By Desmond Chingarande
The United States government has threatened dire consequences on African leaders closing democratic spaces in their countries and stifling citizens’ rights just to retain power.
In a statement yesterday, US secretary of State Michael Pompeo said several African leaders had refused to commit to free, fair and inclusive elections, adding the world superpower would not hesitate to descend heavily on them.
But President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government, which has oftentimes accused Western powers of interfering in the country’s internal affairs, yesterday said it was unfazed by remarks from “pretentious pontificators of democracy”.
Pompeo said the US was closely monitoring African leaders promoting election-related violence to stifle democracy and warned that they risked dire consequences.
“We will watch closely the actions of individuals who interfere in the democratic process and will not hesitate to consider consequences, including visa restrictions for those responsible for election-related violence,” Pompeo said.
“As long-time partners to the nations of Africa, we care about the region’s democratic trajectory and are committed to working constructively with international and regional partners.”
He added: “The United States is committed to supporting free, fair, inclusive elections. The conduct of elections is important not only for Africans, but also for defenders of democracy around the world.
“We believe all sides should participate peacefully in the democratic process. Repression and intimidation have no place in democracies.”
The statement came at a time Mnangagwa’s government is being accused of subverting the will of voters by taking away parliamentary seats won by opposition MDC Alliance leader Nelson Chamisa’s party and giving them to his rival, Thokozani Khupe, whose MDC-T won a paltry two seats in the July 2018 polls.
Khupe was on Wednesday sworn in as an MP alongside 14 party officials to replace MDC Alliance legislators she recently recalled from Parliament for refusing to kowtow to her.
The ceremony was allowed to proceed despite a pending court challenge, with legal experts describing the move as a direct attack on democracy and a violation of voters’ rights.
She has also taken over Chamisa’s party headquarters and provincial offices with the aid of State security forces.
Zimbabwe has been under global spotlight over gross human rights violations since the formation of the MDC in 1999 and seizure of white-owned land in 2000, with the government accused of persecuting dissenting voices and closing democratic spaces.
Of late, the government has been accused of blocking opposition gatherings, with the ruling Zanu PF party meetings given the green light.
Pompeo said the right to peaceful assembly, freedom of expression and association were at the heart of a functioning democracy.
“Adherence to these democratic norms and to the rule of law allows all citizens to engage in political dialogue and support their choice of candidates, parties, and platforms,”
Mnangagwa has oftentimes accused Western countries, specifically the US of funding opposition activities to effect regime change.
A fortnight ago, State Security minister Owen Ncube accused the opposition of smuggling arms into the country with the aid of Western diplomats to cause insurgency.
Information minister Monica Mutsvangwa yesterday rubbished the US threats, saying: “Secretary of State Pompeo arrogantly assumes sanctimoniousness as champion and proselytiser of democracy.
He needs be reminded that the modern advent and practice of democracy in Africa was never a gift to Washington, London and other imperialist metropolis.”
Mutsvangwa said to the contrary, the African liberation movements were the sole authors and drivers of African freedom against the pretentious pontificators of democracy.
But political analyst Rashweat Mukundu said the US statement was a reminder for the government to embrace democracy and constitutionalism.
“I think the US government is re-emphasising its position on democracy. It is a statement that must be taken not for the benefit of democracy for Americans but for Zimbabweans as well,” he said.
“We are happy that regardless of the challenges Zimbabwe government is having, they are maintaining its policy on re-engagement. The statement confirms the emphasis on Zimbabwe to reform and embrace democracy for the benefit of the people of this country,” Mukundu added. NewsDay