Inauguration Day in Zimbabwe

HARARE, JUNE 29 -- Sunday is a slow, languid day in Harare.  Small groups of Christian evangelicals in white gowns hold prayer sessions in fields, families go for walks under the blossoming jacaranda trees, lovers lounge in the leafy parks.  The traffic is even scanter than usual, and slower.  Even the ZANU-PF thugs seemed to take the day off; Operation Inky Finger seems off to a slow start, and purple or red felt-tip pens have sold out of the shops.

Robert Mugabe, however, was in a hurry.  He wasted no time today in declaring himself victor in Friday's presidential run-off election.  In fact, ambassadors around town were invited to his inauguration before the vote totals were even released.   (The American ambassador did not get an invitation, and a spokesman at the embassy said he would not have attended the event anyway, considering the election invalid.)  Limousines with diplomatic plates filed through the gates of State House on Rotten Row between two and two-thirty in the afternoon, and the inauguration was held shortly later.

There was a slight problem with the timing, however.  The Zimbabwean Election Commission had not released the official results, and did not do so until late in the afternoon, well after four p.m.--apparently after the inauguration and swearing-in had actually taken place, and all the diplomats' cars had already been seen leaving State House.  So the "live" television broadcast of the ceremony, by Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation, was simply delayed until 6:15 p.m. local time, about 45 minutes after sunset.   That, in turn, was a dead giveaway, for while the rest of the country had already plunged into winter darkness, Mugabe's "live" inauguration, by the country's be-wigged chief justice, followed by a ceremonial march with an honor guard across the grounds of State House, clearly was taking place in the bright sunlight of midafternoon.

Even though it was a bit behind schedule in releasing the results, the Zimbabwe Election Commission did act with astonishing speed considering the many weeks that it took to release a result after the March 29th election, which Morgan Tsvangirai won handily.  The ZEC received some heavy encouragement to act quickly, when on Saturday night Emmerson Mnangagwa, Mugabe's election campaign chief, visited the ZEC's offices to tell them to hurry up, according to Agence France Presse.

Mnangagwa recently has been described as Mugabe's heir apparent; he currently holds the cabinet post of minister for rural housing, but during the election campaign, he was in charge of a government ad hoc body called the Joint Operations Center, which combined police, military and state security agencies in directing election campaign "operations."  The ZANU-PF youth militias worked directly under the JOC and were funded by it.  One human rights activist describes Mnangagwa as "more vicious than Mugabe," and noted that he was minister for state security during the era of the Matabeleland massacres, when some 20,000 people were killed to destroy support for Joshua Nkomo's followers.

The reason for the unseemly speed, which only underscored the farce of a one-man runoff, is pretty clear.  Mugabe wants to attend the African Union summit tomorrow in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, to establish his legitimacy in Africa's eyes; if the inauguration hadn't taken place, the AU could have plausibly said he couldn't attend since only heads of state were invited.

It's unclear at this point if the AU will even accept him now; their own election observers have not yet given their verdict on the run-off election, but it will be hard for them to describe it positively.  But the Pan African Parliament, which also had an observer team here, at a press conference today at the Miekles Hotel in downtown Harare, issued a devastating verdict. "The mission concluded that  the current atmosphere prevailing in the country did not give rise to the conduct of free, fair and credible elections," said the head of the observers' group, Marwick Khumalo. He said his observers saw an unusually high percentage of spoiled ballots -- many with "unpalatable messages" written on them -- and intimidating groups of young men at polling places instructing voters to write down the serial numbers on their ballots so they could check how they voted.  And he noted that turnout was very low.  And, of course, the leading vote getter in the first round, Tsvangirai, didn't even take part.  For what it's worth, ZEC claimed that Mugabe beat Tsvangirai by 2 million  to 200,000 nationwide, and even beat him in the opposition stronghold of Harare by two to one.  Khumalo also had harsh words for how ZEC had responded to all the election irregularities. "Its deafening silence was alarming."