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A tale of two 'sham' elections: "we are going to emancipate ourselves from mental slavery because whilst others might free the body, none but ourselves can free the mind"--Marcus Garvey (later adopted by Bob Marley for his classic "Redemption Song").

It was Martin Luther King who said: "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter." And so I sally forth, in this column, to dare to comment on something that appears to have escaped many commentators in the last few weeks: the bare-faced hypocrisy exhibited by the so-called "long-established democracies" in congratulating the Afghan leader, Hamid Karzai, on his election "victory" in November--a "victory" fraught with fraud and handed to him on a silver plate after his main challenger, Dr Abdullah Abdullah, withdrew from the runoff. Abdullah, Karzai's former foreign minister, had complained that "the procedures in place in this UN-funded and supported election [the UN raised $300m for it] were likely to make the second round even more fraudulent than the first round."


According to Peter Galbraith, the recently sacked UN secretary-general's deputy special representative in Afghanistan: "Dr Abdullah put forward two main conditions for his participation in the runoff ... Foremost, he demanded the elimination of ghost polling centres and a reduction in the number of polling places. [But] the Independent Election Commission (IEC) refused to eliminate the ghost polling stations, and also [turned down] a demand by the UN and Dr Abdullah to fire the hundreds of officials and thousands of IEC staff who stole [the first round for Karzai]. Without the basic conditions for a fair election in place, Dr Abdullah rightly decided not to ask Afghans again to risk their lives to vote in a sham election." Please note the two words: sham election.

Before I go further, let me introduce Cecil John Rhodes, the man who had a country named after him in Southern Africa: Rhodesia, later renamed Zimbabwe at independence in 1980. In 1895, Mr Rhodes, who commanded all he surveyed, committed the following comment to paper: "I was in the East End of London yesterday and attended a meeting of the unemployed. I listened to the wild speeches, which were just a cry for 'bread, bread', and on my way home, I pondered over the scene and I became more than ever convinced of the importance of imperialism ... The Empire, as I have always said, is a bread and butter question. If you want to avoid civil war, you must become imperialists."

Rhodesia, imperialists, Zimbabwe, Afghanistan, sham elections, condemnations, congratulations. Who are they kidding?

On 27 June 2008, Zimbabwe held a presidential run-off election days after the opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai (like Dr Abdullah in Afghanistan) had pulled out, citing violence and a threat to his life and that of his supporters. Five days before the run-off--22 June to be exact--Tsvangirai, who had won a tantalising 47.9% of the vote in the first round, sought refuge in the Dutch embassy in Harare, from where he would occasionally, in fact three times, drive several miles to his home in Strathaven in Harare's leafy Avondale suburb, to hold press conferences, and then drive back to the embassy and have a good night's sleep, under Dutch protection.

Two of the main reasons used by the West to declare the Zimbabwean run-off a "sham" were political violence and the withdrawal of Tsvangirai from the poll. But Tsvangirai put a new gloss on the "violence" of the time with the answers he gave at his first press conference on 25 June. I missed that press conference by a whisker; I heard about it too late and when I rushed to his home, it was all over and the man was back in the Dutch embassy. But I later watched a video recording of it, which was kindly made available by colleagues from Al Jazeera. And boy, did I rub my eyes to make sure I was seeing correctly.

There was the man, whose life was so much in danger that he had changed his sleeping places, swapping personal comfort for Dutch protection, telling off the media for "sensationalising" his asylum at the Dutch embassy!

"It is now generally accepted that the violence we have endured since 29 March is unprecedented," Tsvangirai opens the press conference in his usual emphatic manner. "The persecution and harassment of the MDC and the pro-democratic leadership is getting worse. This must stop!"

The press conference is packed, with all the global broadcasters represented by their local networks. After the opening salvos, a Zimbabwean journalist asks Tsvangirai: "I just want to find out if you will be going back to the Dutch embassy?" A wry smile breaks on the man's face, and he tells the assembled media:

"I will tell you what, you media you don't, you don't ... [Tsvan-girai stops momentarily to think], you are very sensational about ... [he stops again, and does not finish the sentence]. Now going to the Dutch embassy becomes news, eh? The people who are being butchered and brutalised are not news. I don't know what kind of focus is that! Where I am is immaterial to the plight of Zimbabweans. Zimbabweans don't have food, they are being brutalised, they are being force-marched to meetings. I hope you will be sympathetic to that plight."



The journalists cannot believe their ears! As Tsvangirai speaks, two men in his entourage on the high table are laughing, as if it is a laughing matter. Perhaps it was! But their scornful laugh doesn't deter a South African journalist from following up the question: "But you are the person," he tells Tsvangirai, "who went there [the Dutch embassy], and people are very much interested in why you are there?" A sarcastic look sweeps over Tsvangirai's face as if to mock the questioner. "Well, it's no longer, it's in the public domain [he says, spreading his arms]. I am in the Dutch embassy [he then looks up at his house, pans his head in the way TV cameras do and grimaces sarcastically]. I hope this is the Dutch embassy. I don't think so. I mean, I mean ... [Tsvangirai bursts out laughing heartily for about 10 seconds, and he is joined by all the entourage on the high table before controlling himself] ... Look, I'm sure circumstances will dictate, we will evaluate our situation and make the necessary decision."

And then he was gone--back to the Dutch embassy! His life still very much in danger! It was incredible! Interestingly, apart from The Zambian Post, none of the world's media houses, not even the local Zimbabwean media, caught the significance of how Tsvangirai had laughed at his own Dutch stunt, and so they did not report it! Yet, it was an amazing political spectacle! And for the sake of clarity, the media houses that "sensationalised" the story of Tsvangirai's Dutch embassy refuge were not local. They were his "traditional cheerleaders"--the BBC, CNN, Sky News, AlJazeera, France24 and the rest of the print media in the West.

And then came the condemnations of Zimbabwe's 27 June run-off election. The UN Security Council passed a resolution drafted by Britain, condemning "the campaign of violence and the restrictions on the political opposition" that had "made it impossible for a free and fair election to take place on 27 June".

Zimbabwe's police commissioner-general, Augustine Chihuri, responded by saying the police had been "shocked and surprised" by Tsvangirai's decision to seek refuge in the Dutch embassy. "It is obviously a calculated move to besmirch the presidential runoff election ... and further brutalise the image of Zimbabwe. We wonder from whom Mr Tsvangirai is running away or hiding," Chihuri said.

Then Gordon Brown told reporters at the G8 summit in Japan: "There should be no safe haven and no hiding place for the criminal cabal that now make up the Mugabe regime. The [UN] resolution says that the only legitimate election that took place in Zimbabwe was [on] the 29th of March," a reference to the first round in which Tsvangirai won 47.9% of the vote, but not enough to win outright. From the White House, President George W. Bush denounced Zimbabwe's poll as a "sham election" and ordered his officials to impose more sanctions on the country. The EU followed suit, its foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, criticising the election as "a sham" and pointing out that "democracy has not been served by [the] run-off election".

Now fast-forward one year to Afghanistan, November 2009. Patrick Cockburn, reporting for the British daily, The Independent, writes: "Hamid Karzai has been declared re-elected as president for the next five years though his allies inside and outside Afghanistan know that he owes his success to open fraud. Instead of increasing his government's legitimacy, the poll has further de-legitimised it. Their [his allies--the US, UK, EU, and the West in general] policy of propping up and strengthening [Karzai's] government looks more ludicrous than before ... There is something sickening when British troops had their legs blown off securing polling stations where Afghans could vote, when the British-supported government in Kabul was busily fabricating the vote so the presence or absence of polling booths was entirely irrelevant."

Yet, the congratulations from on high flowed like honey all the way to Kabul. The UN Security Council passed a resolution congratulating Karzai, saying the election had been credible and sound, despite allegations of widespread fraud. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon flew to Kabul to present his congratulations in person. And President Barack Obama, Gordon Brown, the EU, all of them, lined up to congratulate Karzai for his "legitimate victory".

The white House added that Karzai's "victory" had been declared according to Afghan law, and insisted that he was the "legitimate" leader of the country.

So we have two presidential run-offs--in both, the main challengers withdraw days before the vote, citing violence and irregularities. But one is condemned as "a sham", and the other is held up as having been "legitimate". So who are they kidding? Where is our world being taken? When is a sham election not a sham election?
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Title Annotation:Baffour's Beefs
Publication:New African
Geographic Code:9AFGH
Date:Dec 1, 2009
Previous Article:Correction.
Next Article:The 'Masters' at work?

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