Post 2023 Election, Politics in Zimbabwe and the future of polarization in Africa.


One of the central features of our societies is an increasing polarization between political elites and the general population. Political polarization is one of the main actors that play a pivotal role in driving political behavior. Political scientists, define the concept of political polarization as a state or process of hardened differences of opinion that are based on perceived or actual inequalities. While an inclusive society across African society and the globe at large might encourage political pluralism and positively affect economic growth and democratic development, a higher level of ideological division is intensifying polarization across Africa. To make matters worse, polarization between different political actors is deepened due to a lack of effective peace and reconciliation strategies, unity of purpose, and a sense of belonging.


Although l agree with many political scientists that the purpose of democracies is not to cover up existing conflicts but to discuss them constructively and transparently. In this respect, my point of departure is that a certain amount of polarization is not only normal but necessary in democracies. However, the critical challenge is to prevent polarized conflicts from sliding into violent conflicts where dialogue comes to its end or never comes. In the African context, history has it that, politics has been mired with violent conflicts, coups, military-assisted transitions, intimidation, and human rights violations. This is a result of political polarization that can also be seen as a measure of an individual´s beliefs and normative views about society that closely relate to political party affiliation and predict a range of attitudes and behaviors in both political and apolitical contexts. 


Across the political divide, people identify themselves within a specific group and the more characteristics they share, the stronger their sense of identification within that group. At the same time, the more they identify with one group, the stronger the sense of distance from the others that do not share characteristics (alienation). The more people consume information across their political affiliations the more the processes of identification and alienation occur. As more people get or receive communicated information or news from their political parties, more and greater alienation happens. Information communicated through political channels like algorithms uses echo chambers or filter bubbles to decide what kind of information is displayed based on a user´s search history and networks. Based on this algorithm strategy, political ideas are created with ideological bubbles that tend to confirm preconceived political beliefs. The result is that there will be weakened political deliberation as people hardly get exposed to opposing views. 


Polarization in Zimbabwe post 2023 elections. 


Zimbabwe´s elections took place on the 23rd of August 2023, both from local authorities and parliamentarians to the highest office in the land. Eleven candidates including the former outstared Minister Kasukuwere intended to contest in the Presidential race. However, only two competitive candidates were at the center of the election, the incumbent President Emmerson Mnangagwa of the ZANU-PF party and Advocate Nelson Chamisa of the Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC). With the elections behind us now the incumbent President Emmerson Mnangagwa was reelected and declared the winner by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC). Yet with roughly a one-third of the votes, that victory was by no means decisive, and his CCC opponent threatened to challenge the election results and continue to raise the legitimate question. The results were not only questioned by the opposition but also by election observers including the SADC. 


The Presidency and National Assembly seats are always fiercely contested in Zimbabwe, as whoever controls the National Assembly controls the allocation of resources and policy formulations. The President of the Republic of Zimbabwe together with his ministers and the National Assembly allocate national resources through budgets. In this instance, the ruling ZANU-PF party has almost the majority in Parliament and the Presidency, which means that the party must distribute national resources and formulate policies for all. Although there are numerous Legislators from the opposition CCC, ZANU-PF controls the allocation of resources. At the same time, CCC controls the majority of Urban Municipalities where they also have the mandate to allocate resources and deliver public goods. The major crisis in Zimbabwe is polarization which has gone beyond differences in political ideologies but rather translate to a tendering process where government contacts are distributed to friends and cronies of political elites. In this situation, the state has become an arena for the struggle over the distribution of wealth along political lines.


Polarization in Zimbabwe is highly correlated with the short-term strategies of political elites, who utilize it to gain support and monopolize political power.  If these political elites from both the ruling and opposition were willing to reform the electoral process, then political parties could play a role in reconciling divisive differences and consequently increase the probability of successful reform. This suggests that politicians can overcome the challenge of polarization and win public support for reform by embracing cooperation across parties. More importantly, trustworthiness in the electoral process could reduce the conflict between winners and losers. In other words, the cause of polarization in different democracies and Zimbabwe needs to be considered while examining the relationship between polarization and democratic support and vice versa.


In the case of Zimbabwe and other young African democracies, where ethnic divisions, human rights violations, and different political ideologies are the fundamental reasons for unstable politics, the electoral process needs to provide fair opportunities to all different groups. While electoral reform could potentially deal with different ethnic and political interests, there is no guarantee that losers will consent if the reform process does not satisfy all sub-groups, thus creating new tension among the political elite. Therefore, the effect of electoral reform on resolving polarizing issues varies depending on the nature and level of disagreement within the country. Electoral reform might converge slightly different perspectives, but the effect is limited if the cause of polarization is not resolved. Most importantly in Zimbabwe, polarization has been worsened by a history of human rights violations, politically motivated violence the history of unresolved conflict, and lack of proper transitional justice mechanisms.


In the case of Zimbabwe, where partisanship and ideological divisions lead to polarization on various policies, the electoral system must ensure voters always have viable alternatives. If the electoral system provides too many advantages to the incumbent party, that party could effectively disable the ability of opposition parties to survive thus lowering confidence in democracy among the losers. The Zimbabwean current state of politics implies that elections matter for political stability in a polarized society. However, as it stands the President and his party will have to strike a balance between hard policy choices and populist measures in an atmosphere where many citizens continue to question his legitimacy. This situation will make it difficult to proceed with serious reform, which in turn will affect the government’s standing in the eyes of the international community.