By Chido Makunike
ASK even the most diehard of President Mugabe’s rapidly dwindling number of supporters what they think he can do to arrest the precipitous national decline that Zimbabw
e is experiencing and you will not get any cogent answer. Many do not support him because of any confidence that he can arrest the slide let alone take the country to greater heights. Much of his remaining support depends on his powers of dispensing patronage.
A coldly cynical new breed of supporters is also benefiting from the unprecedented economic chaos of the last few years that has made overnight billionaires out of a small group of dealers who would not benefit from a return to normality. The small number of professional propagandists and freelance hired guns who are anxious to curry favour with a lame duck continue to spew out elaborate conspiracy theories and “revolutionary” rhetoric which make one cringe with their outlandishness.
Mugabe himself no longer sounds confident that there is anything he can do to stop the economic rot and all the other societal maladies it has spawned. One would think the president, who claims to have been popularly elected just last year, would want to be seen to be making vigorous efforts to alleviate the terrible suffering among the majority of the citizens. But no, Mugabe remains the cold, distant ruler who mainly surfaces to read speeches at funerals and lavish retirement bashes of his favoured cronies.
In the past weeks we have seen a sign of stirring from the presidential aloofness and lethargy we have become accustomed to. A number of telling developments provide signs of the new gimmicks that are likely to be soon employed so he is seen to be doing something about a wayward economy, and others that are meant to further cement Mugabe’s position, even as popular support for him erodes. Part of this activity is really to set the stage for the December conference more than it is designed to solve problems that have gone far beyond being amenable to patchwork “solutions”.
The party conference is taking place at the worst time in the country’s history, and not even the third Chimurenga caps, T-shirts and slogans will hide the painful truth of the country’s poor state from party delegates. No amount of propaganda will make the party seem like the people’s champion. Those people are dealing with rural bus fares that have just doubled, inflation officially close to 500% but in reality much higher, and many other problems that have made life a nightmare for the ordinary people whom the Mugabe regime claims it lives and works for.
In comments made at a meeting of the Zanu PF’s central committee two weeks ago and strategically leaked to the Herald, Mugabe is reported to have said the government will “start” taking concrete steps to redress the economic challenges the country is facing. A question that immediately came to the mind of this citizen is how seriously such a declaration can be taken, coming as it does years after the economy has gone to the dogs.
Why was this “start” not made ages ago when the situation was more containable than it is now?
The central bank was to be restructured, beginning with the appointment of banker Gideon Gono as its new governor last week. We have had many other brilliant appointees in their fields in various national institutions including cabinet over the years, but none have been able to do much to stop the slide.
Will Gono have the autonomy required of a central bank governor, the kind his predecessor Leonard Tsumba was not allowed? Even if so, can a central bank do much in isolation to solve the now multi-sectoral economic problems we face?
What changes at the Finance ministry and other key national economic institutions are forthcoming to complement personnel changes at the Reserve Bank? Can any of them really bear maximum fruit as long as Mugabe remains president? The answers to all these questions and many more will have important repercussions on whether the economic and political initiatives planned are going to make any difference, or are just the latest series of Mugabe’s usual gimmicks.
We have had “crackdowns on corruption” that have not done any such thing; cabinet reshuffles, the last major one of which brought in the “technocrats” who have been such a disappointment; the “third Chimurenga” and many other stunts that have all produced the same result: continuing decline and increasing hardship and misery!
The one gimmick that has not yet been tried and that has the best hope of working to save us from our embarrassing national decline is to reshuffle Mugabe out of State House to retirement at his Borrowdale private palace, where he can quietly live in the luxury to which he and Grace have become accustomed while giving us a realistic chance to work ourselves out of the mess all around us. No doubt the president closely follows the intense manoeuvring taking place among the vultures in his ranks circling around him as they sense his power and authority slipping away. How to either hang on for as long as possible, or failing that, ensure a successor who will allow him to actually enjoy his Borrowdale retirement must surely inform all of his current actions.
Please take note of the sudden rush to praise defence forces commander General Vitalis Zvinavashe. The recent death of co-Vice-President Simon Muzenda creates a splendid opportunity to be given a high government position and possibly leap-frog over many pretenders to the throne. At a time of widening unpopularity, it would certainly be useful for a ruler to have a declared loyalist ex-military man as his right hand man, confidant, protector and, if push comes to shove, successor!
If appointed vice-president, Zvinavashe would be under the cloud of being seen to be Mugabe’s protector, but this perception would hardly matter if what we are witnessing is the completion of the process of the militarisation of the entire government that has been quietly under way for some years.
* Chido Makunike is a Harare-based regular columnist.