HomeOpinionCabinet reshuffle to reward cronies

Cabinet reshuffle to reward cronies

Chido Makunike

THERE have been rumours of a pending regime reshuffle by President Mugabe for some months now. No such reshuffle has taken place, with the only personnel changes being of a few provincial gove

rnors. Not that changing faces in his regime will make any difference to solving the many problems that are out of control as long as Mugabe remains the head of any “new-look” structure.

We have had gimmicks like the “war cabinet”, the “technocrats” and so forth that were designed to fool us into thinking Mugabe was a dynamic problem-solver who knew what he was doing, only having been let down by his less able lieutenants. It has now increasingly become apparent that he is the problem, not his hangers on!

Still, the well-timed window dressing publicity stunt of changing some faces in his inner circle may have given Mugabe’s buddy presidents Olusegun Obasanjo and Thabo Mbeki of Nigeria and South Africa respectively the pretext to more successfully argue that he had made some changes, no matter how cosmetic and ineffectual, and deserved to be invited to the Abuja Chogm he so desperately wanted to attend. He may not be a competent or enlightened ruler, but show him a podium from which to read a speech and the man can barely contain himself!

But Mugabe’s previously sharp political instincts are now so dulled by over-staying in a job he performs so poorly in, the megalomania caused by that and being surrounded by weak “yes men”, as well as his increased dependence on intimidation of associates and foes alike, he can’t even see the need to give his friends some ammunition to defend him, no matter how tenuous and unconvincing. It is fascinating to watch a former political master now trip himself up at every turn.

– What are the prospects of him carrying out the long-expected window dressing reshuffle this month? Good I think, for a number of reasons. Really grappling with the many manifestations of national decline is not his main reason for clinging so tightly to the position, so any changes will not be to address problems. As long as he can keep the trappings of the position such as the foreign trips with Grace, being able to threaten and insult his foes while he lurks behind Ian Smith-type laws to protect him from protest, the fact that he presides over a shamefully crumbling country does not appear to bother him in the least.

There are also not many Zimbabweans of ability as well as integrity who at this stage of Mugabe’s decline would want to be a part of his negative legacy by close association with him. He therefore can no longer count on the country’s best and brightest to be his aides, the way he might have been able to in the early post-Independence days when serving under him was considered to be honourable and prestigious. He can mainly count on the calibre of ministers and other top officials he already has now anyway, so change would be for reasons other than to have the best corps of problem-solvers.

One reason would be to get rid of those of dubious loyalty to him.

There are many who are suspect because of the feverish current interest in his successor. Easily threatened and reacting ruthlessly to any hint that any of his aides do not believe him to be immortal and indispensable, he does not take kindly to those who show themselves to be thinking beyond him. Punishing such disloyal ingrates would be one reason for a reshuffle, naturally using the pretexts of lack of performance or corruption for getting rid of them.

“Lack of performance” won’t wash because Mugabe himself is the worst performing member of his regime, although like a bad chief executive he only takes credit for things that go right (by sheer coincidence, not by planning and ability!) while passing the buck for the many things that are screwed up to others.

“Corruption” is a tired stunt that he brings up periodically but this also won’t fool anybody anymore. This is defined so cynically that it would likely only be used to scapegoat real or potential foes, leaving his closest cronies unscathed. Besides, using this pretext for culling certain of his cronies is dangerous because given how high up and widespread this cancer now is in his regime, one or two of the discarded cronies may turn around and putting aside their fear of being eliminated, politically ostracised or worse, being made to forfeit their ill-gotten gains, decide to squeal on the true extent of corruption in ways that could be rather embarrassing!

About the only way to convince some sceptics about sincerity to deal with corruption in high places would be for the whole regime, starting with Mugabe, to resign. What do you think are the chances of that happening? No, the corruption stunt as a reason for a reshuffle may produce editorials in lavish praise of it in one or more of the Jonathan Moyo-run newspapers, but everybody else will howl with cynical laughter at this tired old trick.

– Speaking of Moyo, he is one Mugabe crony who can be fairly confident he will survive any reshuffle in one portfolio or another. His “information and publicity” have been disastrous for Zimbabwe and for Mugabe’s personal standing in the world, but I believe Mugabe is beyond caring too much about this now. He was initially hurt and angry at becoming the world’s favourite bad guy, but he seems to have rationalised it to himself by telling himself his is a noble kind of unpopularity because he is reviled in the Western world whose respect he craved, which to him now means he must automatically be doing something right!

Mugabe would likely continue to appreciate Moyo’s coarse language and his boyish rhetorical stunts in defence of him. Moyo made a tactical personal mistake that will haunt him in the political future by hitching his star so closely to Mugabe in the most crude and hateful ways, although in the short term it may have helped him escape his foreign accusers of misappropriation of funds. Once Moyo had dug himself into the Mugabe hole, he had to just stay in it to the bitter end. Having limited alternative choices has made Moyo the most vociferous, crudest defender of Mugabe in ways that the latter is likely to continue to find useful or at least amusing and ego-boosting.

Moyo’s important role in keeping the Daily News off the streets will also have earned him a star or two at the presidential palace, although this may yet come back to haunt Moyo in the post-Mugabe era. But for now Moyo should be quite safe and secure in the regime.

l The one surviving vice president, Joseph Msika has nothing to offer the nation, and little to offer Mugabe. He is quite expendable if Mugabe decides to give an image of a complete regime overhaul. It would however be unprecedented to fire a vice president and would raise questions about Mugabe’s judgement in appointing him in the first place. In an era where a frenzied anti-whiteness has almost become political ideology, recent reports of receiving whisky from and being on speaking terms with white farmers were designed to “tarnish” his image by suggesting that he consorts with the enemy.

In an illustration of the complete lack of consistency and shame in Zanu-PF, some of the accusers have themselves had close and shady links with both local and foreign whites while spouting anti-white vitriol when convenient. But just because his accusers are hypocrites will not necessarily save Msika’s skin! Msika may survive by ably satisfying the requirement that all of Mugabe’s aides look particularly useless in comparison to the Great Leader!

Having given up on continuing to rule through popularity, the respect of the electorate and moral authority, Mugabe has increasingly relied on subtle and not so subtle menace to ward off challenge. While Moyo has ably played his part in this effort by his hateful speech and repressive media laws, there are some other Mugabe cronies who deserve special mention.

-Patrick Chinamasa, though far from being as bright as Moyo (actually often shockingly insipid in his reasoning and utterances!) as the crony occupying the “justice” portfolio played a useful back-up role to make sure the appropriate laws are passed to keep a lid on democratic expression. There are also signs that the judiciary has become more pliant. Where certain judgements would make them look utterly ridiculous to the whole world, there is always the tactic of “reserving judgement” on a controversial issue indefinitely! There are still pockets of free-spiritedness in the judiciary, but by selective harassment, innuendo, threats and smear tactics in the Moyo-run Herald and the Sunday Mail, they will surely soon be mopped up!

– Green Bomber minister Elliot Manyika has succeeded in making the youth militia widely despised but has also achieved the more useful end of making them deeply feared. Reports of willy-nilly beatings of the citizenry and mass rapes are chillingly, nonchalantly dismissed by Manyika but the message such atrocities are supposed to send to us nevertheless get home, helping to add yet another layer of fear by which the regime maintains control. Manyika may be promoted for his star role in helping make Zimbabwe a police state.

– In ways that may not be obvious at first glance, Agriculture and Health ministers Joseph Made and David Parirenyatwa respectively are also playing their own pivotal roles in propping up Mugabe’s regime that have proven to be devastatingly, diabolically effective. If the earlier mentioned Mugabe cronies have made us too terrified of the consequences of the kind of ordinary democratic expression that is taken for granted in more enlightened and free societies, these two have contributed to keeping us down in more subtle but no less effective ways.

The earnest decimation of commercial agriculture coincides with Made’s tenure in office, and Parirenyatwa has adopted a cool, aloof, “hands off” approach to the turning of hospitals into mere death chambers as the health system collapses along with everything else.

People who don’t understand the Mugabe regime have naively asked why there hasn’t been more concern shown about these historical humanitarian disasters unfolding before us. If they can’t do their jobs with so much suffering caused by that inability, why don’t they do the honourable thing and resign, many of us have asked in anguish and puzzlement. But they are doing their jobs, and rather effectively! If large numbers of the population are not only repressed by beatings, imprisonment, legal harassment and rape, but also are kept sick and hungry, they are not going to have the time or energy to challenge their oppressors, are they? Made and Parirenyatwa are also likely to be at least retained, and perhaps also promoted for their sterling service in Mugabe’s interests.

Regime reshuffle or not, things are likely to get a lot worse before they get better but fellow Zimbabweans, do not lose hope. Despite surface appearances to the contrary, the Mugabe regime that has caused so much misery is crumbling to an end, backing itself against the wall and committing suicide by its own excesses and contradictions.

-Chido Makunike is a regular columnist based in Harare.

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