Zimbabwe held elections on Monday in hopes of restoring ties with the West. Although the political climate in Zimbabwe is relatively better than years past, it still falls short of acceptable standards.
Even though the media have portrayed the conditions as favorable, Human Rights Watch has logged incidents of voter intimidation by representatives of the ruling party.
The major contestants were the ruling party Zanu-PF and the opposition MDC Alliance.
The incumbent President of Zimbabwe Emmerson Mnangagwa was inaugurated after Robert Mugabe resigned from the office after the military takeover. Mnangagwa is an ex-military man who was the Chief Spy of the country during the 1980s civil unrest, which resulted in the deaths of thousands of civilians. He denies any involvement in the torture and killings and puts the onus on the army even though there is enough evidence to try him in an international court.
Despite his direct role in civilian deaths and torture in the 1980s, the United States sanctioned him only because of his role as Mugabe’s deputy and enforcer. The sanctions cite his role in intimidation and violence against political opponents, who were at one point or another supported by the United States.
Mnangagwa also had an alleged involvement in 2007 coup d’état attempt that was ultimately foiled. Later, he called the attempt ‘stupid’ and kept his post under Mugabe even though the connection between him and the military conspirators was obvious. His rapport with the military finally came to light when military chiefs offered to form a government with Mnangagwa after Mugabe’s ouster.
Top officers from military establishment whom he had blamed for deaths of Zimbabweans now occupy key positions in Mnangagwa’s government. The nexus between the army and the civilian government means that the two are practically indistinguishable and operate as a single body. This is a crucial point that has been missing from the media coverage of 2018 elections in Zimbabwe.
According to the Parliamentary results, which the opposition alleges were rigged, Zanu-PF won 140 seats while the opposition MDC Alliance could only manage 58.
The Presidential results have yet not been announced. But where the delay in the announcement of Pakistani elections last week raised suspicions from the international media, the delay in Zimbabwean Presidential elections have not.
In both elections, the elite media favored the incumbents. But instead of blaming the incumbent party for the delay in result announcement, the media blamed the Pakistani opposition while in the case of Zimbabwe; they have neither expressed suspicion nor blamed anyone since both would undermine the credibility of their candidate.
The Zimbabwe elections are all about making Mnangagwa credible so the Western governments could remove sanctions and provide economic aid to jumpstart the Zimbabwean economy.
As if the bias in the New York Times’ coverage of Zimbabwean elections wasn’t clear enough, they ran an Op-Ed from Mnangagwa. The Editorial board neither published an article refuting Mnangagwa claims in his Op-Ed nor did they publish any letters from Zimbabweans that challenged his narrative. Let alone an Op-Ed, they gave very little coverage to his Presidential opponent Nelson Chamisa save mention of a few gaffes.
Although NYTimes cited that international election monitors from E.U. and the United States were allowed into the country, they did not cite any of their observations in the print version. They mentioned European observers only twice in their election coverage as seen below.
The first mention comes from Zimbabwe Elections, Mostly Peaceful, Brings Voters Out In Droves.
The second mention is from the article titled Zimbabwe Holds a Peaceful Vote, Its’ First Ballot Since Mugabe’s Fall.
Election observers from the European Union criticized the results announcement delay, a fact absent from the Times’ coverage. Moreover, they cited voted intimidation, media bias, and lack of trust in the electoral commission, also excluded from Times’ coverage.
Quoting European observers would have undermined NYTimes’ efforts to report Zimbabwe’s rigged elections in a favorable light so they were not cited at all in print.
The only honest assessment of media’s coverage albeit short and subtle came from a BBC correspondent in Harare, Pumza Fihlani:
Today’s clashes may not have been on the scale of the “days of old”, where intimidation by security police was the order of the day, but it’s certainly not the peace many had been praising until now. Something has changed here.
To demand the prompt release of results, demonstrators took to streets. In response, armed military officers opened fire on protesters killing multiple civilians and injuring many. Those killed were shot in the back, which means they were fleeing and not charging toward the armed military shooters.
Mnangagwa’s close historical ties with the military and as the incumbent President of Zimbabwe, he is responsible for the actions of the military. By publishing his peace-restoring tweets, the media have tried to present him as the peace candidate. The notion that as head of his state, he is responsible for commanding the military has been missing from the mainstream coverage.
The media presented Mnangagwa as a neutral party in a civil confrontation between the people and the military. It is true even of the international establishment and Western governments who favor Mnangagwa over Chamisa.
The ‘violence’ that the President wants to be investigated did not emanate from the civilians. There were no reports until Thursday of any civilian violence even as trucks of armed troops and policeman patrolled the cities intimidating the public.
UN Secretary General’s stance is disingenuous since it is just Mnangagwa who is involved in this campaign of violence. Instead of singling him out, Secretary Guterres used a blanket term ‘politicians‘.
The statement from U.K. Foreign Office Minister Harriett Baldwin is even worse. She did not condemn violence since doing so would mean condemning Mnangagwa, a stooge of the British government thus she only expressed deep concern.
Her response was along the lines of White House’s response under Barrack Obama that condemned violence from Hamas but only expressed ‘deep concern‘ over Israel’s blatant use of U.S.-funded military force.
The fact that Mnangagwa allowed journalists into the country to monitor elections was over-covered while reports of army officers ordering the journalists to turn off their video cameras was not even reported in print.
NYTimes print version did not cover the military use of force on unarmed civilians even as photos, videos, and eyewitness testimonies began coming from the city of Harare.