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Free, fair polls the real test

In news that could burst Zimbabwe’s post-coup bubble, the World Bank (WB) has projected the country’s fragile economy to grow only 0,9% in 2018, compared to Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa’s ambitious 4,5% estimate.

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Some say the country is navigating through a delicate transition, in the aftermath of the fall of the longstanding dictator Robert Mugabe. Others argue that this is no transition at all because, although Mugabe is no longer calling the shots, the deeply entrenched system of Mugabeism is still in place. The bottom line is that the ball is in President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s court to either confirm or disprove this postulation — his actions will determine whether Zimbabwe remains a pariah state or rejoins the community of civilised nations.

This week, the re-engagement agenda received a major boost with the arrival in Harare of Sir Simon McDonald, a British diplomat who is Permanent Under-Secretary at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and head of that country’s diplomatic service. He held meetings with civil society personalities and so-called “thought leaders”. The British envoy proceeded to meet Foreign Affairs minister Sibusiso Moyo, a retired general who was the face of November’s military intervention.

There has been a great deal of scepticism that Mnangagwa, who served under Mugabe as a cabinet minister from independence in 1980, has what it takes to chart a path away from ruinous economic policies. The real test of Mnangagwa’s leadership credentials is the 2018 general election. His ability to retrieve the economy from the gutter will depend on whether Zimbabwe holds a free, fair and credible election. The World Bank growth estimate, contained in a report titled Global Outlook, Broad Based Upturn, Will it Last?, is in sharp contrast to Harare’s projection of 4,5% growth.

Chinamasa last year forecast the economy to register firm 4,5% growth in 2018, underpinned by strong performances in agriculture and mining. But the Bretton Woods institution, which has arguably the most reliable database on any economy in the world, says economic growth will not be as rapid as pronounced by the government, as Zimbabwe gradually manoeuvres through an uncertain political and security transition cycle.

There are several factors to ponder.

“Other downside risks include a protracted period of heightened political and policy uncertainty, which could further hurt confidence and deter investment, risk is elevated in South Africa, where the ruling African National Congress’s leadership election could lead to deep divisions within the party, and in Zimbabwe, where a political transition is unfolding. “Droughts, conflicts, and worsening security conditions would weigh heavily on economic activity in the region, especially in fragile countries,” the World Bank said.

Our contention is that, for Zimbabwe’s new administration, the proof of the economic pudding is in the implementation of serious reforms. A return to the rule of law, respect for property rights, the protection of civil liberties, policy stability, a genuine non-partisan clampdown on corruption, and a departure from bogus elections will determine how the future of this country pans out. Anything short of that will plunge Zimbabwe down the abyss.

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