Robert Mugabe, who was first elected to the Zimbabwean presidency in December of 1987, has watched his nation’s economy and level of corruption throughout his rule go from bad to worse to disastrous. The Rhodesian-born Mugabe has faced harsh criticism from both international and Zimbabwean figures throughout his presidency, specifically, in regards to his racist policies, corrupt administration, fear tactics, and tanking economy. Mugabe faced his most serious challenge of power in the 2008 elections, where he campaigned against opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai. After declaring Tsvangirai to have not won a majority several weeks after the elections (a declaration that was highly contested), the government announced the necessity of a runoff election. Eventually, Mugabe used fear tactics and violence targeted at opposition supporters to effectively force Tsvangirai to withdraw from the election. As leaders of Zimbabweans for Free and Fair Elections, our ultimate goal is to provide Zimbabwe with elections that are truly free of corruption, by pressuring the government to either release the true election results, or allow a third party monitor, such as the UN, to oversee the elections. In order to achieve this goal, we must break down our plan into several distinct phases.
Our initial phase will focus on educating and demonstrating to local Zimbabweans the scale and negative impacts of Mugabe’s corruption and poor governance. We will utilize local town and city meetings to spread this awareness, as well as literature on the subject and visual aids such as flyers and graffiti. This initial phase is incredibly important, as the local Zimbabwean community is one of our most influential resources. The people of Zimbabwe have demonstrated that they wish to see Mugabe out of office, but they simply lack the leadership, confidence, and knowhow to effectively remove him. The second phase focuses more on the organization and proliferation of certain groups and advocacy efforts. Due to Zimbabwe’s long history of police brutality toward opposition supporters, such as with Patrick Kombayi in 2009, or the MDC in more recent memory, large-scale public rallies against Mugabe will be extremely dangerous and likely ineffective. On the contrary, Zimbabweans for Free and Fair Elections (ZFFE) will organize and execute several more clandestine efforts to pressure the release of election results. These efforts include public displays of propaganda art, widespread distribution of the ZFFE logo, wearing of ZFFE-supporting colors, clothes, and accessories, and boycotts of government-owned institutions. These somewhat hidden protests allow us to convey to the Mugabe administration that something is wrong and people are willing to do something about it, in a way that protects our supporters from police brutality and other dangers frequently associated with more public protests in Zimbabwe. Our third and final phase involves our organization’s efforts outside of Zimbabwe, specifically in the international community. While continuing to hold meetings and attempting to increase our organization’s membership, we will establish more of an international presence, drawing on and utilizing one of our most important resources in the international media. In order to do this, we’ll establish a headquarters in the nation’s capital city of Harare, allowing volunteers to aid us in our efforts by contacting online publications, writing blog posts, and generally increasing our social media presence, especially with our hashtag campaign, #Justice2Mugabe. This international attention will aid us in our goal to pressure the government’s release of the election results.
As previously stated, Phase 1 will focus primarily on the education of the Zimbabwean people as well as the spread of information regarding Mugabe’s corrupt regime. Working around the nation’s only 38.6% urban population will be difficult, as it would necessitate innovative outreach initiatives to contact the more rural population. For this reason, we choose to focus our efforts predominately on the urban population, especially the 1.5 million people living in Zimbabwe’s capital city of Harare.Our first action in order to reach out to these native Zimbabweans is to hold weekly public forums in central locations throughout Harare. These forums will not only serve as a means for the people to voice their opinions and learn more about their nation’s political situation in a safe environment, but will also serve to build up our support base, encouraging the spread of our organization’s ideas and goals. Unfortunately, Zimbabwe police forces will often overlook or simply ignore the Public Order and Security Act of Zimbabwe, eventually banning lawful public meetings and gatherings. In order to conduct these weekly forums in a more private manner, we’ll reach out to several churches in the Harare area, particularly ones associated with outspoken Mugabe critic, Archbishop Pius Ncube. The Archbishop is a crucial ally for our organization, as he one of Mugabe’s most influential critics, and so far has “been untouched by the repression that has befallen other opposition figures.” With him on our side, we would be able to conduct these meetings in safe, private environments, and spread knowledge of our organization’s ideals with significantly less fear of being persecuted or arrested.
Though this task of providing regularly scheduled meetings is very important in achieving our goals, we realize that mobilizing a significant portion of Zimbabweans to attend these meetings could be challenge. Because of this, we also plan on rolling out several other informational and educational efforts to spread the word to a significant portion of Zimbabweans that would be unable to attend the public forums. One of these efforts would be the distribution of informational flyers throughout urban communities. Rather than specifically criticizing Mugabe with this literature, the flyers would contain information regarding the practices, beliefs, and goals of the ZFFE, as well as demands of the government as a whole to release the true election results. Additionally, the flyers would contain factual information regarding the presidency of Mugabe and its harmful effects on the economy, human rights, equality, etc.Finally, these educational flyers would work in tandem with our public forums. Not only would we encourage attendees of the forum to aid us in distributing the flyers around their neighborhood, but the flyers themselves would also encourage increased attendance of the meetings. Ultimately, the goal of phase 1 is to educate and inform the people of Zimbabwe on the severity of their nation’s political issues, specifically the fraudulent elections. The efforts of the ZFFE in phase 1 also aim to increase our support base and establish strong relationships with important community or city figureheads such as church and school leaders. Utilizing our literature distribution as well as our weekly public meetings will help us achieve these goals in a timely fashion, with phase 1 lasting somewhere between four and six weeks.
After spending sufficient time and effort to increase the ZFFE support base, as well as spread the word of our organization, we will transition into phase 2. The ultimate goal of this particular phase is to begin putting significant pressure on the Mugabe administration to release the election results. In doing this, we will demonstrate to Zimbabwe how important this issue is, and show the government that there is a significant number of citizens willing to fight for our cause. The first important factor of phase 2 is the spread of our ideas through public displays of art. We will utilize cheaply and easily produced graffiti stencils to portray our organization’s logo throughout the city of Harare. Our logo will feature an outstretched hand (similar to the image below), representing the people of Zimbabwe, reaching towards a pile of documents titled “Election Results.” These small graffiti stencils, which can be made out of any material, can also be easily distributed, much like our informational flyers. This powerful image evokes an emotional response, one of anger and gumption, as the outstretched hand symbolizes a nation starving for the truth. Ultimately, this form of public art is an easily distributable, cost-efficient way to not only rally our followers to action, but also send a powerful message to the government.
Another extremely effective aspect of many peaceful protests involves the humanization of the opponent through the use of humor and embarrassment of, in our case, Robert Mugabe. Along with the distribution of graffiti stencils of the ZFFE logo, our organization will facilitate and promote the placement of banners, posters, and flyers, which portray Mugabe as a puppet for the Western world, going against one of his strongest ideals of not “kneeling” to westerners and succumbing to the help of the western world. These additional art forms will help portray Mugabe as weak and incompetent, someone who simply acts as a mouthpiece for other powers, and goes against some of his core ideals. Keeping with the theme of defying Mugabe and his regime, the official color of the ZFFE will be white. The color white symbolizes many of the things Mugabe has stood against, such as tolerance, freedom of speech, compromise, and especially the colonial legacy left behind in Africa. As a group, we will organize a specific day in which all of our supporters will wear only white, a peaceful, legal, and powerful demonstration of our solidarity and commitment to finding the truth. Ultimately, we will promote and encourage the spread and display of the color white through clothing, flags, posters, and more as a way to give our organization a unifying aspect, one that is both easy and free to promote. This stage in our plan, much like the first phase, will be both cost and time efficient, lasting anywhere from one to two months in duration. The creation and distribution of these images, colors, flags, and more will not only help promote our organization’s efforts, but will also put significant public pressure on the government, which is our ultimate goal.
After rallying support from the local community in phase 2, we will move on to encouraging support from the international community in our third and final stage. Of all the resources the ZFFE has at its disposal, the international media could be the most important. The use of mobile phones, and mobile penetration in Zimbabwe has increased from 24% to 64% in the last five years alone. This proliferation of mobile technology will be exceptionally helpful in our international social media efforts to channel international attention and pressure onto the Mugabe administration, eventually forcing them to release the election results. In order to maximize the attention given to our organization, we must establish a network of online supporters through our website, blog, Facebook, and twitter accounts. Once we’ve established this strong network, we will encourage supporters to send us photos, videos, blog posts, and online articles with the hashtag #Justice2Mugabe to cultivate even more online attention. Specifically, we will set up a team of volunteers to go through each submission and select the most powerful and poignant submissions, such as first hand photos of ZFFE sponsored art, the ZFFE flag, and more, so that we may share them on our own website, and forward them to international news outlets.
International attention, especially from powerful Western nations, can have incredibly influential effects, as can be seen in examples such as the Kony 2012 campaign. This attention could very well encourage Western NGO’s to enter in the political discussion in Zimbabwe, and not only pressure the government to release the election results, but also could provide a strong, third party option through which future elections could be monitored. In the end, an increase in the ZFFE online, and social media presence will allow for the political struggle in Zimbabwe to receive plenty of media coverage both inside and outside of the nation. The recent rise in smartphone users in Zimbabwe is a crucial step for our social media campaign, allowing users from all over the country to participate in a non-violent, online political protest. If we as an organization can gain the attention of large western media outlets such as CNN or BBC, a significant amount of scrutiny would be placed on the Mugabe administration and its fraudulent practices, hopefully leading to their release of the true election results, and a reformation of the voting process in Zimbabwe.
In conclusion, The Zimbabweans for Free and Fair Elections will utilize the detailed 3-step process outlined above to peacefully and efficiently pressure the Mugabe administration into releasing the results of the 2008 election. By educating people on the issues first, gaining local support second, and widening that support internationally in our final stage, the ZFFE aims to fundamentally alter the corrupt and unbalanced nature of elections in Zimbabwe. As an organization, the ZFFE will provide a means for Zimbabweans to finally receive what they have so clearly wanted for several years: the truth regarding the 2008 elections, as well as a government and election process free of corruption and patronage. In the past, I believe the issue has been with organization; the people of Zimbabwe have recognized the evil and corrupt nature of President Mugabe, but have simply lacked the organization and resources to stage any sort of effective opposition. The ZFFE can provide these people with the resources and knowhow to create a strong, more democratic opponent to Mugabe, ultimately resulting in a more democratic Zimbabwe. I believe our 3-step process provides the most efficient, effective, and reasonable plan to ultimately achieve truly free and fair elections in Zimbabwe.
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