determined to run away from Zimbabwe’s problems, except of course for Botswana, whose government went against the tide and called for an audit of what actually went wrong in the Zimbabwean elections.

There is a lesson for the overwhelming majority of ordinary Zimbabweans who held high hopes for a change through these elections. There is always a tomorrow, and in politics it sometimes happens sooner than one expects. Your lesson is to hold your leaders and civil society to a higher standard than they exhibited in the last five years. Disunity and opportunism in the opposition ranks added to this disappointing result. I watched in horror and teary disappointment when opposition parties openly castigated each other and civic society groups openly and vehemently disagreed with the opposition party on strategies.  President Mugabe and his ZANU-PF party must have been chortling when this was going on.

Those opposed to Mugabe and what he has done to the country for the last 30 years forgot one simple truth: you cannot topple a dictator, especially one as strategic as President Robert Mugabe by going it alone. As Professor George Ayitteh, a Ghanaian economist, academic, author and President of the Free Africa Foundation said in a discussion with an MDC activist and parliamentarian, it takes a coalition of forces to defeat a dictator. By failing to bring all opposition forces together, he asked the activist, “Were you sleeping?”

The number of individuals and/or institutions that were urging opposition forces in Zimbabwe to unite against Mugabe is too numerous to recount here. By not uniting, they lost to Mugabe through a strategic blunder. And in my opinion, by working with Mugabe in the last five years and playing by his rules which changed on a daily basis, they might as well have been taking a sleeping pill.

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