An important election and election observation drama is playing out now in Zimbabwe, and “The great observer gamble” (free feature) in Africa Confidential is the key explainer.
Subhead: “After an eight-month charm offensive wooing bankers and diplomats, the government is failing the legitimacy test”
In this case the U.S.-funded joint NDI-IRI international observation mission made a difference in international understanding of the difficult realities of the election in the context of seemingly conclusory approvals from the regional SADC (of which Zimbabwe is a member) and the African Union.
I have no criticism of the NDI-IRI effort and as far as I can tell my old colleagues have upped their game in important ways in this situation from my previous experience in Kenya. At the same time I would note that with the incumbent government already under sanction and not an important U.S. ally, and in a fairly small (in population) country with lots of opposition support in the U.S., this was a case where it was easier to stick to the facts of the vote without getting caught in a diplomatic undertow.
An important question now is how IFES in supporting the Zimbabwe Election Commission will handle the announced election challenge litigation from the primary opposition. With a fraction of one percent margin over the 50 percent runoff threshold and a lot of delay and uncertainty with the central tally (aside from voter register and larger “playing field” issues, this looks quite a lot like Kenya 2013, which I have been looking into through the Freedom of Information Act.
Mnangagwa’s team may have done enough to allow the most enthusiastic business people and governments to step up re-engagement. Much will depend on the strength of the opposition’s case at the election tribunal and the credibility of its handling by the courts.
[This is one of my photos from the IRI Kenya 2007 Observation, as we arrived at Olympic Primary School in Kibera, Nairobi. One of the Zimbabwean newspaper sites used a copy of this image with the gentleman on the left cropped out for their Zim coverage.]