Zim’s re-engagement drive: Function of domestic policy

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ZIMBABWE’S military, enforcing a government order, has forcibly evicted President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s elderly cleric neighbour at gunpoint.

FOREIGN policy can be understood as “domestic policy with a hat on” — meaning that a country’s foreign policy is just but a dressed-up version of its domestic policies.

This paper locates Zimbabwe’s international re-engagement challenges on the domestic arena and posits that foreign policy is intrinsically intertwined with domestic policy. In other words, what President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s regime does locally has ramifications on its international relations. Zimbabwe must therefore implement comprehensive political and economic reforms to address close to two decades of international isolation.

Falling like a deck of cards

Mnangagwa’s regime has traversed the globe in an attempt to normalise Zimbabwe’s relations with the global community and in search of the elusive foreign direct investment to shore up the tanking economy.

The regime further enlisted the help of Ballard Partners, a United States public relations firm, to lobby against restrictive measures in Washington at a whopping US$1,5 million! This followed nearly two decades of international isolation and the subsequent failed “Look East Policy”.

One year on, Mnangagwa’s international re-engagement thrust is falling like a deck of cards. International players are stampeding to express their disappointment over the regime’s failure to implement comprehensive political and economic reforms. The calls for reforms must also be understood in the context of failure to implement the recommendations of the Motlanthe commission and pursue justice for the six unarmed civilians that were callously murdered by the military on August 1, 2018. These concerns were shared by a number of Western countries and blocs, including the US, European Union, United Kingdom, Sweden and the Netherlands on the first anniversary of August 1.

The US government further publicly designated former Presidential Guard commander Anselem Nhamo Sanyatwe (Zimbabwe’s ambassador-designate to Tanzania) and his spouse owing to the former’s involvement in the August 1 extra-judicial killings. The regime responded by summoning US ambassador Brian Nichols while totally ignoring the fact that what needs urgent summoning is human rights abuses, impunity, corruption and patronage, among a host of bad governance practices on the domestic arena.

New dispensation façade

Borrowing from Antonio Gramsci, the crisis in Zimbabwe consists of the fact that “… the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear”.

At the centre of why Zimbabwe’s international re-engagement efforts have not yielded positive results is the undeniable fact that the “new dispensation” narrative is a façade. The Mnangagwa regime has failed to anchor itself on a new political culture. In fact, Zimbabwe has witnessed an escalation of old habits.

First, this regime stands on a shaky foundation, having been borne out of a military coup in November 2017. While the departure of long-time ruler Robert Mugabe was a welcome development, the ushering in of a hybrid regime that is anchored on the ubiquitous nature of the military in public affairs was equally undesirable.

The anticipation had been that the 2018 elections would cure the legitimacy crisis created by the coup. Alas, as concluded by the Commonwealth, European Union and National Democratic Institute/International Republican Institute observer missions, the elections failed the credibility test due to a menu of electoral manipulation in favour of Zanu PF. These included state media bias, partisan conduct of traditional leaders, abuse of state resources, partisan distribution of food aid, party-state-military conflation, intimidation and a biased electoral management body. The international community is therefore sceptical of a regime that did not derive its authority to govern from the people.

Second, if Chenjerai Hunzvi (the late war veteran who led the violent land reform programme) was to resurrect today, he would marvel at how his long-time comrades have perfected violence and human rights abuses. The public shootings on August 1 were a chilling reminder of the regime’s character. Having usurped power through a military coup, the military regime displayed its callousness and disregard for fundamental human rights for all to see.

The Motlanthe commission identified the military as responsible for the extra-judicial killings and made a raft of recommendations that have not been implemented, one year after the unfortunate incident. These human rights violations were repeated on a larger scale in January 2019 when a total of 17 extra-judicial killings, 17 cases of rape and other violations of a sexual nature, 26 abductions, 61 displacements, 81 assaults consistent with gunshot attacks, at least 586 assaults and torture, inhuman and degrading treatment (including dog bites), and 954 arrests and detention (including dragnet arrests) were reported.

Since August 1 2018, a record-breaking 21 labour union leaders, civil society leaders and MDC leaders are facing trumped-up charges of “treason” and “subverting a constitutionally elected government”. Leaders of the MDC have been targeted for abductions as recently exhibited by the attempted abduction of MDC youth chairperson Obey Tererai Sithole on July 31, 2019 in Harare. The regime is further threatening to shoot and kill would-be demonstrators in the wake of rising discontent against the worsening socio-economic situation.

Third, the lethargy on reforms is a disservice to the country’s international re-engagement efforts. Mnangangwa’s regime is in propaganda overdrive and yet doing the opposite on the ground. The replacement Bills for the Public Order and Security Act (Posa) as well as the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (Aippa) are replicas of the old and meant to curtail fundamental freedoms of association, assembly, expression, information and media rather than enhancing these freedoms as enshrined in the bill of rights of the constitution of Zimbabwe.

Rising corruption and patronage are an indictment on the “new dispensation”, with revelations that a total of US$3 billion under command agriculture cannot be accounted for whilst the National Social Security Authority scandal has hogged media headlines. Despite promising a robust anti-corruption drive, Mnangagwa is failing a departure with the past and chart a new way forward for the country.

The current high-level arrests must be understood in the contest of Zanu PF factional wars and never as a genuine anti-corruption crusade. The appointment of Justice Loice Matanda-Moyo, wife of Foreign Affairs and International Trade minister Sibusiso Moyo, as head of the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission shows the lack of political will to ensure an independent anti-corruption crusade.

Last, Zanu PF has failed to understand the primacy of national dialogue as a prelude to international re-engagement. Before embarking on international trips that are digging deep into the already depleted national purse, Zimbabwe needs an inclusive national dialogue that establishes a social contract with the people of Zimbabwe. This point was also made by Rwandan President Paul Kagame recently.

The Political Actors Dialogue process where Mnangagwa is both player and referee lacks seriousness.

The way forward

The foregoing explications have demonstrated that the greatest undoing to Zimbabwe’s international re-engagement efforts is its domestic policies that are authoritarian, clientalistic, parasitic and kleptocratic. The world cannot smile at Zimbabwe whilst it butchers and impoverishes its own people.

The international community has a responsibility to protect civilians, especially in instances where domestic remedies have failed to do so.

In order to make gains on international relations, Zimbabwe must urgently deal with the internal sanctions it has imposed on its citizens by implementing comprehensive reforms, including the recommendations of the Motlanthe commission. This is why the MDC recently launched its Return to Legitimacy, Openness and Democracy (Reload) that identifies a five-signpost roadmap to redeem Zimbabwe from the current crisis.

After building political and diplomatic pressure to force a credible, bankable, legitimate national dialogue guaranteed by the international community with specific deliverables and timelines, the MDC proposes a National Transitional Mechanism that becomes the vehicle for implementing a comprehensive reform agenda ahead of a free and fair election that is internationally supervised.

The reform agenda must focus on the return to legitimacy, including demilitarisation, institutional reforms, security sector reforms, media reforms and electoral reforms, resolution of the economic and humanitarian crisis, resolution on the agenda for nation building, national healing and the resolution of the social contract and international reengagement and ending Zimbabwe’s international isolation.

It is only after rectifying domestic issues through a comprehensive reform agenda that Zimbabwe can record success on the international stage.

Gladys K Hlatywayo is the secretary for international relations of the mainstream Movement for Democratic Change led by Nelson Chamisa.

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