After suffering for many years from a volatile mix of political upheaval, economic instability and corruption, Zimbabwe now has an opportunity to emerge from the doldrums, embrace the progressive community of nations and embark on the arduous task of building a modern, inclusive and prosperous society. We need a new nation-building project.
The whole world, it seems, wants Zimbabwe to succeed. The new government must take full advantage of this opportunity and massive outpouring of goodwill. Although President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government has come to power under controversial circumstances on the back of a soft military coup; former president Robert Mugabe’s fallen regime was so disastrous that its ouster triggered sighs of relief rather than screams of outrage. It had failed, with catastrophic consequences. But now there is an opportunity to propel the country forward. Nobody says the situation is perfect — it never is, even at the best of times — but the idea of turning a new leaf has become an irresistible force of optimism. One of the immediate assignments of the new administration is to steady the boat. This entails prioritising policy certainty over chaos and unpredictability. A government that walks the talk, speaks with one voice and is pragmatic in its approach to economic management stands a better chance at making a difference than one which is anchored on the shifting sands of populism, incompetence and corruption.
This week, the African Export and Import bank (Afreximbank) provided the world a glimpse into what a rejuvenated Zimbabwe can achieve in the quest to crawl out of the gutter. An injection of US$1,5 billion into the devastated economy is nothing to be sneezed at. It sends a vital signal to the rest of the world that Zimbabwe is open for business. Over the past 25 years, life expectancy in southern Africa has increased by a fifth; infant and maternal mortality rates have halved; and primary school enrolment is up to 80%. Tragically, Zimbabwe has been the exception to the regional trend. Virtually every human development index has suffered a stunning reversal.
We must understand that Zimbabwe is not a poor country. Far from it. Zimbabwe is a richly endowed country that is poorly governed.
In recent days, we have witnessed some encouraging signs: a reformist budget, the scrapping of a retrogressive indigenisation law, a directive to halt land invasions, commitment to quick-win outcomes in economic management.
This is surely encouraging. We have also heard cabinet ministers conceding that the old days of laziness, bureaucratic sloth and unaccountable actions are over. Very refreshing, if indeed this will be executed. Mnangagwa and his team should chart a new path — both to move out of Mugabe’s long shadow and to give this long-suffering nation a different trajectory.
Major world powers have already made their concerns known. The United States, Britain and European Union have all said Zimbabwe’s future will depend on the holding of free, fair and credible general elections next year and the extent to which the country implements far-reaching economic and political reforms, while upholding constitutionalism. Can the government rise to the challenge?