Zimbabwe: A Double-Standard Undermining U.S. Interests

By John Siko

John Siko heads Risk Advisory's sub-Saharan Africa Business Intelligence practice.

OPINION — I want to talk about an African election. It was 2009 in Botswana and the ruling party, in power since independence, was not shy about using the power of incumbency to ensure it remained in place. It splashed out pre-election largesse to supporters. Its presidential candidate used military aircraft to traverse the country. Ruling party-supporting businessmen supplied traditional leaders with automobiles to help ensure their support. And more broadly, the country was gerrymandered in such a way that rural districts supporting the party in power had outsized influence, more or less ensuring its perpetual control.

Sounds pretty dire. But despite this atmosphere, no Western observers criticized Botswana’s 2009 election, or any of its other polls before or since. In fact, Botswana is held up as Africa’s democratic success stories despite conditions that more or less ensure the ruling Botswana Democratic Party remains in power. This is not a slap at Botswana. The country is one of Africa’s best governed, and the BDP’s victory was credible and reflected the will of the people. But the bigger point here is that pre-election environments across Africa (and, really, across the world) are by no means perfect, and often give significant advantages to incumbents.

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