Zimbabwe elections-My point of view-The media was the greatest culprit

I arrived in Harare after experiencing Air Zhing Zhong, a term coined by Zimbabweans on anything Chinese. They consider it cheap an undurable. As a good passenger I kindly reported at Kamuzu International Airport around 5.30pm for My Harare Air Zimbabwe flight of 7.30pm. I was with Shulton, my good freind for years and Mwamadi the old colleague of mine. I chose to go to Tilipano, 5 kilometres away from the airport for chicken wings and a few bottles.

I was back by 6.50 and went ahead to proceed with formalities. I bought some gin and brandy at duty free shop and went ahead into departure lounge. There my good freind Penelope Paliani Kamanga was waiting for the same flight- we were both excited to go into Harare to cover elections.

Air Zhing Zhong, a name a got from Zimbabwe delayed for a short time, 5 hours, accoriding to regular travellers to Harare. I had rice with Chambo and we only left Malawi aroudn midnight.

The driver who had come to pick us up at 8.30pm at Harare Airport, actually had waited for the plane to depart for Malawi and return while still at the same airport. He immediatelty gave me Zimbabwes famous currency.

It was 2.1 billion dollars. Oops, I was an instant billionaire and we drove to our new base Baines Hotel along the fourth street. In the morning I called two colleagues Robert and Lakibu and the fun was set on.

Since there was nothing to do as I could not get accreditation until after Easter Holidays, I kindly borrowed from Mabaraka Nyerere, a colleague from Tanzania his load of newspapers.

In short, Journalism ethics during this elections have been through out of the window. Each paper carried dozens of stories each heavily biased. I grouped the papers immediately into Zanu PF and Opposition papers. They were very easy to spot.

I went to Mbare in the afternoon and attended President Robert Mugabe's rally. Compared to Malawi, he is modest. Apart from the Mercedes convoy, the President was walking on dusty grounds, cheering supporters at the capert at his VIP dias was well over used.

I was in Dedza when we buried late Kate Kainja and found it odd that my President or his cronies decided to have a red carpet even at the Grave yard. Ahem, what is wrong with our leaders, they no longer cant walk on foot as they used to do during campaign.

Mugabe sat there with a few of his cronies. Of course the Political commissair for Zanu PF Elliot Manyika was once a diplomat in Malawi. He did a good job.

Mugabe unlike Malawi, did not have people dancing for him, the women were part of the crowd and he managed to reasonate well with his audience.

More importantly there were very few Government vehicles, most of them were actually the Police. I felt bad thinking how much we abuse at will the meagre publis resources. Of course, there wasnt even State Broadcasters in sight to do a live broadcast.

But here is a catch, we went into debate with George and Kingsely from the Zambian post newspaper, a Zimbabwean Journalist was trying to convince us the crowd as almost 10,000. My foot, there were less than 3,000 people. I waited for the next days newspapers to see their estimates.

On Sunday, I went to Glamis Arena, where Morgan Tsvangirai was addressing his 'bumper'rally. My colleagues and i debated the crowd, we agreed that at most, there wer only 8,000 people. 8,000 is quite a big crowd.

On Monday, Mail and Guardian online a respected South African newspaper estimated Mugabe at 10,000 and Tsvangirai at 30,000. I imagined how 30,000 people can be searched in three hours which I had arrived and fitted into this small space.

Of course Tsvagirai travels in style, with latest 4X4 fleet and riding in VX Toyota landcruiser. He had a brand new red carpert rolled from his seat to his speaking podium. I said ahem brother.

Back to newspapers

It reminded me of a report published on Friday (Good Friday) which started saying President Mugabe filled a 42,000 stadia to capacity. In the middle of the story there was a paragraph which stated that the 60,000 crowd cheered. My foot how to 60,000 people fit in a 42,000 seater stadia. Come on fellas.

CNN which runs the African Journalist of the Year awards, based on accurate balance and ethical approach should be ashamed of its reports on Zimbabwe in the week I was there. They kept broadcasting old footage showing empty shelves when most of shops had stocks. They allowed to be used as propaganda machinery in drumming support for the opposition.

But the truth, unlike in August when I was in Harare as Nieman Fellow, I could eat three meals and got most of my basics in shops. The same in Bulawayo and other trading areas like Kadoma, Chegutu, Kwekwe, Gweru and even Masvingo.

Inacurate and biased reporting in Zimbabwe and Foreign media is so shameful. I saw a Journalist on Zimbabwe TV harrasing Simba Makoni, he could not allow him articulate the point.

As peaceful as the vote was today, the headline in all papers published between Thursday and Saturday did not suggest anything like people who have been in an ethical classroom. Most headlines run like Mugabe was MDC, Govt to rig votes and Tsvangirai for President. Good heavens nobody decided to ask voters to go and vote but campaigned throughout the day.

My colleagues, Zimbabweans have voted today I hope the media will respect the decision of the people of Zimbabwe. After travelling across the country for 7 days, I feel most of them when they say it is time to "change" but that is purely a Zimbabwean decision.

There is a dangerous precedence being set in this election, if the media goes all out to become partisan and heavily polarised as Zim media is as of today. If Tsvangirai or Makoni wins, what will Zimbabwe state TV do? If Mugabe gets back into power- the headlines of rigging will scream again.

The greatest culprit who failed Zimbabwe democracy if antyhing goes wrong would have been the media, both local and foreign. I have watched the BBC, they are balanced reports at times, the Sky reports talk of intimidation when I have met hundres of oppostion supporters in all cities wearing their party regalia, dancing on the streets and chanting in their vehicles.

Today i visited 12 polling centres in both opposition and Zanu PF strongholds, people were freely expressing their views. one young man told me at Mbidzi school in Highfields, Ï dont mind if they arrest me now, I have already voted for change""

I was touched by a 76-year-old woman who had clucthes when she arrived at Mhofu primary, 4o minutes before Mugabe voted at the same polling station. She told me, "I have been voting in every election since 1980, but this one will help to bring change."

That is the spirit among the Zimbabweans, young and old. I would hope and pray the media writes and broadcasts people's aspirations, issues and in a professional and balanced manner.

Otherwise the greatest assest in a democracy- a free and vibrant media will be lost and camps are set up and each will be misinforming the public than helping it.

Until tommorrow when the results come in.


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