For the past two years, President Mnangagwa has completed a number of diplomatic visits in the region under the auspice of deepening existing bilateral relations.
In 2021, he attended the inauguration of the then Zambian opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema.
It is also public knowledge that Chamisa has forged a mutual alliance with president Hichilema, who is more of his role model since he came into power as a leader of the United Party for National Development (UPND) which was then an opposition party in Zambia.
Recently, President Mnangagwa returned from Kenya on a state visit as well, where he was received by the country’s president Uhuru Kenyatta and the two signed a number of bilateral agreements that are expected to boost investments and development in both countries.
However, with the emergence of new dispensations that have sprung up in the region with Zambia and Malawi boasting new ruling parties led by younger leaders, the make-up of SADC has significantly changed.
This younger generation of leaders have a more different take on political developments and disputation and they are not chained by liberation links to revolutionary establishments such as ZANU-PF and ANC.
This then raises the question, did Mnangagwa have ulterior motives in these diplomatic visits and their possible implications on the 2023 elections which are already showing flashes of confrontations and contestation.
Also, in the event of contested elections come 2023, how are these countries likely to react?
International relations analyst Nunurai Zunidza believes that as much as President Mnangagwa’s first visit to Zambia can be construed as having one eye on the 2023 elections, his visit hold much more significance than that.
“The bigger picture was centred on the present situation before elections come into consideration. It was a visit meant to reaffirm the two neighbour’s social, political and economic relations in the wake of a new government of unknown quantity in Zambia.
Quite clearly, Mnangagwa sought Hichilema’s assurance of continued co-operation despite his leanings with Chamisa which are public knowledge and cannot be reversed by mere gesticulation,” said Zunidza.
On the other hand, Zunidza argued, “understanding the state visit to Kenya is a bit complex especially if seen in the context of the global political situation from which the visit to Nairobi was clearly premised on. Remember Kenya is one of Africa’s three current members of the UN Security Council which is presently seized with Russia’s special military operation in Ukraine. The meeting of Kenyatta and Mnangagwa, two African forces on different sides of the divide, may be part of the broad diplomatic effort being exerted by the international community to broker peace in the raging conflict.”
So against the backdrop that, currently there is an ongoing criticism of ZEC and its incapability to hold free and fair elections with other political leaders and independent organisations already casting aspersions on the electoral body.
What happens in the event the election results are contested?
In the event of contested elections come 2023, what can be the possible reaction from these countries considering that Zimbabwe is slowly being encircled by a new dispensation with liberal leaders who are unlikely going to do anything to circumvent the will of the people.
Capetown-based academic and media scholar Dr Trust Matsilele argued that the issue of free elections should be understood within the broader ambit of the capture of state institutions that ensure regime consolidation.
“SADC is a discredited body, I am not sure anyone both in the region and internationally takes it seriously. Whatever happens, will have a bearing when it comes to international optics of which some have already renewed sanctions since 2003,” said Dr Matsiele.
“Zimbabwe is always on the eyes of the international community-in part- due to its engaged diasporic community that continuously profile the state of political and economic malaise. So it’s conceivable that some countries are keeping a close look on what’s happening.”
The recent renewal of sanctions and its message to SADC?
Last month, the European Union (EU) renewed sanctions on members of ZANU-PF. This was followed by the US which extended this embargo by another year, citing that the ruling party posed a threat to its foreign policy.
Political analysts Alexander Rusero believes that the decision by the West to impose sanctions on Zimbabwe is pre-determined and the removal of sanctions is not going to come any time soon considering how the sanctions came about and it does not have any ramifications on the SADC region.
“Each and every state has its own national interest and Zimbabwe has never been a SADC issue for it to behave or misbehave in certain ways based on Zimbabwe. When it comes to international relations, the case of Zimbabwe remains one of an isolated case. South Africa and the EU brokered one of the most lucrative agreements at the height of the demonisation between Zimbabwe and the EU precisely because Zimbabwe is an isolated case,” said Rusero.
Meanwhile, the main leaders of Zimbabwe’s main political parties are taking steps to make sure their respective political parties are geared up for the March by elections.
President Emerson Mnangagwa has had a busy itinerary since the start of the year, and so has been his rival opposition leader Nelson Chamisa, of the Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) party.
Both leaders are currently roving around the country, riling up their supporters in preparation of the by-elections which will be held a few weeks from now on March 26.
These by-elections are crucial for both leaders and winning or losing them, has far reaching ramifications for the two domestically and internationally.
For Chamisa, March 26 is going to be a defining moment for his newly formed outfit that is still in its infancy and the by-election are of much significance for both his political career and the soul of the opposition movement in the country.
In order to establish legitimacy for his CCC party, Chamisa must at the very least give a good showing in the by-elections.
Failure to do will not get the credibility and assertiveness that he is craving in the political arena after weaning himself from the MDC brand.
For the ZANU-PF leader, the by-elections present a new opportunity for President Mnangagwa to redeem himself, both locally and regionally after the highly contested 2018 elections.
With talks of discord and factionalism within the ruling party, the by-elections will be a litmus test of how solid ZANU-PF is and act as passible indicator of how the ruling party is going to fare come 2023.
Caught between this power struggle is The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC), the electoral body whose independent status has been under scrutiny lately.
Of late, ZEC has been heavily criticised by pressure groups after massive anomalies and discrepancies are being continually exposed in the voters roll intended to be used for the by-elections this month.
A responsibility that ZEC has since denied and ironically blamed it on political parties.
Questions have been asked of ZEC’s competency, leading to some suggesting that the electoral commission is perhaps albatross to free and fair elections this month or even next year.