Monday, 28 March 2016

Zanu Pf Factionalism and Allegations of Corruption: To the Victor Belong the Spoils?

 By Takura Zhangazha*

Zanu Pf factionalism appears to be taking on a new turn in relation to allegations of corruption via state contracts, public owned  enterprises, mining concessions and private capital.    In what appears to having been an already existent but complex web of linkages between political power, public resources/enterprises and private capital there are new allegations of corruption that have a tinge of being related to the current succession battles in the ruling party. 

The most telling of these examples in recent weeks have occurred in two specific developments. The first and most significant being the decision by government not to renew mining licenses to diamond extraction companies operating in the Chiadzwa district of Manicaland province.  It turns out, in this case, that government, according to President Mugabe,  has failed to get the companies operating there to account for at least US$15 billion.  It is obviously a major and unprecedented  corruption scandal where a country allegedly loses almost three times its annual government budget.

The second less significant scandal has emerged around the state owned telecommunications company, NetOne.  The chief executive of the company has been suspended ostensibly because there is need for a forensic audit to be undertaken by the auditor-general and as instructed by the NetOne board.  

 The matter took a new twist when the NetOne board last week  sought to clarify allegations around issues of tenders awarded to a company referred to as Bopela and the role of suspended company executives.  As a matter of course more NetOne employees have been suspended in relation to what the board has called underhand dealings around awarding of tenders.

In the case of the de facto nationalization of the Chiadzwa diamond fields, some media stories have alleged that it is more symptomatic of succession battles in the ruling party than it is predicated on any long term strategic planning around mining.  Local weekly, the Zimbabwe Independent has also said some of its sources are alleging that the seizure of the diamond mines by the state may also be intended to prevent the Mnangagwa faction from building what it refers to as a ‘war chest’ in succession battles.

In the case of the Netone scandal, there is  inference of factional battles or protection  from the now publicised/leaked social media (whatsapp) messages between a ruling party linked businessman, Agrippa Masiyakurima and the minister in charge of telecommunications, Supa Mandiwanzira. Both do confirm the fact of their communications between each other and refer to ‘political backers’ being behind either of their motivations and responses. 

What is most telling in the two examples I have cited is that there is a new pattern to revelations or allegations of corruption within government or state owned enterprises. Within the context of the current succession battles, there is a new trend at politicized attempts at vague whistle-blowing that often begins as rumour and political rally conjecture.  It is posited more as a threat to some sort of harsh action particularly targeting senior political godfathers/mothers but in the end, after a specific phase, it all withers away, once again. 

So this is an accusation and counter accusation framework that is currently in ‘factional operation’ at the moment .  It is characterized more by the threats to expose corruption by one faction in the ruling party’s succession battle to the extent that it affects either’s capacity to access state resources in relation to campaign resourcing or capacity building.

And for now it is the ‘softer targets’ that are in vogue. The loyal and youngish businessmen who have probably relied on their party affiliation or proximity to power to make significant amounts of money. And they are probably the first in being the worst affected where and when state owned enterprises, cabinet ministers are affected.  Those affiliated to former vice president Joice Mujuru have already attested to this reality.  Even if they were only part of the informal sector and not necessarily involved in the larger and more lucrative state tenders in other fields.

It is for this reason that the threats and actual whistle-blowing about the shenanigans that may or may not be going on in government or elsewhere at the moment remains largely instrumental than it would be considered part of a democratic and  principled stand against corruption.  It is all part of the politics of factions within the context of succession and attempts to discredit individual members of either camps to both the current president as well as in relation to the public.  This sadly will not and does not stamp out the culture of corruption that affects our society.  Instead it simply gives the impression that in these factional battles and allegations of corruption, ‘to the victor go the spoils’.
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (

Monday, 21 March 2016

African Election Internet Shutdowns: Power, Profit and Goodbye to Democratic Voting

By Takura Zhangazha*

There is a new, unfortunate and undemocratic trend that can now be associated with elections and the internet in Africa.  Almost in keeping with their newfound ‘third termism’ , some African governments have taken to switching off their citizens’ access to the internet or social media during general elections or referendums.  The most recent examples of these countries have been Uganda and Congo-Brazzaville.  This was despite the global outcry against such brazenly undemocratic action. 

Others have toyed with the idea of how to manage the impact that access to social media has during an electoral period and in part ensured that while not denying national access, the internet will not have any direct impact on how an electoral process is perceived.  

The reasons for these drastic measures and rather blatant violations of the rights to freedom of expression and access to information are generally to do with a respective incumbent government’s fear of popular protests at unfair electoral processes and results.  This is true for Uganda and Congo Brazzaville which have not demonstrated any remorse about such undemocratic policies.

The practice is however not yet a prevalent one on the continent where and when it comes to access to the internet during elections. But signs of intentions by some serving African governments  to control the internet and social media access vis-a-vis political content are all too clear.  Especially around elections and their results.

The recent examples of how to shut down a country’s access to the internet during election time are therefore being keenly followed by other governments on the continent.  Especially if they know that their chances of winning a pending election are slim.

There are however key lessons that emerge from these undemocratic tendencies and intentions as demonstrated by the Ugandan and Congo-Brazzaville governments.  The first is that some African governments, for all their claims to be democratic, do not consider access to the internet as a democratic right.  Instead, they conveniently view it as a privilege.  Where they feel it threatens their tenure, they will limit or prevent access under the guise of ‘national security’. 

This also points to a second lesson that emerges which is the profit motive of private internet service providers.  In many cases it is not an actual government  shut down but a private mobile telecommunications company that is ordered to technically prevent the provision of a service during a specific electoral period or risk facing sanction and closure.  Where the private operator does a cost benefit analysis, they will not stand up for freedom of expression but for profit. Even if it means a couple of days or weeks of no income from pre-paid usage of their services. 

This ‘profit collusion’ between telecommunications companies and governments therefore becomes a serious challenge to the democratic meaning of the internet and its popular social media offshoots. It essentially means that neither government nor the private players are keen on establishing a truly democratic culture around access to the internet as a right that cannot be denied at the sign of a social media motivated political protest or a political threat to a profit.

As a result, the onus to make access to the internet democratically meaningful to political and economic processes essentially resides with the citizen user bringing government and private players to democratic account.  Where our citizen internet users make access to the internet integral to their democratic political and economic consciousness, insist on democratic rules around its regulation and understand the fact that it is not going to go away as a technological tool of human advancement, then it will begin to have organic societal meaning.  This, despite the nationalisms or other ‘isms’ that will be thrown at it by reactionary governments and solely profit driven private corporations.

In short, the people must take back the internet.  Not always by way of technological know-how, but by insisting on its newfound and popular democratic importance to their right to freedom of expression and access to information. 

Where they do not, the motivation of governments and telecommunications companies will continue to be to utilize the internet for political control, political correctness and profit.  And by doing so they will establish Africa’s own version of a telecommunications industrial complex that will have an undemocratic and difficult to dislodge aura of invincibility.

It is therefore incumbent upon pro-democracy internet activists to also take-away key lessons from the undemocratic debacle that was the internet shutdown in Uganda and Congo-Brazzaville. And anticipate that this will be tried in other African countries during elections. Where one of them includes the possibility of re-rerouting tweets and whatsapp messages  via another country, it still does not take away the necessity of making access to the internet a right. At all times.

*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (

Friday, 11 March 2016

Biometric Voting in Zim, Putting the Cart Before the horse

 By Takura Zhangazha*

The Minister of Justice, Emerson Mnangagwa recently told a Senate committee that government has legislated electoral reforms that take into account the intentions of the  Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) with regard to introducing  biometric voter registration and as a possible consequence, biometric voting.  He also stated that government was consulting on how best the system can be managed especially if the equipment is acquired by the 2018 harmonised elections. To quote him directly, ‘If we reach elections when the biometric system and so on and technical persons are in place, we use it, if not we continue.”

The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC)  had in recent months indicated that it is seriously considering recommending the adoption of a biometric voter registration system.  This is a voter registration system that relies largely on the use of digital technologies to identify voters using either their finger print or their iris (eye).  It is also one component of at least three elements of biometric voter system.  The others include the actual voting using biometric related technology such as computer touch screens to cast a vote. The final  component would be the tallying and collating of electoral outcomes using electronically complied data and voters’ rolls.

For now, ZEC appears to be keen on the aspect of biometric voter registration only. That is if it gets money either from the state or donors.

Its statement of intent has received support from two election related organizations, namely the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN) and the Election Resource Centre (ERC).  In their official statements in support of biometric voter registration and a consequential biometric voters roll, both organizations refer to the proposition as progressive. Understandably they both cite the problems that have been associated with a manual voter registration system and the necessity of a new updated and transparent voters roll.  It would also appear that for these two organizations, the introduction of biometric technology would inevitably lead to a much more transparent and legitimate electoral process.

So barring the availability of resources to support it, biometric voter registration and possibly even actual voting is current government policy that merely awaits implementation. And it’s a herculean task by any measure. 

It requires adequate telecommunications and electricity  infrastructure that is not only reliable but will work with the greatest efficiency during an election period. Sadly where it has been used on the continent in at least 25 countries where it has been used, it has not worked in aide of democracy. 
The relevant equipment such as finger print machines have tended to breakdown and delay voting processes or in some cases voters have had to revert to the manual system despite millions of dollars having been spent on the much vaunted biometric system.  

And these vast amounts of money spent to support biometric voting tend to have supplier companies of the assumed high tech equipment and software smiling all the way to the bank while an entire country totters on the brink of civil strife.

There are also some contextual realities that must be considered in what should be a very public debate on this issue and new government policy.

Biometric voter registration and voting will definitely appear either complicated or suspicious to the ordinary voter. Not least because there is a general public perception that elections and their results are always tampered with by incumbents.  Moreover due to the culture of violence, fear and  coercion that informs electoral processes in Zimbabwe, asking for finger print or iris identification may  not lead to greater voter confidence.  Instead it may lead to the opposite or even be used to undermine free and fair electoral processes through threats to the voter, especially the more vulnerable one.  Such threats will include those of using the technology to  know exactly who has voted for whom and uncouth follow up action. 

The avoided truth of the matter is that biometric voter registration or voting is not a panacea to arriving at a truly democratic electoral process.  It gives an impressionable veneer of sophistry and technological advancement but does not replace the importance of the active citizen who casts their vote in free and fair political context.  Even if this includes the simple act of walking into a polling station, producing your national identification and casting your vote without a computer’s assistance.

To be specific to Zimbabwe, the problem is not so much a technological one around the voting process. It is essentially about the political culture that informs elections and the public confidence that is lacking in the end result/s. Moving to electronic/biometric  voting systems without first fixing the manual one is putting the cart before the horse. Especially in a country like ours where if elections were free and fair,  national identification documents easier to access, trust in the electoral authority and security services  was to be apparent, people would simply walk to the polling station, produce their national ID and democratically cast their ballots.  And thus give organic meaning to our politics that is not mediated by a malfunctioning finger-print machine, computer or scarce electricity supply

*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (