Zimbabwe News and Internet Radio

Pride Mkono: Musings on the 2023 election and corruption in Zimbabwe

The recent widespread reported cases of corruption and looting of public funds by opposition parliamentarians and councillors will have a huge bearing on the 2023 elections.

Many analysts and pro-democracy activists, including myself, have argued that the opposition always score own goals which aid and abate continuation of ZANU PF misrule.

The #40k parliamentary loot and US$5 million stands scandal in Harare are the latest of these own goals, which will definitely increase in the coming months. I give out at least 5 ways on how these brazen acts of looting public funds and assets will impact on the opposition’s 2023 prospects:

1. Weak anti corruption messaging

The incumbent President and his Zanu PF party have been known to be voraciously corrupt since before independence and their politics hinge primarily on coercion (violence) and transactional mobilisation (vote buying). One of the reasons for an opposition victory in 2008 was the sheer size of looting by Zanu PF elites in the middle of gnawing poverty.

Related Articles
1 of 7

At the pinnacle was the RBZ Farm Mechanisation scandal where elites looted billions while the country faced starvation. Peasants and majority of rural folks cast away their fear and voted out dozens of Zanu PF bigwigs. Recent opposition wins in Zambia and Malawi came on the back of strong anti-graft messaging and directly implicating the incumbent party in looting of the national purse.

The last 5 years has seen almost unprecedented levels of looting by the ruling party, especially through fuel monopoly cartels, mineral extraction deals, public transport and COVID-19 funds. Even the US$900 million SDP from the IMF was salted away, with Treasury failing to account for it.

Yet the opposition has been equally soiled through trinkets in parliament and corrupt land deals in cities and towns. In its current shape, they are viewed as being similar to Zanu PF or potentially worse and therefore will face an uphill task convincing the electorate who suffer the blunt effects of corruption to entrust them with their vote.

2. Tainted candidates

Some of the corrupt opposition candidates have become so tainted that fielding them will see a protest vote, especially in areas where their looting had directly affected people’s lives.

This particularly applies to opposition candidates in urban and peri-urban areas where they have parcelled out large tracts of public land and assets to their acolytes and the politically connected at the expense of thousands of voters on the housing waiting lists.

Where these candidates use their political connections to be imposed on the electorate, they will face massive rejection resulting in opposition loosing ground. A significant portion of urban local authorities wards are likely to fall to the ruling party because of these tainted and corrupt candidates being recycled.

3. Fuelling transactional political mobilisation

Zanu PF has always relied on a good number of voters whom they literally buy off using trinkets ranging from artisanal mining access, agricultural land and inputs, housing land, groceries and even money. Corruption by the opposition will result in their own base asking for goodies in order to cast votes for them.

This will raise the marginal cost of electoral transactions to a level where some opposition candidates will fall short and therefore be wiped off the political map. Constituencies like Mabvuku-Tafara, Epworth and Mutasa South (to give a few examples) will likely fall to this sky rocketing in vote buying which has been fuelled by opposition corruption.

After all if public office is seen as a tool for personal economic aggrandisement, why would those who elect not ask for benefits? In any event, elections come once in 5 years, a portion of the electorate will therefore seek to maximize their utility from transactional mobilisation.

4. Decline in regional and international support

In 2008, the opposition triumphed on the back of massive regional and international solidarity. The exposed corruption in parliament and councils will have a huge knock on effect on the regional and international image of the opposition. Too many opposition parties have recently come to power across Africa on the back of massive regional and international support but went on to disappoint everyone by becoming as vile and corrupt as their predecessors.

Examples include Adama Barrow of Gambia and the eccentric pastor cum politician, Lazarus Chakwera, in Malawi. Many in diplomatic circles at regional and international level already view the opposition with a sceptical eye and the current cases of corruption are only fuelling this scepticism.

It will result in limited if not complete withdrawal of solidarity support. Who wants to support a bunch of greedy and corrupt elites to grab power and only do exactly what the incumbent was doing or even worse? Its like choosing which gangsters to support.

5. Low moral standing of rigging claims

The ruling party will definitely manipulate the upcoming elections to its benefit and in a normal situation, claims of rigging will be widely accepted and even endorsed. The net effect is to delegitimise the government formed after a rigged election and this has previously worked well for the opposition.

However, an opposition that is stealing from the public and refusing accountability has a very low moral ground to allege rigging of elections. If anything, critics would argue that it’s all fair in love and war as both ruling party and opposition are essentially sides of the same coin.

Why would anyone bother about complaints from a grouping that seeks to abuse public office in the same way as the incumbent?

Prospects of this outcome will only strengthen Zanu PF’s resolve to undertake grand and calculated electoral chicanery, hiding behind opposition corruption as having demobilized their urban votes.

In summary, corruption will have a huge impact on the 2023 election but it is the opposition that will face the most adverse effects on the ballot. Voters, especially those casting for the opposition, are not sheep or idiots who can be led to continue supporting greedy self-ingratiating elites.

Mainstream opposition leader, Nelson Chamisa, has got to act decisively before election dates are gazetted. The last time I checked there was an Integrity Committee of sort headed by his lawyer, friend and adviser, Advocate Thabani Mpofu.

This maybe just the time to put such a committee to use and clean up the dirt!!

Pride Mkono is a political analyst and strategist and writes here in his own personal capacity. He can be contacted on [email protected]