President Emmerson Mnangagwa on Wednesday painstakingly sold his “Zimbabwe is open for business” pitch to disciples of free-market economics a day before United States President Donald Trump headed for Davos, Switzerland, to sell the “America First” agenda.
Mnangagwa left the Swiss alpine resort town without meeting Theresa May, a leader he made reference to during his wide-ranging interview with the BBC. However, Harare looks certain to be re-admitted into the Commonwealth.
On the economic side, he nailed it by declaring bold reforms which are being pursued by his administration. For him, first impressions count, given how he came to power and what he wants the world to know. He said Zimbabwe is ready to embrace the world and shake off the monkey on its back. Zimbabwe had been labelled the bad boy of southern Africa in the last two decades, losing out on capital when regional peers were advancing at breakneck pace.
The recently sworn-in president, who came to power after the military-backed toppling of his mentor-turned-tormentor Robert Mugabe, undertook to address the contentious land reform programme, offer incentives to investors and rejoin the Commonwealth, a club of mostly former British colonies.
His determined efforts to tone down the 2008 Indigenisation law compelling foreign investors to cede controlling stakes to locals has already won him more admirers both locally and internationally.
During the interview, he spoke eloquently on what needs to be done to attract capital. After all, capital is shy and it only goes where it is embraced. Mnangagwa almost lost his cool when pressed to answer a tough question on the 1980s Gukurahundi genocide. Although he struck the right chord by assuring the European Union that it was free to monitor Zimbabwe’s elections in a few months’ time, it is the atrocities in Matabeleland which once again brought to the fore his growing reputation as an artful dodger. According to independent estimates — which Mnangagwa challenged during the interview although he did not profer alternative numbers — 20 000 people lost their lives during the state-sponsored killings when Mnangagwa was state security minister.
Mugabe, his predecessor, has previously described Gukurahundi as “a moment of madness”, but never apologised. BBC journalist Mishal Husein tried in vain to elicit an apology from Mnangagwa. The president would just not say sorry. Instead, he said he would only address the issue after recommendations submitted by a National Healing and Peace Commission headed by Vice-President Kembo Mohadi. He has also emphasised that Zimbabweans should let bygones be bygones.
Apologising for the acts of commission or omission, as Mnangagwa described the Gukurahundi massacres, would not make him a weaker man. In fact, it would set Zimbabwe on the right path to national cohesion which is a key pre-condition for socio-economic development.
Zimbabwe needs fresh capital and everyone knows what needs to be done to attract that all-important lifeline. A democratic Zimbabwe that respects and upholds the letter and spirit of the constitution, the rule of law and civil liberties is what can take us to the proverbial Promised Land. Like a Phoenix, Zimbabwe can rise from the ashes.