Incompetence fuels social instability

LAST week we exclusively reported President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s regime fears mass social unrest and civil disobedience as economic deterioration inexorably accelerates, amid a wave of price increases.

Editor’s Memo,Dumisani Muleya

The meltdown has seen panicky top government officials taking turns to target and intimidate business and civil society over surging inflation.

Zimbabwe’s annual inflation rate peaked to 66,8% in March 2019 from 59,39% the previous month. In January it was 56,9% — signifying the highest rates since the 2008-2009 hyperinflation era at the height of the economic collapse.

This has raised the spectre of 2008. Unofficial estimates say inflation is currently much higher.

Mnangagwa, Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga and Finance minister Mthuli Ncube, as well as other officials have been making noises intimidating business and the civic polity over price spikes instead of coming up with viable policies and measures to address the situation.

Chiwenga last week stepped up the hostile anti-business rhetoric, describing companies’ pricing regimes as “financial terrorism”, while Mnangagwa recently brandished price controls — an intervention which guarantees failures as former president Robert Mugabe learnt the hard way.

Officials’ threats against business come at a time the Zimbabwe Council of Churches, led by its general-secretary Kenneth Mtata, called an urgent meeting with state security service chiefs last Tuesday to discuss the current situation.

The clerics warned the worsening economic environment was now fast becoming a grave national security threat.

The clergy also advised the securocrats that there was need for an urgent all-stakeholder dialogue to deliberate on how to address the political and economic crisis.

“We have started knocking on some doors which we think are important, so that we can go back to this (national dialogue) process. The economy is now a security threat,” Mtata said.

“The way things are going; if prices continue the way they are going up, that is something that we are really afraid of as we may come to a point where the majority of the population does not know whether they are going or coming back. If the majority of citizens are not sure if the situation is changing for the better and then they reach a frustration point where they say they have nothing to lose; that becomes a dangerous turn.”

This week government feebly came up with a proposal on a social contract and tripartite agreement to address the situation whose causes are clearly political by definition but economic and social in character. So obviously, this can’t be the solution.

This was after Mnangagwa met his Presidential Advisory Council. In the meantime, government has placed security forces on high alert, fearing an uprising as we reported last week.

Home Affairs minister Cain Mathema inadvertently confirmed our story this week when he convened an emergency press conference claiming foreign elements are plotting violent demonstrations to overthrow the government.

He threatened police and other security forces were ready to crush protests, while blaming the opposition for economic failure.

Therein lies the rub. Mnangagwa’s government has come up with a misdiagnosis of the ailment, hence the wrong prescription and treatment.

Repressive rule, a failing economy and broad societal shifts have fueled political instability in Zimbabwe in recent years.

The solution is not structure-induced stability through the use of the repressive apparatus and brute force, but to fix the economy and stymie political instability.

Intimidating business and civil society won’t help anything. Running a government is not like running military barracks. It’s about ideas, policies and competent leadership, not insults, threats and other such barbaric measures.

Once there is a widespread loss of confidence in government’s motivations, capabilities and competence, it becomes extremely difficult to turn around the situation. This is increasingly becoming the problem as government squanders all the goodwill it has had since the start of the post-Mugabe era.

What the government is doing won’t work, and the people will make sure their own plan works and theirs doesn’t work!