UNLIKE last year when President Robert Mugabe abruptly cut short his annual vacation in the Far East to return home and sort out the mess stalling the constitution-making exercise, this time around he should be breathing a lot easier and looks set to enjoy his holiday until mid-January, although the country’s resurgent economic malaise could cause him occasional headaches.
His improved spirits have much to do with the fact that he and his party achieved major political milestones in 2013, first with the endorsement by over two million voters of the new constitution and, more importantly for him, his party defeated the MDC-T with a reverberating majority in the July 31 harmonised elections whose outcome was hotly disputed by the opposition which alleged systematic disenfranchisement and vote rigging.
But the political and economic scenes in 2014 will not be a bed of roses for the veteran leader, his ruling party and the country in general — for so many developments should play out with major highlights being the re-engagements efforts with international community and multilateral lending institutions seen as crucial to salvage a haemorrhaging economy.
“The economy will be a crucial factor,” says University of Zimbabwe political science lecturer Eldred Masunungure. “Everything the political players do will be a reaction to bleak economic prospects.
Zanu PF will seek to remedy the situation while the opposition MDC parties will be out to exploit the difficulties to gain mileage.”
Certainly, 2013 did not end well on the economic front with growth forecasts being revised downwards, company closures increasing and unemployment levels at over 80%. The failure to attract significant financial inflows should force Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa to intensify re-engagements efforts with the West, World Bank, International Monetary Fund and other multi-lateral lending institutions.
At one such session to brief Western diplomats on the government’s new economic blueprint, the Zimbabwe Agenda for Sustainable Socio-Economic Transformation (ZimAsset) last November, Chinamasa pleaded with them to “allow our economies to talk to each other in spite of our political differences”, but his pleas appear to have mostly fallen on deaf ears, at least for now.
Instead, Chinamasa’s requests were met with non-committal responses, with the Norwegian and Australian diplomats politely asking government to clarify and possibly amend the controversial indigenisation law which stipulates that locals must own a controlling 51% stake in businesses in the country.
On a separate front, Zanu PF will hold a potentially decisive and divisive congress and there is an air of déjà vu as 2014 marks 50 years from the date the party held its inaugural congress in Gweru to choose its leadership after the split from the Joshua Nkomo-led Zapu.
Mugabe is the only survivor from that congress half a century ago, but this year’s occasion is not likely to be the customary all-song-and-dance as the vicious infighting, which recently spilled into the public media, is likely to cast a long shadow over internal processes which will include the filling of vacancies in the presidium and politburo.
The party and hence Zimbabwe is still without a second vice-president after the death of John Nkomo last year. The party’s national chairperson’s post will be up for grabs should the incumbent Simon Khaya Moyo be elevated to replace Nkomo.
There is also high anticipation that Mugabe will announce his retirement plan this year and allow for debate on his successor at the congress.
It remains to be seen which of the known factions reportedly led by Vice-President Joice Mujuru and Justice minister Emmerson Mnangagwa will rule the roost after the congress.
“It will be open season for factionalism,” Masunungure said of the impending Zanu PF congress. “Factional fights will intensify as the congress nears and will continue even beyond it. The congress will not solve the succession issue.”
But as another analyst Godwin Phiri observed, Zanu PF is not alone in facing infighting as the MDCs also face a huge battle to remain relevant after heavy defeats in last year’s elections.
“Tsvangirai (MDC-T) and Welshman Ncube (MDC) will be compelled to re-configure in order to survive,” said Phiri. “They need to get their act together and that will include reining in senior officials who have been at each other’s throats and threatening to tear the parties apart.”
In the past year, the Ncube formation was rocked by a spate of resignations while senior MDC-T officials including national treasurer Roy Bennett and former Marondera legislator, Ian Kay, called for MDC-T leader Tsvangirai to step down arguing he was a spent force after he failed to dislodge Mugabe in three elections.
Attention to all these internal housekeeping issues will have to run in tandem with the national interests as parliament and the executive have to align the country’s laws to conform with the new constitution.
There are six amendments that need immediate attention for government to fully implement the new constitution that came into full operation on August 22 last year when Mugabe was inaugurated.
The laws are meant to give life to new institutions such as the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), Constitutional Court, provincial and metropolitan councils, Gender Commission, National Peace and Reconciliation Commission and the Zimbabwe Land Commission.
Veritas, a grouping which monitors parliamentary work, said the absence of enabling legislation for these new institutions will render their existence theoretical.
“In the absence of legislation setting out its structure and organisation, the NPA’s existence remains largely theoretical,” said Veritas.
All in all, Zimbabwe is poised for significant political and economic developments that may well result in leadership renewal in the major parties, improved relations with the West and, hopefully, better economic fortunes.
Conversely infighting could escalate and relations with the West could remain in the present state of paralysis, thus damaging prospects for economic growth.