PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe’s latest cabinet reshuffle has only served to whittle down Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s influence in government and will do little to reinvigorate the economy or inspire investor confidence.
By Tinashe Kairiza
The cabinet changes, which saw former Central Intelligence Organisation boss Happyton Bonyongwe appointed Justice minister, effectively means that Mnangagwa will no longer be leader of the house in parliament.
Mnangagwa, while doubling as Justice minister before the latest cabinet reshuffle, effectively used the strategic portfolio to advance his political ambitions to succeed Mugabe as the country’s president.
The latest shakeup — which some have labelled a factional reshuffle — bolsters the influence of the G40 faction, which has coalesced around First Lady Grace Mugabe. The G40 faction has previously blocked government from adopting a raft of austerity measures aimed at stimulating economic growth which were proposed by Patrick Chinamasa, removed from his post as Finance minister this week.
Mugabe shunted Chinamasa from the Finance ministry and replaced him with his close relative and former Home Affairs minister Ignatius Chombo, whose probity has been questioned in the past. There are doubts over his ability to guide the country’s economy towards the growth trajectory.
Writing on his blog, former MDC-T advisor Alex Magaisa said Chombo’s appointment could spell doom for the country’s fragile economy.
“It is hard, however to understand the logic of appointing Dr Ignatius Chombo as his replacement (Chinamasa) at the finance ministry. He comes with a huge baggage of corruption allegations, especially in his old portfolio as Local Government minister for many years,” Magaisa wrote.
During his tenure, Chinamasa sought to convince government to adopt a range of reforms which included civil service retrenchments, salary cuts, scrapping of bonuses and closure of embassies.
Among his proposals, Chinamasa’s plan to retrench 25 000 civil servants, slash salaries of cabinet ministers and other employees was also meant to appease international financial institutions such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and African Development Bank (AfDB) as well as Western countries such as Britain, which are holding out for the payment of US$1,8 billion arrears and reforms to enable Zimbabwe to secure US$2 billion in fresh funding.
Chinamasa’s removal from the ministry could effectively mean that the Lima Plan, that seeks to settle US$1,8 billion arrears owed to preferred international financial institutions — the World Bank, IMF and AfDB — before unlocking fresh funding, is all but dead in the water.
The addition of new but unnecessary ministries to an already bloated government such as the Ministry of National Scholarships presided over by Chris Mushohwe and the Ministry of Cyber Security, Threat Detection and Mitigation now headed by Chinamasa will put a further strain on the already burdened fiscus. Government has already overshot its budget by nearly US$1 billion.
The cabinet reshuffle is therefore yet another reminder that Mugabe cares little about reducing government costs.
The reshuffle, structured to bolster the G40 faction, saw Mnangagwa’s allies Priscah Mupfumira and Tshinga Dube falling by the wayside.
Mupfumira was replaced by Mugabe’s nephew Patrick Zhuwao, as Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare minister. Zhuwao was formerly Indigenisation minister.
Zhuwao was one of Chinamasa’s vocal critics when he attempted to introduce austerity measures. He led the call for the reinstatement of more than 2 000 youth officers who had been retrenched as part of recommendations of a civil service audit, despite government facing severe revenue constraints.
Government had undertaken to flush out ghost workers thereby cutting its huge wage bill which gobbles up more than 90% of revenue, but with Zhuwao now in charge such reforms are unlikely to see the light of day.
Political commentator Maxwell Saungweme described Mugabe’s latest cabinet reshuffle as a damp squib, which will do nothing to resuscitate the ailing economy.
The new cabinet, he said, would put a strain on the national fiscus.
“If anything, I had seen it coming that Mugabe will not do a consequential reshuffle that will improve basic service delivery but will re-arrange deadwood. None among the reshuffled are performers. All are failures just like their shuffler,” Saungweme charged.
“It is difficult to read the mind of an old man faced with an option of shuffling equally old and torn cards. He was shuffling zeros, so the whole exercise is much ado about nothing.”
Political analyst and visiting politics lecturer at Rhodes University in South Africa, Mike Mavura said the reshuffle was meant to solve the factional squabbles in Zanu PF without proffering any practical solutions to the economic challenges facing the country.
“The reshuffle unfortunately has everything to do with factional politics than development logic. The reshuffle to the vast majority of Zimbabweans is nothing,” Mavura said.
“Regrettably, despite all the economic and social problems in the country — factional fights within Zanu PF are what are trending.”
NKC Research, a regional think-tank headquartered in South Africa said the cabinet reshuffle will not help refocus the economy on the growth path as it was necessitated by unyielding factional squabbles currently gripping Zanu PF.
Prior to the shakeup, the think-tank cautioned that deepening factional fights in Zanu PF could suck in the country’s security elements thereby denting any hopes of an economic turnaround.
“Rumours of a cabinet reshuffle by President Robert Mugabe over the weekend (October 7-8) came after a furious spate of Zanu PF infighting late last week, with the two vice-presidents at each other’s throats while First Lady Grace Mugabe picked up where she left off in disposing of former vice-president Joice Mujuru and now targeting senior vice-president Emmerson Mnangagwa in a succession free-for-all that threatens the country’s political stability.
“Meanwhile, well-placed sources in Harare are concerned that the infighting at the top of the party could spread to elements of the bureaucracy and security establishment and create tensions that could easily lead to incidents of sporadic unrest and increased political instability,” the think-tank said.
As it stands, Mugabe, through the cabinet reshuffle, has put new wine in old skin bottles. There is little from the cabinet reshuffle that is expected to turn around the fortunes of the battered economy.