The weaponization of Observer Mission reports to effect regime change in Zimbabwe

Innocent Mujeri

Recent elections in Zimbabwe have once again ignited debates surrounding the credibility and impartiality of election observers. Particularly in the spotlight is Nevers Mumba, Head of the Southern African Development Community Electoral Observation Mission (SEOM). Mumba's report has not only been criticized for bias, but also a key tool in the West’s new strategy of weaponising election observation to cause regime change in Zimbabwe. The weaponisation of observer missions undermines democracy by trivialising the will of the people and giving undue weight to trivial issues.

According to the Code of Conduct for Election Observers, observer reports should be based on "well-documented, factual, and verifiable evidence from a multiple number of credible sources," as well as the observers' eyewitness accounts. Mumba, nicknamed the Black Smith, heavily relied on misinformation from the CCC and its allies. He totally ignored the Government and ZANU PF. He made sweeping statements about constitutional issues and an NGO, Forever Associates Zimbabwe (FAZ) Trust, without having consulting Government and ZANU PF. Furthermore, he accused the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) of bias without engaging with the broadcaster. ZBC has since issued a statement that several CCC candidates, including Nelson Chamisa, had declined interview invitations.

It is noteworthy that Mumba himself hails from Zambia, a country that has had its share of electoral controversies. The controversial sudden death of Melody Musutu, an aspiring candidate for Mandevu Constituency and the withdrawal of some aspiring candidates shortly before Zambia’s 2021 elections raised numerous questions. Despite such incidents, SADC did not dismiss Zambia’s election results. It accepted President Hakainde Hichilema’s victory. The lack of scrutiny towards Zambia's electoral process compared to that of Zimbabwe calls into question the objectivity of Mumba as an observer.

Mumba should know that the weaponization of observer mission reports is a detrimental practice that erodes the foundations of democracy. Such reports should be based on well-documented, factual, and verifiable evidence, free from the influence of external or hidden agendas. As we navigate the contentious landscape of electoral politics, it is crucial to remember the core democratic values that elections are meant to uphold. Biased reports that are weaponized for regime change not only betray these values, but also jeopardize the stability and integrity of the nations they aim to critique. In this case Mumba appears to have unintentionally engineered the isolation of Zambia.

Could Mumba be a close ally of Chamisa

Nevers Mumba, Head of the Southern African Development Community Electoral Observation Mission (SEOM) has attracted global attention with questions being raised in his conduct as the head of the bloc’s election observation mission. Some analysts have opined that there exist close ties between Mumba and Citizens Coalition for Change leader, Nelson Chamisa. Their assertions are that it was always questionable whether Mumba could serve as an impartial observer. Both Mumba and Chamisa are pastors, fuelling rumours that their relationship transcends political lines and delves into the social sphere. Given these alleged connections, one has to question the objectivity of Mumba's report.

Ironically, Mumba's religious background, which should have been a foundation for impartiality, seems to have had the opposite effect. As a clergyman, he is held to a high standard of truthfulness and objectivity, virtues that are essential in religious teachings. However, it appears that Mumba allowed his closeness to Chamisa to cloud his judgment, leading to a biased report that calls into question the very ethical principles he should embody.

Adding fuel to the fire are developments that Mumba escorted Chamisa to the polling station to cast his vote. Naturally, this casts serious doubts on the objectivity and reliability of any report coming from him. It even begs the question: was Mumba's election observation report prepared in collaboration with Chamisa en route to the polling station? Such allegations, if substantiated, severely undermine the credibility of the observer mission reports.

Mumba is, however, not new to controversy as in 2004, the then Zambian President, Levy MWANAWASA sacked Mumba from the Vice Presidency for sparking a row with neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo and for gross insubordination. Mr Mumba had claimed that Congolese business people were funding Zambia’s opposition parties. Now the nervous Nevers has poisoned relations between Zimbabwe and Zambia. Fortunately, he can now not be fired from his position as the Gdansk Declaration henchman.

Election results disputation a global phenomenon

Citizens Coalition for Change leader, Nelson Chamisa's dispute of the election results in Zimbabwe is not an isolated occurrence. It mirrors the actions of Donald Trump in the United States following his loss to Joe Biden. Trump cited concerns such as Dominion voting machines switching votes and inexplicably high Democratic turnout as proof that the election was not free and fair. In response, Biden tweeted, "Democracy cannot survive when one side believes there are only two outcomes to an election: either they win, or they were cheated. That's not democracy. And that's where the vast majority of MAGA Republicans are today. You can't love your country only when you win." Using Biden’s observation one may conclude that Chamisa is a miserable caricature of Trump.

When it comes to Chamisa's claim that he won the popular vote, there is virtually no evidence to support such weird assertions. The CCC failed to deploy agents in all polling stations due to financial mismanagement and unpopularity in the rural areas. Chamisa is accused of misappropriating election funds that he had received from his handlers and those crowdfunded from party supporters. He received more than US$37 million. Additionally, his paranoia and poor leadership qualities that saw him alienate seasoned partners in favour of novices disintegrated the opposition formation.

It is also worth noting that to compensate for the logistical challenges on the first voting day, an additional day was added to ensure everyone had an opportunity to vote, demonstrating the Government's commitment to an inclusive and democratic electoral process.

President Mnangagwa has even indicated a revival of the Political Actors Dialogue (POLAD), providing another avenue for dialogue rather than discord. Chamisa should join POLAD and play a more constructive role.