ZDI: RESEARCH INSTITUTE
SINCE his “military-assisted” ascension to power in November 2017, President Emmerson Mnangagwa has worked so hard to entrench himself in every sphere of life in Zimbabwe to consolidate power and set up solid patronage networks for power retention.
This has been primarily done through a series of appointments of sympathisers and business surrogates with strategic economic interests from the state through clientelistic, parasitic and neoptarimonial networks linked to the presidency, Zanu PF and the state.
Faced with the current governance crisis typified by a legitimacy deficiency, failure to attract the much-anticipated foreign investment, failure to contain the economic crisis, labour strikes, narrowing prospects for escaping international isolation (by the West) and public disappointment in his government, Mnangagwa has appointed a 24-member Presidential Advisory Council (PAC).
This paper argues that the appointment of the PAC is a fire-fighting political strategy aimed at power consolidation. As Niccollo Machiavelli once said, “Never attempt to win by force what can be won by deception.”
Through the PAC, Mnangagwa has cunningly employed this advice by assimilating some of the “high-sounding” experts, friends, and business leaders to create a “something is being done” feeling among ordinary Zimbabweans while his regime fights to contain the country’s worst political and economic crises following the military overthrow of former president Robert Mugabe in November 2017. The PAC weakens and circumvents the role of the institution of Cabinet.
In short, it appears like a parallel Cabinet.
The terms of reference for the PAC emphasise that members must be impartial and apolitical. This is a contradictory spectacle because quite a number of PAC members’ close ties with Zanu PF and Mnangagwa are public knowledge.
For instance, Kudakwashe Tagwirei has been accused of capturing the fuel sector, benefiting from preferential treatment in foreign currency allocation by the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe, close association with the presidency and allegations of buying expensive cars for top Zanu PF leaders.
He cannot be expected to be impartial. Same applies to one Harare lawyer, Edwin Manikai, who is a known family friend and a former lawyer for President Mnangagwa before he was briefly fired in 2017.
Joe Mutizwa is also a known Zanu PF sympathiser who, during the United States Senate Foreign Relation Sub-committee on African Affairs took the stance of a Zanu PF advocate to the extent of asking for the removal of sanctions imposed on selected Zanu PF officials in December 2018.
Such characters cannot be expected to be impartial advisors. Instead, attention must be focussed on the real power consolidation intent of Mnangagwa through this council. More so, the PAC depicts deliberate ursupation of the role of Cabinet because some of the roles of the PAC are by law what are ordinarily the roles of the executive branch of government.
Capture of business sector
The President seeks to hit two birds with one stone — the PAC. On one hand, he seeks to boost the outward integrity of his government in the eyes of interested business observers in order to increase prospects for investment.
Secondly, he seeks to capture all potent forces to create a pro-Mnangagwa circle and network with which to manage public opinion and defend the most brutal power consolidation underway with the assistance of the military.
The President has assimilated into his fold notable business leaders who have intimidating and “high-sounding” economic and industrial profiles.
These include: Mutizwa, the former Delta CE; Divine Ndhlukula, the founder and managing director of DDNS Security Operations, the holding company for Securico Security Services, and Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce president since June 2017; Tagwirei, the CE of Sakunda Holdings Group and a businessman with vast interests in the energy sector; Thomas Zondo Sakala, former vice-president of the African Development Bank (AfDB) and chief executive officer of the Infrastructure Development Bank of Zimbabwe (IDBZ); Dr Lindiwe Majele Sibanda, the vice-president for Policy and Partnerships at the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (Agra); Natalie Jabangwe, the general manager and executive head of mobile money company EcoCash owned by Zimbabwean billionaire Strive Masiyiwa; and Busisa Moyo, the CE of United Refineries Limited.
To a layperson who has suffered from or fears the money shortages, inflation and unemployment, this grouping of influential business leaders creates an impression that a big solution is being devised.
It will be foolhardy to distance this well-calculated move from all other tactics that have been put in place to capture the state for power maximisation and consolidation. This PAC has all the undertones of capturing the private sector by assimilating its “head” and leaving the “tail” because, to the Mnangagwa administration, it is the head that matters the most in policy repulsion by the private sector.
The next thing to expect is a “praise and worship” chorus for all policies of the administration by the private sector. After all, the Mnangagwa administration seems more interested in satisfying business capitalist interests at the expense of equality, welfare and labour rights.
Business leaders, just like politicians, are driven by self-interest. They expect this marriage to Zanu PF to pay off in terms of creating a conducive environment for tax avoidance, political protection, favours in government tendering, preferential treatment in government regulations and government backing through labour laws that promote capital accumulation and erode wages for labour and discourage industrial protests.
This kind of alliance against the labour sector — a key pillar of the opposition—has been simmering for some time, beginning with the likes of Tagwirei’s alleged close ties with the ruling elites in Zanu PF leadership and supporting its highly political “command agriculture” programme.
Other business leaders such as Busisa Moyo have worked hard in their social media campaign in support of the Mnangagwa administration.
Zanu PF is aware of its unpopularity in the business sector and many within the party speculated that the current economic crisis has been fueled by saboteurs in the business community affiliated with the opposition.
To contain demonstrations and politically damaging business reactions to the ongoing economic crisis, it is perceivable that the Zanu PF government has strategically captured heads of the business community.
After all, these business leaders have some influence over a vast pool of employees in urban districts who usually participate in demonstrations. They are thus strategic points with which Zanu PF can try to re-enter these long-lost political constituencies and dilute opposition influence in the sector.
The paper argues that the PAC is a power-maximising, consolidation and retention strategy that goes beyond the terms of reference. It is a political creature aimed at delivering political dividends to the ruler and has nothing to do with bringing to fruition the economic and developmental wishes listed in the terms of reference of the PAC.
The manner in which its mandate is loosely defined should create enough alarm over political deceit.
It is impossible to expect the PAC to be impartial since some of its key members are already tainted with impartiality, which is public knowledge.
What can be observed as political reality out of the PAC is that: it is a clear manifestation of efforts to capture the private sector, caress the “business-related-fears” of the international community and, overall, re-assert influence in long-lost urban business districts through proxies in the PAC.
It also works as a public relations outfit for Mnangagwa and his government in their efforts to mislead the international community as a reform-minded regime in order to get international legitimacy and foreign direct investment while they continue with their authoritarian politics on the domestic front.
The Zimbabwe Democracy Institute (ZDI) is a politically independent and not for profit public policy think-tank based in Zimbabwe.