Zimbabwean democracy dissident Pastor Evan Mawarire has expressed doubts as to whether Zimbabwe's military-installed president will be able to deliver on his promises to pull off free and fair elections for the nation's long-suffering people.
The compelling pastor addressed the 10th Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy this week calling on his country's new leader to deliver on his pledges to his nation.
He told the AFP news agency in Geneva that Zimbabwe's legacy of ballot rigging, and political repression would take time to shed.
"It's very difficult for me right now to believe that elections will be free, fair and credible because the history says otherwise", Mawarire said on the sidelines of the Geneva human rights summit, referring to Mugabe's tyrannical 37-year rule.
"What they have done for 38 years is very different from what they are proposing they are going to do now".
Mawarire is the pastor who galvanized Zimbabweans against the despotic rule of former president Robert Mugabe last year encouraging them to protest about corruption and economic mismanagement.
The pastor who faced the wrath and might of Mugabe spoke to the Geneva gathering strongly but with measured words along with dissidents from countries including Vietnam, Venezuela, Turkey, Russian Iran and China.
Zimbabwe's former ruler Robert Mugabe had observed his 94th birthday in private behind the walls of his Harare mansion on Feb. 21. This time it was without the lavish parties that marked such occasions during his nearly four-decade rule.
Mugabe was ousted in a defacto coup by the military last November, paving way for his former deputy and protege Emmerson Mnangagwa to become president.
Mugabe's police had arrested Pastor Mawirere as he led a church service for his protest campaign.
'OPEN FOR BUSINESS'
He said at the Geneva summit, "The message from our new president is: "Zimbabwe is open for business, but the question we should be asking is whether Zimbabwe is open for freedom."
Mawarire said, "More than anything else what we need is not just an economic breakthrough but a breakthrough of democracy and the rule of law."
The organiser of last year's #ThisFlag protests faced 20 years in prison had he been convicted.
After Mugabe was ousted, a Harare high court judge, however, ruled there was no evidence that he had "urged a violent removal of government."
The former president, who reluctantly stepped down after soldiers placed him under house arrest at the age of 93, had long engaged in the hiring and firing of judges to follow the ruling party line.
Tweeting a selfie taken in the courtroom, the smiling pastor called on his fellow citizens to join in "building a better Zimbabwe."
He spoke to members of Zimbabwe's diaspora in London on Feb. 22.
There, Mawarire said, "We need to move away from a situation where Zimbabwe is owned by a few - $15 billion goes missing and no one can account for it.
He said, "We were incarcerated for demanding our rights - gone are the days when people remained silent - young people have gripped the idea of freeing themselves - our freedom is more important to us than ever before."