Both Zimbabwe and Kenya share a history of heavily disputed elections dating back to the time the countries were led by Robert Mugabe and Daniel arap Moi respectively, and afterwards, when both countries returned to multi-partyism following long periods of one-man-one-party rule.
Both had to settle for unity governments after the violent, marred elections in 2007 in Kenya and 2008 in Zimbabwe, which most observers believe were won by the opposition but with the incumbents being declared the winners. The ruling parties ZANU PF (Zimbabwe) and the Jubilee Alliance (Kenya; an iteration of KANU which led the country from independence) have links dating back to the fight against colonial rule, but which morphed into autocratic, corrupt and despotic outfits. The opposition movements in both countries, MDC and ODM, are conjoined by the desire to topple the despotic regimes, with their rhetoric clear on the need to restore democracy, end corruption and reduce the massive inequalities and exclusion that dominate the nations.
Unity of Governments – Africa’s success stories
After disputed and violent elections where hundreds were killed, mostly by the state, Kenya and Zimbabwe were forced to create unity governments, where political foes had to enter into marriages of convenience. In both circumstances, the unity governments were not perfect, but achieved tangible results such as stability and economic growth. Zimbabwe and Kenya both wrote new constitutions which were resoundingly voted for by the people in referendums before the Kenya’s 2012 and Zimbabwe’s 2013 election.
Zimbabwe had established a unity government which was brokered in 1988, again after massive state violence that killed tens of thousands, while Kenya had informal coalitions running it after Moi and KANU had been kicked out in 2002. Here, the NARC coalition, which styled itself the Rainbow Coalition under Mwai Kibaki, a former Vice President under Moi who had joined the opposition in 1992, lasted until 2016 when it was absorbed into Jubilee Alliance with the return of multi-partyism.
The First elections after the dissolution of the Unity Governments
The Jubilee Alliance led by Uhuru Kenyatta, and Zanu PF under Robert Mugabe were declared victors in their respective elections. The opposition parties ODM (led by Raila Odinga) and MDC (fronted by the late Morgan Tsvangirai) rejected the election results, accusing the winning parties of vote-rigging. Zimbabwe was relatively calm after the election, while Kenya had incidents of violence. On the economic front, Kenya was still enjoying year on year growth, though there was significant resentment and tensions, while Zimbabwe had stagnated.
In both instances the regional bodies and the international community (Zimbabwe in 2012 refused to admit international observers) did cite irregularities but focused on the relatively peaceful environment—compared to the immediate previous elections--during the polls.
The Second Elections: Court Challenges making a Difference
In the era of the new constitutions of both countries, the second poll was destined to be the watershed election. In Kenya, the August election which had declared Uhuru Kenyatta a winner by 54% was annulled by the Supreme Court due to serious illegalities and irregularities and a re-run was slated for October 26th, 2017. ODM leader Raila Odinga then pulled out of the election declaring that the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) had not made any changes from the August elections and so it had pre-determined outcomes. Uhuru Kenyatta was declared winner with 98% but with a turnout that was less than 30% compared to the August elections.
Could this be what the MDC Alliance President Nelson Chamisa is angling for in Zimbabwe? After the Alliance narrowly lost 50.3% to 44.8%, the party filed papers contesting the result of the election, seeking the Constitutional Court’s nullification of the result. The opposition is confident that they can prove that the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) failed to conduct a free and fair election. The petition hearing is set for August 22nd, 2018. This will not be the first time the opposition files papers contesting election results, but this time it is more confident of success, hoping that the example of the Kenyan Supreme Court will influence the judges in Zimbabwe.
Derek Matyszak, a senior researcher and political analyst based in Zimbabwe, says Zanu PF candidate Emmerson Mnangagwa will be declared winner and the elections free and fair: “The Kenya case was unusual in that they accepted that a faulty process can nullify an election even if the substance and the results have not been shown to be affected. This is a first. Chamisa’s lawyers will probably rely heavily on the Kenyan case on Wednesday (August 22nd 2018).”
Maina Kiai, a Kenyan lawyer and human rights activist who served as the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, says: “It would be a win for democracy if the Zimbabwe court would rule without fear or favour, despite the pressures it will surely face. Rulings that are against the regime are in and for themselves a great step forward in democratic governance especially because in Africa, incumbent regimes never lose on elections. But if the court exhibits independence, then the Electoral Management Body must be supervised closely to ensure that the process and results transmission particularly are transparent, verifiable and real.”