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Foreign Policy In Focus » Article / Interview

Zimbabwe Elections, News from Somalia

April 1, 2008 ·

National Public Radio’s News & Notes.

Listen to the interview.

FARAI CHIDEYA, host:
We've got more on the Zimbabwean elections and news from Somalia with Emira Woods, co-director of Foreign Policy In Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies. Who's really responsible for counting the votes?

Ms. WOODS: Well, technically it is that Zimbabwe Elections Commission and they are coming together in one central place. This was hotly debated. You know, they are collecting data from all around the country and tallying it in one central place, in spite of the fact that each individual polling place – and there were, you know, again, all over the country, these polling places were able to post the results as of Saturday. But yet somehow the electoral commission wants to have this central collection and tallying to be able to put out what they say the official results of this election. They are the only ones vested with that capacity, with that responsibility.

CHIDEYA: I've talked to people in Zimbabwe, and you know, just everyday folks, and they are all on pins and needles awaiting the results. Some people say uh-oh the vote's going to be hijacked. Other people are like, you know, perhaps if Mugabe loses he's going to try to get out of the country and build a feather nest somewhere else. What's going on? When can we actually expect the results and is there a chance they'll be tampered with?

Ms. WOODS: Well, we just don't know. I mean honestly, as of this moment I think there are two-thirds of the vote on the parliamentary results that have been tallied and officially announced. And it is very close from that of this moment, I think there are two-thirds of the vote on the parliamentary results that have been tallied and officially announced, and it is very close from that official announcement between MDC, the Movement for Democratic Change, and ZANU-PF, the ruling party's candidates in the parliament. MDC is slightly ahead in those official results, but they are really neck and neck, according to these most-recent reports, with two-thirds of the counting in.

But on the presidential election side, we really don't have any official announcement three days after the election, you know, and it is appalling, really, that it is taking so long for the results on the presidential election to be announced.

Now, there have been - you know, again, it's unconfirmed reports, but the Movement for Democratic Change says that they feel they have actually won the majority, and there are reports on BBC and elsewhere that they may have up to 48% of the vote. Some say it's slightly higher. They may not have the 51% needed to avoid a run-off, but that is all unclear.

The longer this process goes without an official announcement coming from the ZEC, the Zimbabwean Electoral Commission, it is really appalling, and you have more and more pronouncements.

You know, the Pan-African Parliament, which was there as an observer mission, one of the few international observer missions in Zimbabwe for the elections, their official observer said, look, what is happening? The results were pretty much known days ago, and yet delay after delay on these announcements, it's creating such uncertainty.

And you know, I'm here in Maryland, Farai, and we had one district in Maryland on election night; because there was a snowstorm the results weren't announced until the next day, and we were all on pins and needles for just a couple hours.

CHIDEYA: Right.

Ms. WOODS: That was the Donna Edwards candidacy here in Maryland. But can you imagine waiting three, four days, you know, as it seems like we're heading towards now without knowing the results of an election?

That is so critical, particularly in an environment where there is such a demand for change, in an environment where people left their various places of exile from South Africa, from Mozambique, from all around the region, to take that courageous and costly stance to go home and vote...

CHIDEYA: Emira, let me jump in because the Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is actually worried that there hasn't been enough election monitoring, and here's what she said.

Secretary CONDOLEEZZA RICE (U.S. State Department): We've made very clear our concerns about how this election might be conducted, given the very bad record of Mugabe concerning his people, the opposition, the region, and we've tried to make a case, as has the entire world, that there needed to be free and fair elections in Zimbabwe as much as it was possible.

CHIDEYA: Now, the U.S. has made – has not been shy about calling Mugabe and Zimbabwe kind of rogue and outside of the interests of the U.S. What do you think the U.S. has at stake in this election?

Ms. WOODS: Well, clearly when it comes to Africa the U.S. is interested in Africa's resources. That is clear regardless of what the country. And we have to remember, Zimbabwe does have mining interests that are very much relevant and very much at play. But I think there is a more subtle issue here, where you know, Mugabe has actually been able to get on his bully pulpit and rise up, you know, speaking out against the U.S. and the former colonizers, the U.K. For him it is these external hands that have created the economic crisis that is currently in Zimbabwe, and you know, discussions in the U.S. State Department using the term regime change after that term was actually placed on Iraq.

We saw what happened in the case of Iraq. Regime change has led to disaster. Now when people hear regime change coming out of the State Department, there's a lot of worry about manipulation of processes, and so there is concern that the U.S. may not be playing fair, that there may be back-handed deals in which certain organizations are supported by the U.S., and these actually contribute to a climate of anxiety, where the U.S. and the U.K., even if they may be saying absolutely the right thing in this context, are not seen as really honest brokers.

CHIDEYA: Let's take a quick tour of what's going on in Somalia. You've got insurgents continuing to battle the Somali government, and the United Nations Security Council is considering if it should send more than 25,000 peacekeepers to Somalia to replace the stretched African Union force.

Now, briefly, what are the negotiations going on around that?

Ms. WOODS: Well, let's remember, Farai, Somalia is a country that was without a government for 15 years. Finally in June, 2006, a government came to power. It was called the Union of Islamic Courts, and from June, 2006 to December, 2006, they were able to maintain governance in Somalia, and they were able to maintain peace and stability.

People could send their children to school, women could walk the streets, and yet the U.S., again, the heavy hand of the U.S., deciding that, well, the Union of Islamic Courts had Islamic in their name and they must be extremists.

And so the U.S. started aerial bombardment from December '06 until - really about a month ago we were hearing reports of U.S. bombardments in Somalia, creating instability in the country that has really continued till this day.

So you have almost daily reports of skirmishes, of fights, and the report this week was of a battle, really, between the former forces of this Union of Islamic States and these Ethiopian troops that are really seen as a proxy for the U.S. there in Somalia.

So what is happening is you have innocent civilians being caught in the middle, and there is tremendous discussion and debate going on within the U.N. at the security council level, also within the African Union, as to how can peace be returned to Somalia again.

So there are a number of efforts under way to put forward, for example, a resolution that neighboring states, particularly Ethiopia, should not have troops permanently stationed, ending the occupation of Ethiopia. Ethiopian troops in Somalia is a core part of bringing the voice of the Somali people, peace and stability to Somalia, again.

So there are negotiations underway as to how can we end, how can the international community play a role to bring an end to the violence that has so crippled Somalia in the last year and a half, and how do you withdraw not only the Ethiopian forces but also the U.S. attacks that have had such detrimental impacts on civilians.

CHIDEYA: Well, Emira, we're going to have to leave it there for today. Thanks again.

Ms. WOODS: A pleasure. Thank you, Farai.

CHIDEYA: Emira Woods is co-director of Foreign Policy In Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies, and she joined us from our headquarters in Washington, D.C.