SLIGHTLY over five months ago, former president Robert Mugabe was toppled in a military coup after almost four decades in power. His reign was characterised by corruption and incompetence, as well as leadership, policy and economic failures of untold proportions. Mugabe simply left Zimbabwe in ruins.
Three days after Mugabe resigned in November 21 last year following a military coup, President Emmerson Mnangagwa, a long-time ally and enforcer of the former president’s authoritarian rule, came into power amid a mixture of public euphoria anticipating sea change and apprehension about the future due to involvement of the army in the process. In the midst of the momentous events and chaos, Mnangagwa tried to bring about order, hope and confidence among Zimbabweans; signalling that it is possible to rebuild the country even though the way he came in was unconstitutional and illegal. Many people were prepared and still are to give him a chance.
However, the journey will not be easy. It will be topsy-turvy across the treacherous political landscape; presenting hidden or unpredictable dangers as the country heads for critical general elections in July which might legitimise Mnangagwa’s rule or cut short his time in power. As things stand, there are two main processes underway now; the political and economic which, of course, are related and symbiotic. On the economic front, Zimbabwe is pursuing an economic recovery agenda and promoting itself as a lucrative trade and investment destination following last November’s dramatic events.
Mnangagwa’s administration has pronounced a “new dispensation” and “new economic order” which includes moving away from Mugabe’s era and normalising relationships with the international community, the West in this case, development partners, creditors and investors. Delivering on his mantra that “Zimbabwe is open for business” and promises of recovery is imperative for Mnangagwa to win the next crucial elections and for the country to emerge from the doldrums where it is reeling from company closures, job losses, unemployment, liquidity crunch, cash shortages, informalisation, poverty and suffering. However, rebuilding the country, foreign, trade and investment relations will require political legitimacy and stability, and a clear and consistent policy agenda. Zimbabwe’s new government has made all the right noises towards the West and China, as well as the region. The West has sent back positive signals, but is waiting for free, fair and credible elections. In fact, despite different nuances in how the big powers have interpreted the Zimbabwe situation and received Mnangagwa, there is a convergence on one thing: the need for free, fair, transparent and credible elections.
To his credit Mnangagwa has promised to deliver that, but with the chaos, violence and vote-rigging which engulfed Zanu PF’s primary elections this week it would be very difficult to achieve that. Tensions over control of the levers of state power and influence are also building up and rising between Mnangagwa and military chiefs.
With all this and Mnangagwa struggling at home to make a convincing case that meaningful political change and economic recovery are currently underway, despite some local support and international goodwill, the biggest question remains: whither Zimbabwe?