A country that does not respect information will not prosper. Zimbabwe exhibits a fundamental disrespect for information. As such our approach to issues is driven by emotions, not information.
By Edmund Kudzayi
The recent April/May Afrobarometer survey provides useful information regarding the upcoming election. It is incumbent on us to act upon that information. The Afrobarometer survey project is well-resourced, technically competent and operates in 30 African countries. Their credibility is not in question.
The report presents grim findings on the state of voter education. It finds, among other things, that at least 30% of registered voters believe their vote will be known by powerful people and that there will be violence after the election.
The objective political question is whether a voter can freely exercise their democratic right when they believe a powerful individual can track down how they voted? Given the violence of past elections, the rational answer in an information driven society would be no.
There are six important findings:
l Three in 10 registered voters (31%) believe powerful people will be able to find out how they voted.
l Three in 10 registered voters (31%) say they have been asked to show their BVR registration slips. Respondents had been asked if anyone had “demanded” to see the serial number of their voter registration slip.
l Seven in 10 registered voters (72%) believe voters must show their BVR slips in order to vote.
l 32% of registered voters believe powerful people will make use of fingerprints and photographs collected during the BVR process.
l 41% of registered voters believe the security services will not accept presidential election results.
l 40% of registered voters believe there will be violence after the election.
These findings must be understood in the context of the events of November 2017 when the military overthrew the government of then president Robert Mugabe. This unprecedented show of force by the military in political affairs had a significant effect on the mind of voters: if the military could do this to Mugabe what more to an ordinary person?
This national psyche is revealed by an extraordinary 41% of respondents saying they do not believe the security services will accept presidential election results.
This state of perceived intimidation (whether real or imagined) could lead to widespread apathy as voters wonder why they should bother to vote where the powerful military will not accept the result.
The significantly high number of voters (31%) who have received “demands” to reveal their BVR slip cannot be a coincidence. This becomes apparent when viewed in context with  the view expressed by 31% of respondents that powerful people could find out how they voted as well as  32% of respondents that believe powerful people will make use of finger prints and pictures collected during the BVR exercise.
Whether or not there is a concerted campaign to quietly intimidate voters with subliminal threats that their vote will not remain a secret is immaterial. Similarly, whether or not there is a systematic attempt to collect BVR slip serial numbers is also unimportant. The demonstrable reality emerging from the Afrobarometer scientific survey is that a significant portion of voters are fearful that their vote will be known via fingerprints and photographs collected during the BVR exercise.
What are we going to do about this?
The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) has a legal obligation to educate voters as to their rights. Despite these scandalous findings by Afrobarometer, ZEC has no effective or visible campaign to educate this significant number of voters. ZEC is making no effort to reassure them that vote is a secret. This passivity by ZEC in the face of the Afrobarometer scientific survey comes as no surprise — they are incompetent by design. Even if ZEC could be pressured into conducting a voter education campaign it would execute a technical and uninspiring campaign merely to fulfil all righteousness.
There is an urgent need for civil society to design a dynamic, entertaining and effective voter education campaign. The objective of this campaign is simple: Every voter must be confident that their vote is a secret and that there will be no violence. It is a simple but incredibly powerful message.
Four key messages must be communicated to and believed by voters:
l You have no reason to fear, your vote is truly a secret. BVR slips and serial numbers cannot be used to trace how you vote.
l Past acts of violence can no longer be repeated, the country has changed.
l The security services will accept the outcome of the election.
l International observers are present to ensure the election is fair and free from violence.
The implications of the Afrobarometer survey are self-evident. That our country is doing nothing to fix this glaring problem points to deep problems in our universities and intellectual classes. There can be no serious talk of a free and fair election when a credible scientific survey is indicating that 30% of voters are terrified their vote will be traced by men in dark glasses.
It is encouraging that the world is catching on. The world is now demanding less talk and more action from President Emmerson Mnangagwa and his ruling Zanu PF.
On Friday the European Union election observer mission urged ZEC to be more open about the printing and storage of ballot paper to enhance the credibility of the election. Furthermore, the observer mission stated that “…great efforts need to be made to ensure public and political confidence in the 2018 polls. Necessary efforts include transparency and inclusivity, confidence in the integrity of the voter roll, emphasis on secrecy of the vote and the peaceful conduct of the polls.”