Zimbabwean voters seek change

Only neighboring African countries will be allowed to monitor the upcoming elections.

Violence and intimidation by the Zimbabwean ruling government of Robert Mugabe left a memorable impression on third-year University law student Jared Shepherd.

During his visit to volunteer for Zimbabwean Lawyers for Human Rights last summer, Shepherd said he learned that Zimbabweans are facing a high unemployment rate and food shortage. They are now hoping for a change – free and fair elections on March 29.

“Just a small dose of that experience was enough to leave a permanent impression on our minds,” Shepherd said.

Shepherd, as a member of the University Law School Amnesty International Student Chapter, invited Zimbabwean lawyer Otto Saki to speak at the law school Monday about why he believes it’s time for a new president there.

“He’s using authoritarian methods to remain in power, such as violence and intimidation,” Saki said of Mugabe.

27-year ruler

Since Zimbabwe gained independence from Great Britain in 1980, Mugabe was the nation’s first prime minister and has been the country’s only ruler. He became president in 1987.

In 2002, Mugabe’s land redistribution campaigns caused an evacuation of white farmers, to which people attributed the crippling of the economy and a widespread shortage of basic commodities, according to the CIA’s World Factbook.

Talented individuals are leaving the country because of the unsustainable economic environment, Saki said.

Two million to three million people left the country because they weren’t earning the money they believed they deserved, he said.

For example, lawyers are paid the equivalent of $16 a month in Zimbabwe, where they could earn about $3,500 to $4,000 a month in Botswana or South Africa.

“People would move and cross the borders to where they’re not subjected to contemporary forms of slavery by the salaries that they receive,” he said.

During the 2002 presidential elections, the ruling party supposedly won with about 1.6 million votes, while the opposition party received 1.2 million votes, Saki said.

“It was very close, to the extent that the numbers of individuals who had failed to register and the numbers of individuals who had been pinned away from the polling stations Ö were more than the difference between the winning and the losing candidates,” he said.

In the 2005 parliamentary elections, Mugabe’s ruling party used fraud and intimidation to win a two-thirds majority, the World Factbook reports.

This year’s elections

Mugabe’s party has been holding rallies where food is given to the people, presumably as a way to get more votes, Saki said.

“There is an atmosphere of fear that if you don’t vote for Mugabe, you’re going to be hurt,” Shepherd said.

Additionally, the government announced last week that the United States, the European Union and the United Kingdom will not be allowed to observe the elections, Saki said.

However, neighboring African countries are allowed to monitor the elections.

But Saki said he’s concerned that African leaders won’t respond to the elections unless more violence occurs.

“African leaders are only there only to react when blood is lost and so many lives are lost,” he said.

Saki predicts another Mugabe victory on March 29 despite his belief that Zimbabwe needs a change in rule.

A ‘ritual’ process

By holding elections this year, Mugabe’s government is asking for the support that he once had during his first 18 years in power.

“This election is a ritual process,” Saki said. “The ruling party found itself in this situation where they’ve become so illegitimate and unpopular.”

Rima Reda, who works for the University Human Rights Center, said she doesn’t expect a change.

“I wouldn’t expect any opposition party to gain any kind of control,” she said.