The role of re-engagement

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THIS is the fifth instalment in a series of articles which constitute an introduction to a book to be published this month under the title Zimbabwe: The Challenges of Democratisation and Economic Recovery, edited by Dr Mandaza.

Ibbo Mandaza Academic

Second, the Zimbabwean state would thus be described as being on “autopilot” were it not for the primacy of “national security” within it, as reflected in the President Robert Mugabe’s diary on Monday, a day before cabinet meeting.

In a recent article and obviously, one designed to dispel both the speculation about Mugabe’s health and the widely-held public perception that the government is on “autopilot”, Chief Secretary to the President and Cabinet, Misheck Sibanda, stated the following on the occasion of Mugabe’s 92nd birthday: “He is alert, he knows what is happening. All those things (that he is no longer fit) are myths because he works — I can tell you. Sometimes he goes beyond nine o’clock or 10 o’clock … He is amazing … He is fit; that I can tell you because we work with him.

“He has a very very tight (weekly) programme. So, whoever says (he is not fit), we don’t know. (These are) totally, totally misplaced (notions). In fact, most of these people who say so are sometimes themselves not fit. He has stamina; that I can tell … You can therefore, see that when some people allege that government is auto-piloting, you don’t dignify those comments with a reply because you will be wasting your time …”

Sibanda goes on to explain, albeit unintentionally and, perhaps, inadvertently, the President’s obsession with “national security” matters; and, as has already been intimated, these have primacy over cabinet and related socio-economic policy issues. Thus, Mugabe’s Monday — from morning till night — is devoted almost entirely to programmed meetings with the security chiefs, individually or in collaboration with such of their counterparts in the state as deemed necessary and expedient by the President.

As one who has always been sensitive to the view about him (and “my Zimbabwe”) in the international sphere, Mugabe meets the permanent secretary for Foreign Affairs as often as is necessary, but also as part of the “security” briefings on Mondays. But it is the office of the permanent secretary for Information, Media and Broadacsting Services that has increasingly become important during the period, since 2000, when he and his party/state have been under siege, domestically and internationally.

As such, state media and the extent to which it has sought to project and sustain the securocratic state and Mugabe in particular, as benevolent, developmental and forever indispensable, became integral to the military-security complex; and, consequently, the current incumbent in the ministry, George Charamba, has had his post elevated from the conventional one of “press secretary” to “spokesperson”, a role reflecting as much the party/state conflation, in which case he is spokesperson for the President of both party and state; as well as his functions as part of the military-security complex; to control and monitor the state media as part of an increasingly self-defeating propaganda war; accredit or bar foreign media, and wrestle with a private (and social) media; which in recent years has become unbridled, if not also occasionally intemperate, in its opposition to, and tirades against, Mugabe and his government.

Thirdly, the point to highlight herein is that both the structure and practice of governance in the Zimbabwean state revolves around the military-security complex under the President — Head of State and Government and Commander-in-Chief of the Defence Forces — in which cabinet and ministers therein become, in practice, at least secondary to their permanent secretaries, as is the case of Foreign Affairs and Information, in relation to the military-security complex; with the conventional relationship between minister and permanent secretary now distorted beyond recognition, except in as far both defer to a cabinet secretariat that, at least in form and not content, is now responsible for all policy clusters; and, in reality, a cabinet secretariat which is divested of its role as a managerial and policy co-ordinatory framework for government, and reduced to a “secretariat” for the securocrat state. So, the Office of the President and Cabinet has become an administrative complex representing the centralisation of power: consisting of the Chief Secretary (and not Secretary to Cabinet, in the conventional sense of the post) to the President and Cabinet, whose attention is divided (as reflected in the incumbent’s interview in the Sunday Mail on the occasion of Mugabe’s interview on February 21 between the secretariat functions of the military-security meetings on Monday, and those of cabinet on Tuesday, in addition to other matters attendant to such an office; several permanent secretaries (and their deputies, including former diplomats and other state functionaries), each responsible for this and that policy cluster of government and thereby, albeit inadvertently, eroding the status and functions of permanent secretaries and their line ministries; and the result is not only a top-heavy and unco-ordinated structure in which the stresses and tensions in the party/state are reflected from time to time, but also around which control and “national security” take precedence over economic and social policy imperatives. This is reflected, for example, in the national budget of about US$4 billion for 2016, in which 83% of it is devoted to the salary bill and, therefore, by implication at least, only 17% to “development issues”. Not to mention the predominance of the “national security” factor in the budgetary allocations thereof: US$205 million plus for the Office of the President and Cabinet; US$337 million plus for Defence; and US$373 million plus for Home Affairs (which includes police). With a total of US$916,7 million or nearly US$1 billion, these three allocations alone account for about 25% of the entire national budget of US$4 billion.

It is against this scenario that has emerged in the Zanu PF party/state lexicon, the term “one centre of power”, as both a euphemism for, and defence of, Mugabe’s dictatorship. Simultaneously, it describes a subverted bourgeois state model in which the legislature lies lame and the judiciary rendered vulnerable to an executive now synonymous with securocracy itself. This is a state in crisis: incapable of reform, neither politically nor economically; and, therefore, pregnant with enormous contradictions now expressing themselves in the current political and economic implosions. This is because political reform (eg implementation of the new constitution and electoral reform per se) would amount to “undressing the emperor” and undo his empire; while economic reform is not possible as long as those elements of the state — for example, a bloated public sector of 530 000 (of which 300 000 is the military and security establishment) — that sustain the empire remain intact and impervious to political reform.

The re-engagement

By all accounts, this is the final phase of the Mugabe era: beginning as it did with the 2008 elections in which he was defeated, but afforded a life-line by the Government of National Unity (GNU) which ended with the equally disputed elections of 2013; closing, as being witnessed now, in the intersection between efforts towards the international re-engagement of Zimbabwe, on the one hand and, on the other, the growing divisions in the Zanu PF party/state.

Engagement has been a persistent theme in the history of modern Zimbabwe, not only given the latter’s colonial backdrop and the series of brokered negotiations which culminated in the Lancaster House Agreement of 1979, but also because the country’s post-colonial situation itself has developed against the background of pervasive, if not also intrusive, oversight of global factors. For, Zimbabwe’s post-independent history also coincides with the period during which Southern Africa as a whole experienced intense global scrutiny, with respect to the defeat of apartheid in Namibia (1990) and South Africa (1994), and some of other post-Cold War developments which yielded peace in Angola and the demise of the Mobutu Sese Seko regime in what became the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Besides, “engagement” refers to both the political and economic spheres of international relations: Zimbabwe is a member of the United Nations and many other international organisations, and a subscriber to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank, multilateral institutions with whom Zimbabwe has had heady relations at times, but which nevertheless have maintained a subtle hegemonic overview in the country’s economic life. In turn, this also explains why international capital in particular and the Western world in general, cannot — and will not — disengage permanently from a country whose economy is historically and inextricably part of its system.

Therefore, re-engagement here refers to the process whereby Zimbabwe’s relations with mainly the Western world is being restored after a period, since 2002, when the European Union (EU), United States and other Western countries imposed “sanctions” or “special measures” against it, following the violence and acrimony attendant to the presidential elections that year; and in the course of which period the country has been isolated internationally and subject to economic tribulations. This includes the return of multilateral institutions, led by the IMF, which is negotiating with Zimbabwe for resumption of business terminated in 1999, but on condition the country clears its arrears, against a debt of about US$10 billion owed to the IMF itself, the World Bank, African Development Bank and several other bilateral lenders.

A backdrop to the current re-engagement process has been the facilitation exercise in which former South African president Thabo Mbeki, with the blessing of ex-US president George Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who visited Pretoria in the course of 2005, became the “pointman” for the resolution of the Zimbabwe crisis. Purportedly under the aegis of Sadc, but initially with the support of Nigeria’s former president Olusegun Obasanjo, the facilitation process began in the immediate aftermath of the disputed outcome of the 2002 presidential election in Zimbabwe, the event which sparked the fall-out between the latter and the rest of the Western world, with the EU and the US both imposing “sanctions” or “special measures” against Mugabe’s government.

In fact, it was the report of the Commonwealth election observer mission to the 2002 elections that had given the latter a thumbs down verdict and prompted such a drastic global reaction, including Zimbabwe’s breach with the Commonwealth itself in 2003. The 2002 elections had been accompanied by political violence, largely a continuation of that associated with the fast-track land reform exercise that had begun in February 2000, but thereafter a central feature of the emergent securocrat state, as has already been outlined in the foregoing.

As indicated in this collection of papers, particularly the foreword by Dave Peterson and Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa’s opening address to conference on re-engagement seeks to give impetus to an assumed (political and economic) reform agenda, but in which Zimbabwe’s re-engagement with those it has had strained relations is but a part of that process. In his foreword to this collection, Peterson intimates the close relationship between the earlier NED/Sapes Conferences in 2012 and 2013, on the one hand and, on the other, the expectation that the 2013 elections in Zimbabwe would hopefully yield a new dispensation in the nearly universally-held prediction that Mugabe would be defeated at those polls and the securocrat state dented at its chore. That this failed to happen will have no doubt detracted from the momentum towards re-engagement and the anticipated political and economic reform agenda that would accompany such a process.

But the 2014 conference, of which this collection is a record, sought to renew the hope that all was not lost. Since then, the pace of the re-engagement has been both slow and tentative, depending on how the respective factors in the Western bloc have been responding to political and economic development in Zimbabwe. The US has remained reticent throughout, insisting on evidence of concrete political reforms and an improvement in the human rights situation, before any possibility of full re-engagement with Zimbabwe. Likewise the (white) members of the Commonwealth, namely Canada, New Zealand and Australia, as reflected in the paper by Matthew Neuhaus. The position of the EU has remained as flexible as it has purported to be, as outlined by its former ambassador Aldo Dell’Ariccia during the same conference in May 2014, even though the resumption of aid in 2015 would amount to a higher level of re-engagement with Zimbabwe than hitherto the case.

In all these cases, the Itai Dzamara case (in which the young man was abducted in March last year and has most likely been murdered in an alleged state-sponsored sting) has been another reminder that the securocrat state is ready for neither reform nor re-engagement.

Overall, however, there are currently negotiations between Zimbabwe and the IMF towards the resumption of a Comprehensive Country Financing Programme, but after the roll-out and conclusion of the Debt Arrears Clearance Strategy (which Zimbabwe presented to her creditors in Lima, Peru at the IMF/World Bank Annual General Meeting in September 2015). So far, Zimbabwe has successfully completed the Staff-Monitored Programme that was one of the key pre-requisites to the re-engagement process: promote both macro-economic stability and inclusion growth; address weaknesses in the financial sector; improve the external position and; lay the foundations to build the capacity to repay the outstanding debt.

In turn, the Comprehensive Country Financing Programme has the following as its main priorities: power generation, irrigation infrastructure, enhanced agricultural support, industrialisation and social protection .

Notwithstanding the euphoria which accompanied Chinamasa’s announcement of the significant benchmark in Zimbabwe’s re-engagement with the IMF (and, by implication, the Western world in general), doubts linger as to sustainability of an economic reform programme without concrete political reform, or, to put it more bluntly, while Mugabe remains at the helm of the state not to mention the related theme, or the report that, so far as the IMF/World Bank and such Western countries as Britain and a number of the EU member states are concerned, the current efforts towards economic reform in Zimbabwe have been premised on the belief and/or expectation that Mugabe was about to retire and hand over to Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa. That recent political developments in the Zanu PF party/state have all but pre-empted such an outcome for the time being, of course, exacerbates the pessimism about the possibility of economic reform. In the meantime, Chinamasa and Reserve Bank governor John Mangudya appear to be afforded the latitude with which to pursue negotiations with the IMF, even though the persistence of those pursuing the indigenisation policy agenda continues to reflect an overall policy regime characterised by inconsistencies and contradictions.

Dr Mandaza is a Zimbabwean academic, author and publisher. He is currently the convener of the Sapes Trust’s Policy Dialogue Forum.

2 thoughts on “The role of re-engagement”

  1. Wisdomtooth says:

    Nothing concrete can be expected with the current set-up. It appears everyone in the reengagement process from the west is kicking the can down the road hoping for President Mugabe’s departure and its logical for them to do so. The only realistic possibility of reform at least on the economic front will be in the absence of President Mugabe. As I have recommend before, ZANU PF must urgently work towards internal very private very high level closed door discussions on leadership renewal giving President Mugabe the guarantees needed. The current state of affairs and senior persons rhetoric about his 2018 election participation at 94 serves nobody no good and is highly irresponsible.

  2. Ronald Matapire says:

    Ibbo,I am afraid your essay is severely undermined by your long an eventually meaningless sentences. You fail the communication test remarkably. In future use short and simple sentences.

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