John Campbell

Africa in Transition

Campbell tracks political and security developments across sub-Saharan Africa.

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Zimbabwe Ban on EU and U.S. Election Observers Undermines International Confidence

by John Campbell
April 17, 2013

People queue to vote in a referendum at a polling station in Harare March 16, 2013. (Philimon Bulawayo/Courtesy Reuters)


In March, Zimbabwe’s government, headed by Robert Mugabe, announced that no EU or U.S. observers would be invited to the national elections, now scheduled for the end of June 2013.  The official reason for the ban is EU and U.S. sanctions against the Mugabe government.

This decision undermines what little confidence many observers (including myself) had that Zimbabwe would have free and fair elections under the aegis of its new constitution. There is much that international observers cannot see or understand about African elections, especially in the rural areas; yet their conclusions about the mechanics of the polling sometimes overly influence the international community’s evaluation of how the elections actually went. But, the presence of international observers provides some cover for local civic organizations to have a broader scope. That makes the presence of international observers highly positive, and perhaps vital to local civic organizations. But, in Zimbabwe, the beleaguered civic sector will now lack that assistance in an environment too often characterized by ruling party (and other) thuggery.

The ZANU-PF move against EU and U.S. election observers certainly undermines the pretense that the upcoming elections will advance the cause of democracy and raises questions about whether the ruling party has determined to rig the elections. Recent Freedom House and Afrobarometer public polls indicate that ZANU-PF and Robert Mugabe stand a chance of winning a genuinely free and fair election in Zimbabwe. It is sad that we are unlikely ever to know.

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