One month after elections and Zimbabweans still have no idea who will be leading their country as the new democratically, or violently, elected president. The refusal to release the election results from March 29 clearly suggests there may be an undesirable result for Robert Mugabe -who at the age of 81 is still fervent enough, not to mention tenacious or belligerent, to continue his 28 years of ultimate power as president of Zimbabwe. The tension accompanying the delay has drawn international alarm as well as regional unease; with Zimbabwe’s closest neighbors careful not to prematurely label the situation a crisis, yet calling on Mr. Mugabe’s ruling party, Zanu-PF, to expeditiously release the results. As politicians engage in extensive talks that produce mild and careful statements, ordinary citizens have taken a much more resolute stance in trying to steer this situation clear of a bloody crisis. In a rare act of solidarity, it was civil society that refused to allow the Chinese shipment of weapons to reach Zimbabwe- preventing a dangerous amount of weapons from reaching the unstable nation.
Perhaps the reason for delaying the release of the presidential election results is that on the same day, March 29, four elections took place: presidential, House of Assembly, Senate and local councils. Naturally, that must create at least a bit of chaos and make the counting of votes a somewhat agonizing process. But the fact that the results might actually spell out a power loss for the ruling party are probably a better explanation for the delay. According to the announced election results for the House of Assembly, the opposition party, Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), had a slight advantage over the ruling Zanu-PF party, and both obtained an equal amount of seats in the Senate. That was before the recount, ordered for all four elections from 23 constituencies, which began on April 19th. One week later, none of the original parliamentary results that showed slight leads for the opposition have been overturned. With ten constituencies still left to be declared, the Zanu-PF would need to win nine to regain control – highly unlikely considering the outcome so far.
Even if the Zanu-PF were to lose in the parliament, they could still control the country if Mr. Mugabe keeps his presidential post. The president holds the ultimate power as he can veto any legislation passed by the parliament and, in some instances, even rule by decree. The MDC have already declared Mr. Tsvangirai the winner of the presidential race but independent observers, along with Zanu-PF, have stated that although the opposition leader is likely to be ahead of Mr. Mugabe, he might not have enough of an advantage to avoid a run-off. Whether a run-off will take place or not, the fact remains that official results have not been released, shoving the entire process even further away from anything resembling democracy.
Judging from the events which have been unfolding thus far, the situation has all the makings of a violent change of power, similar to what Kenya just experienced. There have been numerous reports of violence and arrests of opposition supporters, villages have been ransacked by ruling-party militias causing many to flee to neighboring Mozambique. In a recent raid on MDC offices, computers and documents have been seized and Mr. Tsvangirai has fled the country fearing for his safety. More violence is expected if the run-off takes place and any effort help curtail that aggression is the logical choice at this point.
It may seem blindingly obvious that if Zimbabwe is at the tipping point of falling victim to violent conflict, flooding the country with more weapons is like gushing gasoline on the kindling firewood; which is why the Chinese weapons shipment could not have been any more ill-timed and, frankly, morally repulsive. The An Yue Jiang vessel, owned by China’s state-run shipping company COSCO, carrying around 3 million rounds of ammunition for AK-47 rifles, mortar rounds and rocket-propelled grenades was scheduled to deliver its cargo in a South African port just days following the start of the recount. Instead, it was met by a coalition of human rights activist and union and dock workers unwilling to unload the cargo and transport it to landlocked Zimbabwe. Its planned arrival in Durban outraged many and quickly spread through newspapers and radio, mobilizing numerous groups to take action. Dock workers refused to unload the goods, a judge barred its transit through the country and demonstrators threatened to block the roads if it ever reached them. Unable to unload, the vessel moved north towards Mozambique and then towards Angola, only to turn back around to China. Although this small success does not necessarily forecast a peaceful next round of events in Zimbabwe, it is a very powerful statement to the leaders of the region and to the rest of civil society: enormous potential lies in the hands of ordinary people. In fact, it was a spontaneous act of peacebuilding as it certainly prevented all of those weapons from reaching trigger-happy hands and made many aware that a unified civil society can change the course of reckless, interest-driven politics; at least it can start.
Both China and Mr. Mugabe’s party claim the shipment of weapons was a regular order and part of the common trade agreement submitted before the election turmoil. Whether that is a valid argument or just a cover-up to avoid multinational reproach is beside the point. A shipment of weapons to an unstable nation is a guaranteed death trap and any responsible governing body should avoid making such deliveries, especially if human rights issues are not exactly their forte and the Olympic torch is struggling to stay lit. While some governments add fuel to the fire and others tip-toe around Mr. Mugabe for fear of sounding like they side with the neo-colonizing West, regular citizens have clearly stepped up to the challenge of curbing violence in their region. In the end, the violence sparked by political egos takes the greatest toll on civilian lives; it is up to fellow citizens to realize that their solidarity is influential, and take action.