Abstract: This research paper looks at the global political developments behind the outcome of the 31st July 2013 Harmonised Elections in Zimbabwe and the subsequent strides towards the legitimation of the Mugabe Regime by the international community supported by the Africa Union (AU) and Southern Africa Development Community (SADC). The research draws upon the work by Robinson and Gallagher (1953) applying their theory on Imperialism of Free Trade to account for the ‘abandoning’ of the Zimbabwe Question ahead of the 2013 harmonised elections with a preference on dealing with the Arab Spring in the MENA region. The paper employs mostly published empirical historical researches and international relations theories – namely neo-liberalism and Morgenthau’s Political Realism inPolitics Among Nations (1948) to substantiate its claims. Most prior researches on the electoral outcome of July 31st 2013 tend to focus on intra-national developments in Zimbabwe, that is, how ZANU PF managed to amass the support of the electorate to outwit the opposition and win the election at the level of method. These focuses undermine and tend to limit the freeness and fairness of an election to a non-violent environment relegating international players to‘spectators.’ This paper demonstrates how the opposition parties and their allies lost the election at the level of global politics.

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By Thulani Collins Mswelanto

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Introduction:

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Narratives around the July 31st 2013 elections have been conjectural (based primarily on surmise rather than adequate evidence) with conflicting theorems and hypotheses being developed in the streets, academic circles and corridors of power on how the ruling ZANU PF won the elections. While acknowledging that no mono-causal explanation taken by itself can best explain the occurrence of July 31st 2013, this paper argues that the Zimbabwe Question was defeated at the level of global politics. That the failure of the opposition parties and their allies to read international trends against a seemingly ‘tired’ agenda resulted and buttressed the ‘31st July shock.’ The paper uses empirical historical researches and international relations theories – namely neo-liberalism and realpolitik to substantiate its claims. In its findings the paper also offers alternative advocacy initiatives and movement (re)building hindsight for civics and social movements. The treatise is structured in 5 sections the first offering an understanding of key terms and context, the second section problematises the Zimbabwe question locating it in the contextual analyses while the third section offers a scenario matrix. The fourth section looks at shifts in global [neoliberal] politics and opposition politics in development countries giving succinct and rooted empirical developments and the fifth and final section is a conclusion that draws a balance sheet on the discussions and yet is compelled to pose questions on the future of the democratisation agenda.

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The post July 2013 electoral outcome has had numerous interpretations with an attempt at unpacking the context and what could have possibly led to the result of the last election. Most narratives and analyses tend to look at the intra-national developments and how ZANU PF outwitted the main opposition party MDC (T) and on a smaller scale the MDC, Mavambo, ZAPU and others. While acknowledging the various electoral mal-practises that culminated in the result of July 31 and the scholarly researches such as the Zimbabwe Democracy Institute Report, How Can the 2013 Harmonised Elections Results be Explained? (2013) by both civic society and the academia, the main hypothetical progression of this paper is to present an analysis rooted in international relations (global politics and economy) accounting for both the result and the subsequent responses from the international community, that the MDC (T) had no adequate understanding of global developments whose ramifications worked against its electoral strategy is an indispensable FACT. The treatise offers a paradigm shift from what have become civic society and opposition normative discourses (idealisms on processes and outcomes) arguing that the realist perception stood the day on a strategic international prioritisation ladder of Western powers. Morgenthau (1948: p 32) explains Political realism as a theory of political philosophy that attempts to explain, model, and prescribe political relations. It takes as its assumption that power is (or ought to be) the primary end of political action, whether in the domestic or international arena. In the domestic arena, the theory asserts that politicians do, or should, strive to maximize their power, whilst on the international stage; nation states are seen as the primary agents that maximize, or ought to maximize, their power. The theory is therefore to be examined as either a prescription of what ought to be the case, that is, nations and politicians ought to pursue power or their own interests, or as a description of the ruling state of affairs-that nations and politicians only pursue (and perhaps only can pursue) power or self-interest. Said crudely; ‘Zimbabwe was not a top notch priority issue for the West in the face of developments in the MENA region’ the same manner that the two Victorians, Robinson and Gallagher (1953) in comparative terms with the rest of Africa saw the strategic importance of Egypt in the late 19th Century in their Imperialism of Free Trade (1953).

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International Relations: A Historical Narrative

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In order to understand Zimbabwe’s political discourses it is imperative to bear in mind that the state exists within an international system largely shaped by those that control the means of production, (K.Marx, Das Kapital: 1867). In present day existence, neo-liberalism is at the fore following the fall of the Soviet Union and its communist frontiers [largely the end of realism]. Yet the paradox of a state safeguarding its interests outside international governance is formidable and an undeniable fact. It is this desire to safeguard individual national interests that has formed alliances in global frontiers and which this paper argues informed the decision to ‘abandon’ the Zimbabwe question during the last elections. Lessons in yester-centuries still remain relevant in present day interactions of nation states given the dominance and the progression of the international architecture. The US Secretary of State confirmed this position, thus:

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Simply put, the money we invest in our foreign policy isn’t just returned to us in the form of security, stability, prosperity, jobs, opportunity, and value in and of itself of backing up our ideals and values with actions; in an increasingly interconnected world, global leadership isn’t a favour we do for other countries, it’s a strategic imperative for the United States of America. All the opportunities we enjoy at home increasingly depend on America’s engagement and investment overseas.

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The interpretations on the causality factor of the late 19th Century imperialism provide insights on strategic positioning and alignments in global politics. Notwithstanding the shortcomings of the Robinson and Gallagher (1953) theory onImperialism of Free Trade, British imperialism, at least in Egypt, was driven by the need to safeguard the strategic importance (geopolitical locations) of Egypt after crushing the xenophobic Urabi Pasha Revolt and elbowing out France from the gentleman’s agreement of 1859 on investments in a company that would construct a water canal (Suez Canal). Egypt provides a convenient route to the Orients. The United States was to later affirm its influence on Egypt in early 20thCentury history following the end of formal occupation and protectorates and an alliance with Britain. That in 2012 events in Tunis sparked changes in governments in Egypt and the MENA region was enough alarm for the reactions at White House and No.12 Downie Street in London and the rest of the European Union (France has at least permanent interests in Tunisia following its occupation of Tunis in 1879,). The West was compelled to rethink its priority areas where it was actively involved in protection and promotion of human rights (though in essence its interests lay in regime changes).

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The most logical response by any statesman seeking to safeguard their national interest would be to rethink a less capital and human resource intensive engagement (further compounded by a global financial crisis) and foreign policy and strategy against a priority ladder of ‘spheres of influence.’ This Europe did well at the back of their minds supported by the SADC and AU positions on Zimbabwe despite their public positions which stated that they didn’t believe the election was a true reflection of the will of the people. SADC and the Africa Union maintained that the transitional authority in Zimbabwe had among its deliverables managed to create a conducive environment of a free society as seen with the calm of the 31stJuly election. The two scenarios that would result from the election were:

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  1. An MDC (T) victory would safeguard western interests and would represent a progression of universalism of human rights and the supremacy ofdemocracia though NO direct relationship of the two Universalist values and practises has been established so far. J. Makumbe in Political Scenario Mapping (2011) argued that this scenario was unlikely given that ZANU PF had managed to outwit the MDC (T) by retaining and controlling state institutions and organs that protect state power during the GNU negotiations. The MDC (T) had emerged from the negotiations a junior partner in government. Among the numerous 31 July post mortem narratives Zamchiya (2014) argues that though not exhaustive the MDC (T) may have lost the election at the level of method. Similarly civic society has maintained that both electoral misnomers and the court of public appeal may have also worked against an MDC (T) victory. This paper will not dwell much on these narratives and analyses but argues that there were seemingly numerous developments which are multifaceted and weighed down on Tsvangirai’s electoral success. Be that as it may the West managed to envisage an alternative scenario
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  1. A ZANU PF victory – It would be too common knowledge that the West would not be too pleased by a return to power of Robert Mugabe given the sour relations that exist[ed] between Zimbabwe and the Western powers. Mswelanto (2013) notes that western powers have been at the centre of delegitimizing authoritarian regimes that fail to embrace the universality of human rights and curtail democratic development in their states though the gospel of delegitimation is clouded by double standards. Thus:
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It is the failure to adhere to a set of ‘universal’ norms such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that often leads to the international community applying a set of measures to restrain a regime from further committing human rights violations. Individual western countries and their regional blocs such as the European Union have been at the centre of embarking on de-legitimation of authoritarian regimes though other non western states have also taken the same action such as the position of Kenya towards the Idi Amin administration in Uganda. (2013: p.21)

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Mswelanto further notes that one of the issues that have been thorny in the legitimacy question of Zimbabwe have always been around electoral fraud. It is important to first locate electoral processes within the human rights discourse in order to establish and link their relevance to the discussion. Article 21(3) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that:

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The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures

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Like any foreign policy architects and practitioners the plan had to be based on this worst case scenario whose likelihood was higher than the ‘ideal.’ That a Mugabe victory was inevitable became common view and an engagement with an administration that the west had previously demonized was compelling – ZANU PF sought legitimacy outside the AU and SADC spaces while Europe sought to regain its economic losses in the face of Chinese competition on Zimbabwe [it is a given that the ZANU PF policy on external relations is based on economic gains for nations that give it legitimacy]

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Donor Funding and the Zimbabwe Democratisation Agenda:

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“The EU suspended appropriate measures end of July and we now have the opportunity to directly support government. We are now engaging with the government to identify what the priorities are for that which will be significant considering the needs of Zimbabwe.”

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That money is a vehicle for political and electoral participation, no political activity of an electoral magnitude can be successfully undertaken without monetary resources. That being the case, this section critically establishes the misgivings of donor funding in public opinion and lack thereof, sustainable pursuance of democratisation agendas. There are mixed theoretical reactions in establishing need for donor funding and the ultimate crisis of institutionalising social movements that seek a restoration of the justice order in authoritarian states. Resnick (2013: p.4) in Democratic Trajectories in Africa, argues that aid’s impact on democratic consolidation is complex citing the case of Mali which since 1991 has been assisted by large increases in the volume of aid that characterised the post Monterrey period in the last decade. In a similar way external aid has been useful in the emergence and strengthening of a vibrant civic society and social movements. The Mali case resonates with the Zimbabwe case yet the crisis of perception still exists with accusations of social movements and civic society pursuing external agendas. Be that as it may the strategic alliances and partnerships with donor agencies are twofold: at the level of development and a pursuance of a national strategy to political processes. What may be compelling is for movements to manage perceptions at the local level and within the partnerships or they risk being swallowed at the level of method. A dependence syndrome is also worth assessing considering that most of these movements fail to attract community ownership and when funding is withdrawn it is followed by massive cuts in programming, and so does the democratisation agenda suffer regression. The post 31st July epoch requires strategic thought and an understanding of international politics as a measure of survival or rather revival of civics. In a way the opposition is also compelled to rethink its ideals and engagement strategy with the masses and international players lest a continuation of the onslaught on democracy is inevitable at the hands of ZANU PF factions.

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Embracing Scenario 2: Forging an Alliance with a ‘Dictator’

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As indicated in the initial progression of this argument the West, confronted with the crises in areas of strategic importance, went on to give primacy to the MENA region and sought a re-engagement framework with the post 31st July Zimbabwe government and a year later a series of measures are already underway to readmit Zimbabwe into the International Concert of States, the European Union Parliament Report on the Re-engagement Trip to Zimbabwe (2013) lays bare this position. Thus:

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The visit is a part of the overall re-engagement process. The progress made towards the implementation of the Global Political Agreement has allowed the EU to work directly with the Government of National Unity to develop new assistance programmes. The purpose of the visit is to get a better overview and update of the government priorities, needs of the population and existing aid programmes in view of the programming and preparation of the Country Strategy Paper for EU cooperation with Zimbabwe in the framework of the 11th European Development Fund (2014-2020). Special interest lies in food security and agriculture, health and the energy sector. (2013: p.3)

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The recent decision by the European Union to expedite the removal of sanctions and channelling of donor funds to the state among other measures speaks volumes to this hypothesis. Civic society and opposition parties find themselves with limited support to carry out their initiatives partly due to the high dependency on external funding that they have developed over the last 15 years or so. It is indispensable that they develop means of sustaining the agenda outside external funding. The growing crisis of governance in Zimbabwe is further compounded by the huge cuts in supporting the democratisation agenda and at minimal represents a policy failure of significant proportions given the dramatic ramifications on the socio-economic front post 31st July 2013 and urgent calls to operationalise democratic institutions and systems provided by the new constitution.

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Whither Democracy???

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The democratisation agenda seems to have suffered an insurmountable defeat with a regression of at least 15 years yet, given the material conditions obtaining in Zimbabwe, the urgency to rethink and reconnect with the ‘idle’ agenda are still compelling. A number of measures are required to reinvigorate the movement which include but not limited to:

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  1. Seeing the bigger picture – Remodelling civic movements within the frameworks of social movements that re-establish the social capital to push agendas for democratisation retaining the people’s ownership to change.
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  3. Fighting the temptation of deciding what is good for society – Civic society should embrace the theory ‘agency’ grounded in the religious morality of the times, allowing for the subsequent invention of the individual as a “free agent” able to sustain and make rational choices for (him)self and society (Lukes 1973).
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  5. Regional and international advocacy: Who are our allies? How do we engage them? What is their strategic positioning in raising awareness? Who wields influence to change the ‘new’ regional and international perceptions on Zimbabwe? What alternative international strategy can be adopted? Etc
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  7. The relationship between social movements/civic society and opposition parties needs clarity. Is civic society pushing agendas of political parties or is it working towards the ideal society? What are the ramifications of divorces and electoral defeats to the democratisation agenda from the ordinary people’s stand point?
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  9. Policy Researches and Development – at what stage do we undermine researches in political programming. Do we have adequate understandings of the international system?
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  11. What is the relationship that exists between civic society and funding agencies? What does it mean for sustaining a democratisation agenda?
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Conclusion

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Drawing from the issues raised in this paper, it is indispensable that the greatest misgiving of July 31 was the assumption by the MDCs and their partners that foreign funding and support was going to remain forever not realizing that the EU was swiftly moving towards reengaging with ZANU PF for instance the removal of sanctions and diamond sells at Antwerp. Towards the 2013 harmonised elections the EU was no longer prepared to exert as much pressure on the Harare regime as it did towards 2008. Confronted with developments in the MENA region the West had to safeguard its interests at the expense of other regions that required continuous support to strengthen the democratisation resolve. Within Africa, SADC and AU were prepared to accept any outcome that would remove Zimbabwe from their conference agendas. On the other hand the MDCs were diplomatically weak in that they failed to convince regional and international players that a free and fair election went beyond physical violence. All ZANU PF needed was to hammer the language of peace among its supporters and Nicodemously manipulate the electoral process!

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[1] Except in Statement issued by the Secretary of State, Washington, on Congressional Budget Justification Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs, March 2014

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[2]Acting EU Ambassador to Zimbabwe Carl Skau, Quoted in The Independent Newspaper 07/09/2012

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This report had been published at Africacare thought blog