Two botched attempts by Sapes Books in Harare to launch Excelgate authored by Professor Jonathan Moyo had the instant effect of stimulating my interest in the book. What did Excelgate unravel that made the ruling party ZANU-PF send hooligans to disrupt a scheduled launch? I had to quickly buy the book and quench my curiosity.
I was not to be disappointed!
The book is fast-paced and the introduction gives a sound bird’s eye view on how the 2018 Presidential election was stolen. The book draws on history to interpret and explain contemporary political phenomena.
But first things first.
Burden of the Messenger
A book on a stolen 2018 Presidential election written by Professor Jonathan Moyo is inherently imbued with what l call ‘burden of the messenger’. Moyo is in this case not just an ordinary academic and analyst but is on the losing side of the 15 November 2017 coup that has since proven to have been nothing but an internal ZANU-PF implosion. The coup had to be cured through the 2018 election, which ZANU-PF had to win by all means necessary. Moyo also has the infamy of only regaining his democratic bearings only when the ZANU-PF juggernaut ejects him as is the obtaining context around the authorship of Excelgate. It is no surprise that book publisher Ibbo Mandaza in his Foreword seeks to sanitise the author by imploring readers to consider the message on the basis of its merits and not the messenger. Fair enough! However, 234 pages later, one does realise that while the author strikes a fair and candid analysis, the story is told from an emotionally invested person. Expose electoral fraud as part of a revenge mission? Does motive matter in the context of ‘storytelling’?
The Crux of the Matter
The author’s discredited character aside, Excelgate is a compelling case study of brazen and systematic electoral theft. The fundamental submission by Moyo is dualistic: that the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) violated the prescribed route and destination of the presidential election results and also severed use of the results server leading to a group of ‘over 20 people inputting V11 data into an Excel spreadsheet’. It was through disharmonising the transmission of presidential and national assembly results that room was created for rigging as is alleged by Moyo.
The submissions by Moyo have credence in that they are not just a matter of political opinion, but are anchored on review of the Constitution, the Electoral Act (Chapter 2:13), the 2018 Election Officers Manual and Statutory Instrument 21 of 2005 – all these providing legal and administrative guidelines on the conduct of a credible election. The fundamental conclusion is that ZEC is a captured and discredited institution whose wherewithal to conduct free and fair elections is deficient. Compounding the problem is a partisan Chief Justice, Luke Malaba, and the judiciary system thus effectively rendering legal recourse for electoral fraud futile. Furthermore, Moyo posits that the military did not only superintend over the rigging process but stands ready to shoot to kill in defence of a fraudulent electoral victory as was witnessed during the Harare Massacre on the 1st of August 2018.
Significance of the book
The book is an elaborate case study on the theft of the 2018 Presidential election. There is evidence of thorough meticulous research, focused and critical analysis. In terms of information already in the public domain, Moyo deploys discourse analysis in to draw inferences and conclusions in support of his case. Commendably, the reader is left with an intimate understanding of not just provisions of electoral legislation but also the standard protocol for management of harmonised elections.
Among many other submissions, I highlight below some of the poignant insights from the book:
In a bold move, Moyo names individuals he alleges are at the heart of electoral theft in Zimbabwe. Prominent among the listed individuals in Excelgate is Mavis Matsanga, alleged to have been deployed from the CIO in 2008. Matsanga currently serves as ZEC Chief Information Security Officer. Out of all the 234 pages of the book, there is only one picture, it is that of Mavis Matsanga. ZEC Chairperson Priscilla Chigumba, ZEC Acting Chief Executive Officer Utoile Silaigwana and Chief Justice Luke Malaba are also outed as rigging enablers, the usurpers of the will of the people. The institutional arrangements for rigging under the leadership of the Ministry of Defence are also laid bare. One gets to understand why there have thus far been successful efforts to frustrate the local launch and international distribution of the book. The enablers of rigging are exposed and they are running scared.
Moyo traces the genesis of military involvement in civilian politics to the Mgagao Declaration in Tanzania where the guerrilla commanders deposed ZANU leader Ndabaningi Sithole in favour of Robert Mugabe. However, my personal interrogation of history shows that military commanders in ZANU have always been powerful. A case in point is that of Josiah Tongogara, head of Zimbabwe National Liberation Army High Command, and how he is alleged to have masterminded the assassination in March 1975 of ZANU Chairman Herbert Chitepo following internal ZANU contestations. But the point remains, the gun has always informed and influenced civilian politics right from the liberation war to the birthing of Zimbabwe as a post-colonial nation-state. The 2017 coup is just but an overt occurrence in a series of covert precedential events.
Understanding “the system”
Some public intellectuals have in the past attempted to explain the system and its inner workings, with limited success. As an author of ZANU-PF’s 2002 and 2013 election manifestos and also former Cabinet Minister, Moyo provides a former insider`s description of ‘the system’ and its tentacles. Moyo identifies the Joint Operations Command (JOC) as ‘the system’ whose geographic reach cascades from the district to provincial and national level. JOC lacks accountability in its operations as it does not report to Cabinet or Parliament but engages the President directly. To illustrate the system’s invincibility, JOC cannot sue or be sued for it is a colonial legacy informal body with no legal standing. Moyo further alleges that there is no single case of atrocities committed in Zimbabwe since independence that does not involve JOC or a component thereof.
Caution to the Opposition
Excelgate is a must-read for opposition political parties, in particular the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) as the party has emerged as the strongest opposition to ZANU-PF since 2000. Moyo observes that the MDC has never since 2000 been able to field election agents in all the country’s polling stations, numbering 10 985 in 2018. Moyo thus advises the MDC to deploy agents in all 1985 ward centres, 210 constituency centers, 10 provincial centres and at the national command centre in Harare. But of course, some significant rigging allegedly happens at polling stations and the need for deployment of astute and functionally literate polling agents at 10 985 centres remains the first line of electoral defence against fraud.
Another crucial piece of advice is the need for opposition parties to appreciate that an election is a ‘rule bound political process which is a legal event’. Moyo’s observation being that often times elections are framed more as political processes to the exclusion of their legal manifestations which give a predictable outline on the conduct of elections; which conduct opposition parties must insist on. Due credit however has to be given to the opposition for their persistent demands for electoral reforms which however have in the past been spurned by people like Moyo infamous for his remarks in 2016 that ZANU-PF cannot reform itself out of power.
Resolving Electoral Malaise
Moyo advances the argument that opposition parties should always presume that elections will be stolen and thus gather evidence of anticipatory and constructive rigging for purposes of lodging robust court challenges. However, Moyo’s advice, while logical and plausible, sounds futile in the context of a state in the jaws of a predatory military elite. So long as genuine electoral and political reforms are not constituted and implemented judiciously, elections will continue to legitimise an illegitimate system. The fundamental question is how does the opposition prepare for any kind of future rigging? In response to this question, Moyo calls for citizens to ‘use their sovereignty to reclaim their judicial authority’. Is this a subtle call for a revolution?
Expose the rigging then what?
Moyo cites the example of India where, under the doctrine of curative petitions, the Supreme Court corrected its own decisions in the interests of justice. But this is Zimbabwe; a reversal of the Constitutional Court ruling is not tenable in the scheme of power retention. The quest for Zimbabwe to be a flourishing constitutional democracy is bleak. The tentacles of ‘the system’ are wide and state capture is a lived reality.
What triggered the coup?
Douglas Rogers, author of Two Weeks in November, alleged that it was the dismissal of Emmerson Mnangagwa as Vice President that triggered the 15 November 2017 coup. In his paper Motivations and Dynamics of Zimbabwe’s 2017 military coup, Blessing Miles Tendi avers that the coup trigger was Mugabe’s refusal to meet with the generals on 15 November 2017 after the 13 November press conference by then Commander of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces General Constantine Chiwenga.
Moyo proffers a third alternative explanation to the coup trigger by making the argument that the press statement by Simon Khaya Moyo on 14 November 2017 which intimated that the press statement by Constantine Chiwenga on 13 November 2017 was treasonous. Pertinent here is that the coup discourse is evolving and depending on authors’ motives and access to key informants (key informants’ motives also matter) the coup trigger narrative in particular and coup events will vary. Moyo further casts aspersions on the factuality of the much-hyped military operation on 12 November 2017 that purportedly neutralised a planned police operation to arrest of General Chiwenga on arrival at the Robert Mugabe International Airport from China.
In defence of freedom of thought
I respect and defend Moyo’s right to express his thoughts, right or wrong, in writing. This is the essence of intellectual freedom. Efforts to block the distribution of the book locally and internationally are deplorable. If anything, ZEC ought to be responding to the accusations of institutionalised rigging for as it stands their credibility is severely compromised.
There is no doubt political science students have been handed a useful case study on how to rig a Presidential election. The book is likely to emerge as a seminal elections management reference text.
I recommend the book to any Zimbabwean keen to understand the workings of the shapers and usurpers of our future in this the land of ruins.