Written by Taylor Baker
SYNOPSIS: Zimbabwe is at a crossroads. In the first election since the removal of Robert Mugabe, the new leader of the opposition Nelson Chamisa is challenging the dictator’s corrupt legacy, and his successor Emmerson ‘the crocodile’ Mnangagwa. The election will be the ultimate test for both sides. How they interpret the principles of democracy, if they can inspire trust among the citizenry, not succumb to violence, and foster faith in institutions, will set the course for the future for the country. President is a riveting and epic reminder that, while specifics may differ, the fight for democracy is of universal relevance.
REVIEW: President follows the Electoral Campaign of Nelson Chamisa. An aspiring public representative in Zimbabwe. Who has big plans to reclaim natural resources from foreign investors, participate in a free and fair election, and unite people forward. In the beginning you think it’s a dream that may be achievable. We see scenes of Chamisa listening to concerned citizens and leading large rallies then it quickly descends into to a tale of election fraud and tampering. We hear mention of the threats of the ZAFU PF. Which stands for Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front. A political party that has ruled in Zimbabwe since 1980. A concern that will soon prove to be foresight.
Chamisa receives a death threat and is forced to go underground shortly after casting his vote. Following a lengthy process with Chamisa and his team pressuring the ZEC (Zimbabwe Electoral Commission) to provide fair ballots and a united front against ballot stuffing. I’m sure you can guess it doesn’t go well, based on the pattern you’ve read thus far. At one point a man on Chamisa’s team chimes in that “Winning the election isn’t hard, claiming victory is.” What proceeds is a discussion about the difficulties in claiming victory without the Military eliminating them, violently. Unfortunately their worries are apt.
Nothing quite says an election may be rigged than when you’re watching foreign experts or advisors answer questions about the legitimacy of a nations election. This feeling is amplified when those individuals don’t answer the questions posed to them. Shortly after this press conference with foreign officials we start to see military beatings, and watch protestors and ordinary citizens caught in the crossfire of the military. We see a soldier point his gun down a crowded street and kneel. Firing into the fleeing citizens for close to 15 seconds. The other soldiers around him are firing “warning shots” into the air. This snapshot best explains the pain and sadness that President slowly walks us down during it’s runtime.
I wish it didn’t so deeply remind me of Armando Iannucci’s 2016 film The Death of Stalin. In which an incompetent party waddles around maintaining power and not knowing what is actually happening. Though it looks different in President than it did than it did in The Death of Stalin the similarities are too close to ignore. It morphs again into a legal battle to prove election fraud, while we hear stories of police beatings, rape, and killings. President doesn’t have all the answers, but it shows evidence of such veracity that you can’t deny it’s questions.