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A Troublemaker Emerges In Zimbabwe Elections


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News, I'm Scott Simon. Zimbabweans are preparing to vote in national elections at the end of this month. Robert Mugabe is running for a sixth term as president and you wouldn't want to bet against him. He's been Zimbabwe's only president since that became an independent country in 1980.

Amnesty International reports that police and military have been staging raids and arresting human rights and democracy activists, which has been common in Zimbabwe. But a new face has entered the political sphere - not a candidate, but an anonymous Facebook poster who calls himself Baba Jukwa and he claims to be an insider in President Mugabe's ruling ZANU-PF Party.

So over the past three months, Baba Jukwa has been exposing corruption within the party, calling politicians out by name and often providing cell phone numbers urging Zimbabweans to ring them up and demand answers. We're joined now by Human Rights Watch senior researcher, Dewa Mavhinga, who joins us from the BBC in Johannesburg. Mr. Mavhinga, thanks so much for being with us.

DEWA MAVHINGA: Thank you so much for having me.

SIMON: People talking about Baba?

MAVHINGA: Absolutely. They talk in the town and in the streets, on the buses. Everyone's talking about Baba Jukwa.

SIMON: Can you tell how solid his information is?

MAVHINGA: Well, it's very difficult to verify independently because some of the information he claims to be from within the inner circle of those around President Mugabe, but certainly it creates a lot of interest and in some cases, some of his predictions have come to pass in ways that really points to credibility on the part of this character.

For example, he had warned that individuals within the ruling party were plotting to kill a former minister of parliament, Edward Chindori-Chininga, and indeed within a week this official died in a suspicious car accident.

SIMON: Now, I mean, saying that almost any politician of any prominence other than President Mugabe is vulnerable to being killed mysteriously, wouldn't that be a truism in Zimbabwe?

MAVHINGA: Yes, it is, but particularly if you look at the tensions in the countries we approach elections that will be held on July 31. So, yes, that is true.

SIMON: Mr. Mavhinga, I realize that you're with Human Rights Watch; you're not a political pollster or expert, but would you be astonished if someone other than President Mugabe won this election at the end of the month?

MAVHINGA: Well, if we have conditions for free and fair elections, it would be possible. But if you look at Zimbabwe's key institutions, at the leadership level they are extremely partisan and highly politicized towards President Mugabe and his party, ZANU-PF, which would make it very difficult for someone outside of Mugabe's circle to take over power.

SIMON: Because it occurs to me that it could be somebody who's even close to President Mugabe who after all I believe is 89 and might be trying to strengthen their hand for whatever happens in the next couple of years.

MAVHINGA: It would appear so and judging by the nature of the information that is being revealed by this character, there is some credit to that fear, but really no one knows who this character is. It might be someone very close to Mugabe within ZANU-PF, or it could be someone working with one of the many factions that (unintelligible) here, or indeed someone in the grouping being led by Morgan Tsvangirai.

But certainly this character or this group of people have some inside information and have raised the interest and tension around this coming election.

SIMON: What kind of difference do you think Baba Jukwa might make, if not just in this election but to Zimbabwe at this point?

MAVHINGA: Well, certainly this character has used social media to raise awareness among citizens. He has also been encouraging citizens to register to vote to be aware of where the politicians are, so it is pushing further the boundaries to ensure that there is a way in which citizens can bypass and evade the current laws that inhibit freedom of assembly and access to information because these are directed primarily at the traditional media, which is print media.

But now we have a new platform to give access to hundreds of thousands of Zimbabweans on a daily basis and ensure that they're also acting to promote their basic right.

SIMON: Dewa Mavhinga is a native of Zimbabwe and senior researcher for Human Rights Watch, joining us from the BBC in Johannesburg. Thanks very much for being with us.

MAVHINGA: Great pleasure. Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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