Free advice to Mnangagwa

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Dumisani Muleya

PRESIDENT Emmerson Mnangagwa is surrounded by good people. Among them, he has great formal and informal advisers; talented and eminent people from different backgrounds, who really can make a difference if given some latitude to express themselves.

Editor’s Memo,Dumisani Muleya

Of course, it is public knowledge that he is also surrounded by criminals; greedy parasites just there to enjoy the gravy train ride and loot public resources. There are certainly thriving scoundrels there. Overnight they are rich, but they can’t explain their ill-gotten wealth. But to give the devils their dues, they are innovative and enterprising in their own way.

Yet there are some genuinely resourceful entrepreneurs who have done well through formal and legal enterprise. Not every successful person around Mnangagwa is a thief. There are credible, honest and hard-working businesspeople around the president.

However, with all his advisers — some working through the Presidential Advisory Council — Mnangagwa has failed to show that he is a skilled moderniser and reformist like contemporary China’s Deng Xiaoping, the architect of the country’s rise from the wreckage of Mao Zedong’s disastrous leadership and depredations to becoming the world’s second largest economy.

There were huge expectations when Mnangagwa came in through a military coup against his mentor Robert Mugabe. Many people were willing to ignore the coup — except some who foresaw the consequences ahead — in the hope that as long as Mugabe is out, things will be fine.

Millions of locals bought into that narrative. Only some sceptical people resisted the political temptation to join the bandwagon. The region and the continent joined in. So did the international community. Britain, in particular, was complicit in the coup project.

The trouble with the people around Mnangagwa is that they failed to advise him, to start with, on the proper transitional model and his role in it. They also didn’t have a strategy on how to manage the transition, unite a divided country, reform and revive the economy in the interregnum.

Politically, they were just blind. Our repeated reportage that Mnangagwa had serious internal challenges and that MDC leader Nelson Chamisa was going to emerge as a big contender was ignored. So were observations that Mnangagwa would almost certainly find himself compelled to negotiate with Chamisa after the elections. This was not due to clairvoyance, but a basic reading of local politics.

It was evident Chamisa had personal charisma and appeal, although he had no party because of the way he came in. It was also evident that Mnangagwa lacked personal appeal and popularity, although he had a relatively stronger party, effective electoral machinery and was far more experienced — of course, also much older.

All these interrelated issues were ignored, judging by the path Mnangagwa and his advisers took. And indeed judging by their attitude and pronouncements. They thought Chamisa was just woolgathering. It doesn’t matter whether he is clever or not, competent or not, the balance of forces, the view of voters and the reality is that there was a huge message from the electorate for an inclusive transitional process to unite, reform and fix the nation ahead of the pursuit of power for self-aggrandisement.

Continuing to ignore the legitimacy question and the resultant crisis is political hara-kiri. It leads to tragedies like the ones on August 1, 2018, January 2019 and August 16, 2019.

The brutal clampdown by the police on anti-government protests last Friday exposed Mnangagwa’s administration for what it is: an authoritarian regime.

It has also exploded the myth and refrains of a new dispensation; that Zimbabwe is open for business and further compounded Mnangagwa’s legitimacy crisis, while damaging his international reputation. His mask fell irretrievably.

Only national dialogue, an increasingly popular tool for conflict resolution and political transition, can help Zimbabwe out. It must be inclusive, transparent and be organsied by a credible convener to discuss the transitional arrangement and the roadmap to reform and change.

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