Former Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, who is heading the African Union (AU) Election Observation Mission to Zimbabwe has described the Monday election as a “turning point” in the Southern African country facing an economic and political crisis after the resignation of former President Robert Mugabe, in November last year. In an exclusive interview with VOA Zimbabwe Service reporter Blessing Zulu, Mr. Desalegne says Monday's election is a key determinant in Zimbabwe's future. He also hailed the peace currently prevailing in the country as the campaign period comes to an end.
Fmr. PM Desalegn: Overall, the situation in Zimbabwe is peaceful and is stable, and right now, I am looking through my window... the rally that MDC Alliance is making, it’s a very heated campaign. And so I think, all over the country where we deployed our observation mission members, we are getting reports that it’s going on in a peaceful way.
Blessing Zulu (BZ): And your Excellency, how are you going to assess Zimbabwe’s elections?
Fmr. PM Desalegn: We have deployed more than 64 persons all over the country, and they are observing at the provincial level, and also at the polling station levels, the campaign and the rallies, and overall conduct of the election process. That is how we are observing.
BZ: What is the overall objective of your mission?
Fmr. PM Desalegn: The objective is, you know, we have in our African Union Summit of Heads of State and Government, there is a decision, a charter that has been set in place for all African nations, a guideline to conduct peaceful, democratic, credible, transparent elections, and we want to see that this guideline is implemented in Zimbabwe also. We have the African Union Charter for human rights and democracy, and that is also the basis for checking if this election is being conducted accordingly. And we also have a code of conduct for our election observation mission members, which is also decided by the Summit, and accordingly, the impartiality, neutrality, transparency and constructiveness of our election observers is very important. We are doing that. We also abide to the Constitution of Zimbabwe and electoral laws and laws enshrined by the nation. And we also respect the customs and tradition of Zimbabwean people, while doing this process. So, I think there is a guideline and principles of declaration on democratic elections, and we follow those things to ensure they are implemented in Zimbabwean election. That is the objective of our mission.
BZ: Have you managed to meet all the key stakeholders in these elections?
Fmr. PM Desalegn: Yes, we met government officials, including the president (Emmerson Mnangagwa), and we also met the main opposition party members - MDC Alliance, MDC-T, and other big parties in the nation. And we also discussed with presidential candidates, the majority. We have also coordination discussions with other observers - SADC (Southern African Development Community), European Union, National Democratic Organization, and COMESA (Common Market of Eastern & Southern Africa), all the observation groups in addition to African Union. So, I think we collect information from all of these … Also civil society groups. There is a strong civic society group in Zimbabwe, well organized and well-versed. They have many candidates all over the country and they are observing accordingly, and we have discussed with them the nature and environment of the elections.
BZ: The opposition parties have been raising serious concern about the way the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission has been conducting the elections. Any concerns that they raised with you, that you have addressed, as the AU?
Fmr. PM Desalegn: Yes, yes, they have raised all the concerns that they have been advocating to all groups, they have also explained this to us. We brought these concerns to the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission and they also got those concerns. They have provided their own responses to it. But anyway, we are looking into those things as well.
BZ: How significant is this election after the ouster of former President Robert Mugabe?
Fmr. PM Desalegn: I think as far as the African Union is concerned, first of all this election should be peaceful, democratic, in a sense, it should be credible and transparent, and on the eyes first, of the Zimbabwean people and the region, the continent and the international community. So, I think the peacefulness of this election is very, very essential because now Zimbabwe is in trouble as far as the economy is concerned, democratic engagements are concerned. So, I think this is a turning point for Zimbabwean politics and economics, and this election is determinant for the future of this country, and the African Union looks into it seriously, in this regard, and it’s a landmark, transformational venture.
BZ: Did you have any plans to meet with Mr. Mugabe?
Fmr. PM Desalegn: No I didn’t, because that is not my mission. My mission is to represent the African Union, and I think having to do this, meet with government officials and opposition party members, the real stakeholders in the … I didn’t have that plan, and it’s not my mandate, and if the president ( former president Mugabe) wants to meet, I think I can do SO as an individual.
BZ: When should we expect the final report from your mission?
Fmr. PM Desalegn: We will deliver this report after the ballot day, when we gather the information from our observation team deployed throughout the country. We have a situation room here in Zimbabwe, Harare, and I think when we conclude that, maybe before the 3rd of August, we will try to come out with our report, our preliminary report.
BZ: And lastly, your Excellency, per Zimbabwe’s Constitution, results must be announced within five days. How long is the AU going to be in Harare after this period?
Fmr. PM Desalegn: I think our long-term observation mission will stay for Alonger period of time, only the short term one will be deployed back so we will be present.