Zimbabwe is floundering, with little sign of meaningful reform and sustainable, broad-based recovery. Political uncertainty and economic insecurity have worsened; the Zanu PF government has consolidated power, as the opposition stumbles, but is consumed by struggles over who will succeed President Robert Mugabe.
International Crisis Group Thinktank
Upbeat economic projections by international institutions are predicated on government rhetoric about new policy commitments and belief in the country’s potential, but there are growing doubts that Zanu PF can “walk the talk” of reform.
Conditions are likely to deteriorate further due to insolvency, drought and growing food insecurity. Economic constraints have forced Harare to deal with international financial institutions (IFIs) and Western capitals, but to regain the trust of donors, private investors and ordinary citizens, the government must become more accountable, articulate a coherent vision and take actions that go beyond personal, factional and party aggrandisement.
Mugabe, though 92 and visibly waning, shows no sign of stepping down. His endorsement by the December 2015 Zanu PF national conference to represent the party in the 2018 elections props up a coterie of dependents and defers the divisive succession issue. In the last year, his control has slipped as his energy and capacities diminish, but he is likely to stay in office until he can no longer function.
His support for an economic and political reform agenda is tepid. He has limited criticism of reformers but has also not censured elements of his government that are critical, even hostile, to re-engagement with Western countries and financial institutions.
Zanu PF is its own biggest threat. Its constitution is unclear about how to select a new party leader, and by extension president, if Mugabe becomes incapacitated or dies in office.
That the party will not countenance open debate on this has led to incessant backroom political jockeying and unprecedented turmoil.
In December 2014, then Vice President Joice Mujuru was purged and her rival, Emmerson Mnangagwa, elevated. Since then, over 140 top national and provincial party officials linked to Mujuru have been suspended or expelled from the party, including nine of ten provincial chairpersons and senior cabinet and politburo members.
Posited as necessary to end party factionalism, this instead opened a new chapter of division, as those whose interests had converged around Mujuru’s removal sought advantage over each other.
Mnangagwa has strong ties with key security sector elements and is viewed by many as well positioned to maintain stability and pilot a recovery. Having slowly consolidated his position, he is firmly in charge of government business and depicted as a driving force behind re-engagement and reform. However, his command of party structures is uneven, and his limited popularity nationally and within the party is tarnished by allegations of complicity in human rights violations.
His ambition to succeed Mugabe is opposed by several senior cadres, labelled Generation 40 (G40), who represent a younger generation and have put their weight behind the increasingly influential First Lady, Grace Mugabe.
Her very public role since late 2014 as leader of Zanu PF’s Women’s League has the president’s backing. Factional battles between the two groups intensified in early 2016, leaving Mnangagwa’s position apparently weakened.
The economy’s serious trouble is compounded by severe liquidity constraints, an enduring fiscal deficit, burgeoning domestic and international debt, multiple infrastructural constraints (including power shortages) and mixed Zanu PF policy messages.
Unemployment is rampant and food insecurity mounting. Protests spiked in 2015 and will continue.
Calls for reform and re-engagement remain focused on addressing the huge foreign debt and struggling economy. In October, IFIs accepted a plan to clear US$1,8 billion in arrears by May 2016, but this looks increasingly unrealistic, as it depends on only partially implemented fiscal policy prescriptions, including a sizeable reduction in the public wage bill and accessing a major concessional loan.
Obtaining further credit will require more significant and politically sensitive reforms, for which there is limited appetite ahead of elections in 2018.
The opposition has yet to recover from devastating 2013 election losses. An early resurgence is unlikely.
The largest opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change-Tsvangirai (MDC-T, led by Morgan Tsvangirai), has fractured further and has limited resources. Mujuru’s nascent Zimbabwe People First (ZPF) formation — launched on Tuesday — remains an unknown quantity, reportedly flirting with parties across the political spectrum.
The new constitution, approved in 2013, provides a framework for civil society advocacy, but this is stymied by limited strategic vision and reduced donor support. Efforts to promote a national convergence of interests have not gained traction.
Governance deficits, political violence, corruption, electoral reform, human rights and rule of law violations are deep challenges that must be faced.
Recent court judgements and Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission reports condemning political violence are welcome but anecdotal reactions, not remedies for systemic malpractice.
International actors should seek common ground and action that addresses these sensitive political challenges and also promote an inclusive, sustainable economic recovery.
Southern African Development Community (Sadc) countries — South Africa, in particular — have specific interest in ensuring Zimbabwe recovers its position as a lynchpin of stability and an engine for regional development.
To do so, they, the United States, United Kingdom, China, European Union (EU), African Development Bank (AfDB), World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) should develop an engagement framework that has clear governance and rule of law and financial and economic objectives and enables monitoring and assessment.
Zanu PF factionalism took an unanticipated turn ahead of the party’s 6th National People’s Congress in December 2014. The expected showdown between the camps of then vice-president Mujuru and Mnangagwa, brewing for over a decade, did not materialise, as Mnangagwa took cover behind a forceful anti-Mujuru campaign spearheaded by Grace.
Egged on by an influential cabal, the Mugabes concluded their interests were threatened by Mujuru’s ambition. The campaign enlisted disaffected elements within Zanu PF youth, women and war veteran structures. As Mujuru was publicly eviscerated, the president’s silence implied tacit endorsement. Mujuru was publicly humiliated at the congress, accused of corruption and plotting regime change, even Mugabe’s assassination.
Though no evidence was presented, she and 16 cabinet and deputy ministers were dismissed from party and government posts, as well as nine provincial chairpersons and other senior party officials, including political heavyweights Didymus Mutasa and Rugare Gumbo.
Mnangagwa and the little-known Phelekezela Mphoko were named second secretaries (and subsequently vice-presidents), with rotational responsibility for chairing the party.
The party’s constitution was amended to change senior appointment procedures and significantly strengthen Mugabe’s first secretary powers. The amended constitution has not been released; critical details on internal procedures, including how a replacement for an incapacitated Mugabe would be chosen, remain unclear.
Zanu PF’s new political commissar (responsible for organisation and mobilisation of party structures), Saviour Kasukuwere, began the restructuring process; the new provincial leaders were instructed to conduct elections at district, branch and cell levels. Ostensibly intended to strengthen the party, the process has been disruptive and divisive. Between March and June 2015, the politburo expelled or suspended over 140 members.
Factional developments continued to dominate, including worrying undertones of ethnic mobilisation. Mugabe’s belated calls for unity and threats against factionalists at the year-end conference are expected to exacerbate matters further.
Mnangagwa slowly consolidated his position, especially over government business and state infrastructure. However, he was promoted by Mugabe, not elected by the party and has no automatic right to replace him. With Mugabe still in charge, he must build support while piloting reform.
The party censured several of his senior allies before the national conference, and the push for gender representation in the presidium by the Women’s League and the G40 grouping of younger politicians appeared designed to check his rise.
There have been three cabinet reshuffles since the 2014 congress, the most significant in September 2015, when fourteen additional ministers were appointed; there are now 72 ministers and deputy ministers.
However, Grace Mugabe has not been given a formal position, as many had predicted, but instead is presented as a national, unifying leader: an extension of the president himself. The party retains a veneer of national unity, and though Mugabe and others speak of factionalism, other senior leaders forcefully refute their complaints.
State media celebrated the national conference’s theatre and endorsement of Mugabe as the 2018 presidential candidate. Everyone in the party claims fidelity to him; accusations of disloyalty are routinely made to undermine opponents. The media is used to pursue agendas, float accusations and distribute misinformation.
Nevertheless, there are many fluid internal fault lines, and ever more citizens believe the divisions cannot be bridged.
The impact on and position of the security sector is uncertain. The purges have reportedly exacerbated divisions in its ranks; several security chiefs faced removal for alleged links to Mujuru, but this has not transpired.
The defence forces commander, General Constantine Chiwenga, has traditionally been fiercely loyal to Mugabe but is also reportedly close to Mnangagwa.
This has exacerbated factional tensions. The recently established war veterans ministry and the appointment of military officers to an array of senior civil service posts appeared to reflect a commitment to keeping the defence forces onside. As government struggles to pay civil service salaries, the security forces are prioritised.
But factional dynamics are playing out among Mugabe’s traditional allies, too. In an unprecedented criticism at the December conference, the president admonished security force chiefs for involvement in factionalism and railed against special treatment for war veterans.
New discord erupted shortly after Mugabe’s return from holiday in late January, as ministers and senior officials associated with respective factions attacked each other through the media.
Grace launched a thinly veiled attack on Mnangagwa, security force and war veteran elements, prompting an abortive protest by war veterans aligned with Mnangagwa that was brutally crushed by riot police.
Mugabe’s subsequent condemnation of War Veterans minister Chris Mutsvangwa, a key Mnangagwa ally, and silence with respect to his wife’s criticism of the security chiefs, was interpreted as evidence of a weakened vice-president.
It has also heightened speculation that Mugabe intends to shake up the military command — reportedly smarting from the First Lady’s attacks and concerns that if this sector is not well-handled it could destabilise the situation further.
The final part of the report will be published in next week’s edition.
International Crisis Group (ICG) Africa Briefing No 118 was released on Monday. ICG, based in Johannesburg, South Africa and Brussels, Belgium, is an independent, non-profit non-governmental organisation committed to preventing and resolving deadly conflict.