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2017 and beyond: Future unpredictable

THIS is a continuation from last week where the Zimbabwe Democracy Institute (ZDI), a locally-based independent political economy think-tank, conducted a scenario-mapping exercise in December last year through a team of experts from academia and civil society.

ZDI: Local think-tank

The paper critically examines the political and socio-economic environment in Zimbabwe and deduces possible scenarios in 2017 and beyond. In arriving at these scenarios, experts first reviewed previous scenarios and analysed the attendant political and socio-economic environment in the context of a changing and shifting political economy set-up marked by seismic informalisation and intriguing succession politics in the ruling Zanu PF party, a weakened opposition and a civil society facing co-ordination and funding challenges as well as citizens that appear to be largely “subjects” in the Mahmood Mamdani sense.

In generic terms, three alternative paths would normally be considered in most scenario planning: one, a best-case scenario: forward movement toward economic and political reforms. Two, a worst-case scenario: backward slippage towards political disorder and economic collapse; and three, a most likely scenario: a protracted and incremental transition, a period of “muddling through”. Because the status quo is a contested equilibrium, this path will be punctuated by alternating periods of political deadlock and partial reforms.

Best-case scenario

This is more of a theoretical possibility than a feasible one in the near and medium term i.e. up to five years. This is really a “feel-good” scenario where there are free, fair and credible elections resulting in incumbency turnover i.e. a grand coalition of opposition parties achieves electoral victory similar to The Gambia case in the December 1 2016 elections when former Gambia president Yahya Jammeh was defeated by opposition coalition leader Adama Barrow.

Were this to happen in Zimbabwe in 2018, the country would be on a recovery path, with main policy distortions alleviated and a foundation laid for pro-poor economic growth. This scenario would also mean the beginning of reforms in various domains: political governance, that is parliament and the judiciary assert independence and civil society becomes an active watchdog; economic and administrative governance, for example, public service depoliticised and re-professionalised, parastatals are prepared for reform, private sector recovery begins and direct investment flows; security governance, for example, objective civilian control, most security chiefs declare loyalty and militias disbanded. This scenario is most unlikely.

Scenario 1A: A most likely scenario but also the worst-case scenario. This is a scenario whereby President Robert Mugabe is in charge throughout the period under consideration. It is essentially a status quo scenario but marked by the intensification of the ongoing governance maladies in both the party and government with the attendant policy incoherence and even immobilism.

At a practical level, however, and given Mugabe’s advanced age and increasing frailty, he is not likely to have the physical and mental stamina to be fully and always in charge. This is actually already happening and will be accelerated during this period.

In a way, by the end of the period, it will resemble the “wheelchair scenario” where Mugabe will be governing from a wheelchair. This is what both First Lady Grace Mugabe and war veterans alluded to in November last year.

For instance, Grace thundered: “We are going to create a special wheelchair for Mugabe until he rules to 100 years because that is what we want.”

On their part, before the souring of relations between the party and war veterans, their spokesman Douglas Mahiya defended the nomination of Mugabe as the party’s 2018 presidential candidate by declaring: “We are not looking for a roadrunner. We are not looking for the best athletes, but for a leader who has the best interests of his people at heart … He can rule from a (wheel) chair.” (https://www.newsday.co.zw/2015/11/03/mugabe-to-rule-from-wheelchair/)

This “wheelchair scenario” effectively means Mugabe will reign, but not rule. Real power will progressively gravitate away from him and towards his inner circle, most likely the First Lady and the First Family’s close associates, and perhaps with elements of Generation 40 (G40). It will be a dynastic rule of sorts. The strategic value of this scenario will be the protection of the First Family’s personal interests and security.

Scenario IIB: This is variation of Scenario IIA. It is a status quo + scenario. Mugabe anoints a successor. This scenario is whereby Mugabe: (a) stands in and wins the 2018 elections; (b) serves until the 2019 congress at which point (c) he retires and anoints his successor. The successor is most likely to be a compromise figure, that is, neither G40 nor Lacoste, but someone accepted (or at least not hated) by both. This will mean the status quo will continue until 2019 and then the successor takes over.

Given that Mugabe will still be alive, though progressively unwell, the successor will tread carefully, only making incremental changes especially in the economic arena, by seeking to normalise the situation. There will be no radical changes — like those in Scenario III below — but only drip-fed policy tinkering. This scenario will closely resemble the Cuba model where former president Fidel Castro retired in 2006 and handed over power to a trusted revolutionary lieutenant, his brother Raul. Castro remained in the shadows, invisible but still highly influential and guiding the transition. His successor managed to introduce and implement some gradual changes but nothing that represented a rupture from the Fidel Castro era.

In the Zimbabwe situation, and in terms of policy, this scenario stands in-between scenarios IIA and III. The main motivation of this scenario, like IIA, will be to protect the First Family but will also entail some limited albeit progressive policy changes.

Scenario III: Mugabe dies in office. This is a State House to Heroes Acre scenario and, should this happen, whether before or after elections, the chief beneficiary is most likely to be Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa (Team Lacoste).

Until Mugabe dies and before the 2019 congress, Mnangagwa is likely to retain his position as state vice-president after the 2018 elections by virtue of the same position in the party. Mugabe does not normally want to change his team mid-stream and the Joice Mujuru saga is the most vivid testimony to this. Mugabe waited until the congress year to begin the manoeuvres to oust his deputy.

As beneficiary in this scenario, Mnangagwa will also have the support of the securocrats. It must be noted that the new constitution states that until 2023, if the president dies, resigns or is removed from office, the Vice-President who last acted as President assumes office as President for the next 90 days until the party nominates a replacement for consideration by parliament. This is a very scary situation as those 90 days may be a period of weeping and gnashing of teeth within the party.

In any case, things might not work out as per the constitution as the realities of power politics may circumvent constitutional niceties; this may see someone from outside the party presidium leapfrogging into State House. It is highly likely that the bitterness and viciousness in the lead up to the December congress were motivated by the strategic question of who will be in charge during the potentially decisive 90 days.

Under Scenario III, there will be a change of Government in the sense of change in the personnel who govern but there will be no change of regime. That is, there will be no change in the rules of the political game for selecting leaders and for exercising power.

However, politically, the first order of business is likely to deal with rivals within the party and this will most likely entail weeping and gnashing of teeth for G40 and any other contenders for power. While intra-party rivals will in all likelihood be liquidated, ED, as Mnangagwa is also known, is likely to craft a post-election coalition with selected opposition parties, especially the MDC-T, in order to stabilise his rule in a Government of National Unity-like modality of governance.

The most significant and potentially fundamental changes under this scenario are likely to be in terms of policy, especially economic policy. Zimbabwe is likely to witness a sharp and clear break away from policy immobilism and factionalism-led policy incoherence towards what this paper sees as the Chinese model. This is characterised by two distinct but closely related governance modes. This first is liberal economic governance according to which there will be glasnost, i.e. opening up of the economy and making it safe for both local and foreign investors. This will be accompanied by concerted efforts to improve the Ease of Doing Business and, to this extent, toxic policies like indigenisation will be repealed or amended beyond recognition.

There will also be an escalation in the normalisation of relations with the Western international community and international financial institutions. To be noted here is that the international community is divided into the Western countries and the “Look East” led by China.

The former is itself divided between the European Union (which has been more sympathetic to the Zanu PF regime post-2013, seeking a robust re-engagement with the lifting of most sanctions against Zimbabwe) and the United States maintaining its hard stance of no change until there are irreversible governance reforms).

China and other “Look East” countries have traditionally been supportive of the regime and have been referred to as “all-weather friends” of Zimbabwe. Equally, robust efforts will be deployed to clamp down on endemic corruption, especially that happening in the public sector and at the apex of that sector. Here, Mao’s injunction will come handy: “kill one and scare a thousand”. In the name of fighting corruption, G40 will be targeted for liquidation.
In terms of political governance, the Chinese model entails closed political spaces or hard authoritarianism. In other words, there will be no perestroika. The logic, consistent with this model, is to make people happy economically so that they will not rebel politically. If the economic model delivers and improves people’s welfare, who would want to rebel?

Nonetheless, the closing of political spaces will mean restrictions on people’s political and civil rights which will be sacrificed on the altar of socio-economic rights. For some sectors of society, for example business, this is perhaps the best-case scenario. However, this scenario entirely depends on what happens to Mugabe during the period under consideration. In other words, the scenario is sensitive to and depends on the “Hand of God”, Professor Eldred Masunungure submitted.


It is possible that the actual scenarios may have elements of two or more of the above three possible scenarios as put forward by Masunungure.

In any case, scenarios are never cast in stone and are not meant to be predictions but indications, informed by the present reality and confluence of forces, of what is likely to happen going forward.

ZDI, working with sister research think tanks such as the Mass Public Opinion Institute and other researchers, will continue to revise and update these scenarios in line with changing political dynamics in Zimbabwe.

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