…key issues and groups that have not been addressed this election

Tichaona Zindoga

Campaigning by Zimbabwe’s political parties, which ended Monday ahead of polls on Wednesday, has given lots to talk about to the electorate and stakeholders alike.

The main protagonists, incumbent President Emmerson Mnangagwa of Zanu-PF, and Nelson Chamisa of the opposition Citizens Coalition for Change set the agenda on many issues regarding the economy, social services and foreign policy.

They even competed quite fantastically on appropriating God: Mnangagwa repeatedly visited churches and assured voters not just of freedom of worship under his administration, but also that voters in his favour would have a pass to Heaven; on the other hand, Chamisa incorporated a lot of religiosity in his campaign manifesto, which promises to, among other things “dedicate the nation and its resources to God”.
In many ways, it has been a traditional campaign with few indicators, one would argue, that Zimbabwe is living in the 21st century.

It was an election of a few highlights, with most focus on numbers mustered by parties, nay, leadership.

Naturally, a number of issues and discourses that characterise other modern democracies were conspicuous by their absence.

Women’s rights and participation in national life. Social safety nets and taking care of the disabled and aged and university students.

Environment and climate. The Fourth Industrial Revolution and digital economy. Knowledge economy.

The list of silences on issues is long.

According to Trust Matsilele, an elections expert and media scholar at the Cape Peninsula University in South Africa, the problem is partly down to the politics of personality, a well-worn set African malady.

“I think what remains Zimbabwe’s biggest challenge is personality cults we have seen that across the political divide,” Matsilele said in an interview.

“I am not too sure with such prevailing political spectrum Zimbabwe has located the role of ordinary citizens in nation building beyond rhetoric,” he explained.

Matsilele, whose research includes investigation into social media and artificial intelligence, noted the absence of discussion about the digital economy and the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

He said this appeared “a distant issue to people struggling to get jobs or put food on the table”.

Top University of Oxford lecturer and African studies expert, Blessing Miles Tendi noted that this election was silent in addressing women’s participation in governance.

He explained “In Zimbabwe, women’s participation in politics is declining. Only 11 percent of candidates running for seats in the national assembly in 2023 are female, down from 14 percent in the last election in 2018. Eleven men and one woman are running for the presidency; the female candidate was only able to run after successfully challenging being ruled ineligible in the courts.

“The main candidates have neglected to address how they plan to reverse this decline. Issues that affect women specifically have also been peripheral in campaign messaging.”

When leaders and countries around the world have big ideas about environmental and climate change, in Zimbabwe, this appeared not compelling enough. Or a distant priority.

According to an environmental activist, Garikayi Makuyah of the Friends of Conservation Zimbabwe non-governmental organisation, issues such as clean energy transition and the economy of the environment would have featured prominently – even appealing to rural folk.

“I think the issue of the environment was a bit silent throughout all the campaigns especially when Zanu-PF should have touched more on the carbon credit policy which is been spearheaded by the Ministry of Environment as a way to lure rural votes as they have potentially the ability to safeguard their environment for a value proposition return,” he said.

According to Makuyah the use of solar as an alternative energy would have been a great proposal but, “there was no solar energy conversation during the campaigns”.

Other environmental issues that were muted included deforestation, over-exploitation of natural resources, climate change, soil erosion, land degradation, biodiversity loss and air and water pollution.

On the other hand, there was also a need for policy proposals around tobacco levies for afforestation, the carbon credits policy framework, and the Presidental clean-up campaign.

Makuyah asserted that there was a need for a “green economy and green business that need the key technical government stakeholders to drive the initiatives”.

A disability activist, Yemurai Ngoma who works with an outfit called Mkundi Foundation expressed concern about accessibility issues in the election regarding voting materials.

None of the major political parties talked about that – and it certainly made no headlines. Interestingly, the major parties steered well clear of controversial topics such as homosexuality, a divisive issue that Western interests and local minorities have traditionally watched.

As Zimbabweans head to the polls and expect better and ideas-led governance, these silences will matter in the morning after.

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