Zimbabweans go to the polls to elect a new president in 2018, but the country’s political future remains uncertain. The only president Zimbabweans have known is Robert Mugabe, who has ruled the southern African country since 1980.
But political opposition is rising against the 93-year old president, and many observers are looking at the upcoming 2018 elections as a critical benchmark for many Zimbabweans who will either vote to elect a new leader, or stay with the revolutionary Zanu-PF party, which is embroiled in factionalism.
In a recent interview with VOA’s Esther Githui-Ewart of the TV program Africa 54, African Union Ambassador to the U.S., Dr. Arikana Chihombori-Quao, who is from Zimbabwe, said she’s hopeful about Zimbabwe’s future.
“Zimbabweans are very resilient people,” said Dr. Chihombori-Quao. Who would have thought we would still be standing with everything that we’ve gone through? Zimbabweans will make it.”
As Zimbabweans consider their voting choices for president in 2018, Ambassador Chihombori urged her fellow citizens and all those around the Continent to be proactive and not just stand by the sidelines.
“My message to Zimbabweans particularly those in the diaspora, I encourage them to participate in the electoral process - we need parliamentarians, we need new parties coming in,” said the Ambassador. “So I encourage the citizens of Zimbabwe to get involved. Don’t just sit and fire charges at the governments. It is not just Zimbabweans, this is true of all African countries. Don’t just sit and complain about what’s happening at home.”
Zimbabwe has been under targeted sanctions from several western countries, including the US, for alleged human rights abuses and lack of political transparency, all of which the government has denied. President Mugabe has been pushing for the removal of what he has called unjust sanctions.
"So you have sanctions, we have sanctions (laughs) and this American the imperialist at the top of it all," President Mugabe said in an interview.
Ambassador Chihombori, who has challenged the effectiveness of the sanctions, urged Africans to be more independent of western assistance in the form of aid.
“We as Africans, we’ve got to move away from this aid mode that we seem to have been perpetually in. We need to get ourselves in a position where we can be self-sufficient,” Dr. Chihombori stressed. “So our relationship at this point tends to be dictated in some cases the need for aid. We’ve got to get away from that.”
Ambassador Chihombori would not respond directly to allegations that President Mugabe has failed the country, as many have alleged, but said such accusations against governments and leaders is not unique to Zimbabwe.
“I cannot answer the question as to whether he [President Mugabe] has failed or been good for Zimbabwe,” Ambassador Chihombori said. “What I can tell you is what’s happening in Zimbabwe—rising of the opposition is nothing new. It is happening everywhere, even here in this country [U.S.]. That is just the nature of the political process. I don’t think we should single out Zimbabwe and say what is happening there is unique.”
In recent years, President Mugabe has been seeking sporadic treatment in Singapore, raising questions among Zimbabweans on how long he can hang on to power. As for how strongly Zimbabweans want President Mugabe and the Zanu-PF party succeeded by an opposition party, Chihombori said only time will tell.
“We have elections. Let’s see what happens.”
Zimbabwe’s economy continues to face challenges amidst lack of investors and a cash crunch that has forced banks to reduce daily withdrawal limits to as low as $50 a day.
(Story Reported by Esther Githui-Ewart, VOA Africa 54)