Is Zimbabwe’s election really a new start?

What makes this election extraordinary is principally that Robert Mugabe isn’t standing and won’t win it. Also, that although Chamisa has complained about long queues at polling stations, the 75% turnout, openly held rival candidate rallies  and lack of systematic violence suggests that this poll is as close to free as you’re going to get. Most extraordinary of all, is that the result is not known in advance of the count – it is, at the time of writing, ‘too close to call’, so here is a Zimbabwe election that really could herald a new start…


Beneath these superficially interesting differences, how much is substantively new?

Are there any actual policy differences between Mnangagwa and Chamisa, between ZANU-PF and MDC? Since the main goal of MDC was in its name – Movement for Democratic Change – and Manangagwa, on behalf of ZANU-PF seems to have delivered that, what else separates the two? Manangagwa has distanced himself from Mugabe whereas Chamisa has welcomed his vote – but this is all about tactics not policy.

Chamisa has said the current government is “clueless and directionless.” Yes, but what are MDC’s policies? Well Chamisa has certainly has set out some bold initiatives:

In January he said he would solve the country’s three-year-old liquidity crisis in two weeks and promised to leave office if he failed to do so. He didn’t explain how but economists around the world must be on tenterhooks.

He also promised to build a bullet train that would reduce the journey between Harare and Bulawayo (440km) – to  35 minutes. That was also quite impressive since no train exists that can achieve that speed.

Not to worry though, if the train doesn’t work he says he’s going to build airports everywhere.

He’s going to throw out the Chinese and he’s going to get a $15billion aid gift from Donald Trump – good luck with that, it’s about as likely as the bullet train.

There was a political party once in the UK, based on an eastern religion. Their manifesto promised we would all be able to levitate and float around on meditation rugs. Naturally I voted for them as this seemed a very good policy and quite a refreshing change from promises of lower tax or better public services. Sadly, it was just fantasy, but probably at least as plausible as solving Zimbabwe’s liquidity crisis in two weeks.

The reality is there is no meaningful difference between Mnangawa and Chamisa. Both men urge the electorate to ‘vote for change’ but other than being different people, they don’t explain what this change is or how they can both represent it.

With Mnangagwa calling himself ‘The Crocodile’ and Chamisa boasting the title ‘Cobra’ and nothing much but personality and the kind of swaggering you see in pre-match weigh ins  to separate them, this has more of the trappings of a boxing match than an election. It might be fair, it might be an exciting contest; they both have very keen fan bases and one of them will win on points, but does it really matter?

Real democracy requires more than fair elections. It requires ideological choice, different views about how to run society, not just a couple of tacticians trying to knock each other out.

Still, fair elections are a start.

Good punching, Cobra and Crocodile, but what do you actually think?
“I want change.” “So do I.” “I want everyone to stop fighting.” “So do I.” Well I just want to win.” “So do I.”
“Well, I’ve got a fantasy bullet train.” “Oh shit. I haven’t got one of those.”

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