WHEN President Robert Mugabe attacked Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa over civil servants bonuses during the 35th Independence Day anniversary last weekend, he not only further damage his already battered reputation and his minister’s, but also confirmed what many by now know: that there are serious policy contradictions in cabinet, which is partly why government is now a dysfunctional mess.
Mugabe lambasted Chinamasa, claiming his announcement on the suspension of bonuses due to government’s critical fiscal crisis was “disgusting” as it was not approved although ministers say it was.
“Cabinet did not approve that at all and the presidency never was consulted on the matter. We were never consulted … we say that is disgusting to us and it will never be implemented at all,” he said.
Mugabe’s cabinet and government comprise hardliners, moderates and reformists who operate not in a mutually exclusive but dynamic way. Mugabe himself leads the hardliners who are mostly loyalists inspired by his ideological militancy and populist ethos. Throughout his political career he has gained power and popularity mainly by arousing and manipulating people’s emotions, passions, and prejudices.
This is what he sought to do over bonuses as he sacrificed Chinamasa on the altar of political expediency. Naturally, demagogues, now dwindling in numbers, uncompromisingly jumped to his support. This left moderates and reformists who prefer gradual reform to abolition or revolution on policy matters exposed.
Chinamasa belongs to the camp of moderates which overlaps with reformists, although he often mimics Mugabe’s militant rhetoric for political survival.
That is why he is currently pushing Zimbabwe’s engagement with the international community to normalise its relations in order to attract investment and rebuild the economy.
But then the policy space in Mugabe’s government is highly contested and polarised.
This has been manifested through many policy conflicts, including on indigenisation.
Moderates and reformists understand indigenisation, for instance, is not a religious code and can be changed. Mugabe and his diehards are refusing to reform it; they always offer disjointed excuses and concessions – not meaningful compromises — while it continues to damage the economy.
Zimbabwe needs investor-friendly policies to attract capital and ensure recovery. The result of this chaos has been policy inconsistencies, incoherence and a dysfunctional government. Given a choice neither hardliners nor reformers would still want Mugabe as their leader anymore even if they like his patronage system.
Mugabe’s attack on Chinamasa at a time when he was attending the IMF and World Bank spring meetings in Washington D.C to discuss the global economy, international development, and the world’s financial markets signified the explosion of simmering policy contradictions and tensions in government.
Chinamasa’s austerity measures speak to fiscal discipline which Mugabe finds “disgusting’. The minister’s top priority has been to move resources from an unsustainable wage bill to much-needed capital and social spending. Mugabe’s hostile remarks and hardline attitude might shipwreck Chinamasa’s initiatives.