Chipfunde-Vava: The lady behind Zesn

Source: Chipfunde-Vava: The lady behind Zesn – DailyNews Live

Caroline Chiimba  •  16 September 2019

WHILE teaching was the common career path of choice in the Chipfunde
family, Rindai Chipfunde-Vava deviated from the family profession as she
believed women had more to contribute than they were afforded.

Driven by her passion for human rights and governance, Chipfunde-Vava
defied the odds and chose to pursue Politics and Administration, which was
a male-dominated career path, ignoring the long-held norm where women were
expected to naturally pursue teaching or nursing after finishing Ordinary

“My father was a teacher and most of my siblings are teachers, so teaching
was the common career path of choice in my family and my father naturally
expected me to pursue teaching, but despite that, I got an opportunity to
proceed to Advanced Level and I knew I was destined for a different
career,” Chipfunde-Vava told the Daily News on Sunday.

Armoured with this unique and unexpected opportunity that her parents
awarded her, Chipfunde vowed to do something different and took up the
challenge to pursued a BSC in Politics and Administration with the
University of Zimbabwe.
She kick started her career as the Programme Coordinator for the Zimbabwe
Human Rights Association (ZimRights) during the late 1990s, and while
working there, she observed elections.

Today, Chipfunde-Vava is the national director of the Zimbabwe Election
Support Network (Zesn), an independent electoral watchdog that promotes
the establishment and upholding of a democratic electoral environment and

The former Zimbabwe Country Coordinator for Southern African Human Rights
NGOS Network (SAHRINGON) is a political scientist who has observed many
elections under the different bodies of the Southern African Development
Community (Sadc), as well as in many countries in Africa, Asia, North and
South America, with over 15 years expert knowledge and understanding of
key electoral issues and development at the national regional and global

“My first election observation was in 1998 to Malawi with the National
Democratic Institute (NDI). Thereafter, I observed in various other
countries in Africa and beyond. The observation of elections has given me
global view and widened my scope in electoral processes,” Chipfunde-Vava

Under her leadership and the support of various other electoral
stakeholders, Zesn has grown and established itself to be the leading
independent network and is recognised not only in Zimbabwe but globally.

“As Zesn, we have been at the helm and part of major elections in Zimbabwe
and have consistently produced publications on key electoral processes
since 2000 covering various aspects,” she said.

“For the period 1980 to 2000, a few reports were produced locally on
Zimbabwe elections; hence Zesn stepped in to address this gap.”

Zesn was formed at the end of 1999, comprising of 30 non-governmental
organisations, but the actual work began when they observed the local
government elections in 2000. Since then, they never have stopped
observing elections.

“I have participated in fundamental processes beyond Zimbabwe which have
influenced regional and international trends such as the review of Sadc
Principles; Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections and the African
Union election observation methodology,” Chipfunde-Vava said.

“I also contributed to the development of Principles of Election
Management, Monitoring and Observation in the Sadc region (PEMMO) by the
Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa (EISA) and the
Electoral Commissions Forum of Sadc countries (ECF-Sadc).”

The electoral expert sits in the steering committee of the Global Network
of Domestic Election Monitors (GNDEM), and has assisted and mentored the
setting up of similar institutions using the Zesn model in Uganda and

“Currently, Zesn is the hosting secretariat of Election Support Network in
Southern Africa (ESN-SA) and Building Resources in Democracy, Governance
and Elections (BRIDGE) in which I am currently an Accrediting Facilitator
and the Leadership and Conflict Management for Electoral Stakeholders
(LEAD),” she said.

Chipfunde-Vava further raised concerns over the inhospitable political
environment, hate speech and stigma towards women in elections and
politics in general.

“There was growing interest in advocating and ensuring that women take up
leadership positions in politics during the post Beijing Conference era.
However, the numbers have dwindled due to the inhospitable political
environment women face.”

“A case in point is the recent 2018 harmonised elections where social
media was awash with hate speech towards women in which the attacks were
on their personal life and physical being rather than issue-based.

“Until such a time when attitudes towards women change and deliberate
mechanisms within political parties are put in place to support increased
political participation of women at senior levels, we will see more
competent women participating in the governance of the country in
leadership positions.”

She added that the issue of gender roles cannot be ignored when discussing
women in leadership positions and this has always made women to work much
harder than their male-counterparts to achieve their dreams

“I would not be where I am today without the immense support from my
family which has helped me overcome most of the challenges I faced in my
career path. I have a reliable support structure through my friends and
colleagues,” Chipfunde-Vava said.

“I used to be very reserved but now I am vocal and speak out to survive in
a male-dominated arena. I had to learn to be assertive and uphold the
principles of transparency, objectivity, accountability and inclusivity.”

The electoral expert went on to acknowledge that notable progress has been
achieved in coming up with mechanisms that will enhance Zimbabwe’s
electoral processes for the conduct of credible elections even thou a lot
still needs to be done.

“For the electoral reform process to be inclusive, Zesn calls for an
Electoral and Political Reforms Taskforce which comprises Parliament,
political parties, CSOs and churches.

“We hope for political will to improve future elections and electoral
processes in Zimbabwe. We acknowledge that notable progress has been
achieved in coming up with mechanisms that will enhance Zimbabwe’s
electoral processes for the conduct of credible elections.”

Chipfunde-Vava is a wife, mother of three children, born in Mberengwa as
the sixth child in a family of 10 children.
She holds a BSC in Politics and Administration (UZ), Masters in Policy
Studies, Diploma in Personnel Management, Fellow of Stanford University
(USA), Fellow of Commonwealth and Post-Graduate Diploma in Peace and
Security with Uppsala University (Sweden).