One year on: Zim in doldrums

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President Emmerson Mnangagwa

TINASHE KAIRIZA

“WE want to grow our economy, we want peace, we want jobs, jobs, jobs,” bellowed President Emmerson Mnangagwa at an electric rally at Zanu PF headquarters as he triumphantly returned from exile in South Africa, two weeks after he had been expelled by former president Robert Mugabe from party and government in November 2017.

It was his first public appearance after he skipped the border to Mozambique enroute to South Africa, to avoid arrest as the police had instituted a series of investigations at a time he had fallen out with former president Robert Mugabe. He, however, returned two weeks later after Mugabe’s dramatic ouster in a military coup, widely supported both at home
and abroad.

After nearly four decades under Mugabe’s catastrophic rule, Zimbabwe, buzzing with euphoria and hope, was now embarking on a fresh journey without the long-time ruler, except for a few discerning people who warned that removal of Mugabe, while the system remained in place was not going to change anything much, if at all.

And Mnangagwa, though viewed with distrust as a result of his long-standing relationship with Mugabe, appeared, judging from his rhetoric on that historic day on November 21, 2017, strong-willed to shepherd Zimbabwe back to the era of its former glory. As thousands of enthralled party supporters listened, Mnangagwa pledged to create jobs, observe human rights, resuscitate Zimbabwe’s comatose economy, and reintegrate the isolated nation among the community of nations. He also had a reassuring message to timid investors, who had been frustrated for decades by Mugabe’s toxic policies which had driven away capital.

“Zimbabwe is open for business,” Mnangagwa would chant the mantra at numerous fora, as the country prepared to hold its first elections without Mugabe.

In his gigantic campaign billboards scattered around the country, Mnangagwa promised a cocktail of reforms, even similar to what the opposition had been clamouring for during
Mugabe’s 37-year rule.

“Vote Mnangagwa, for free, fair, and credible elections,” one billboard screamed.

“Kujekesa nyika yese nemagetsi (Lighting up the whole country with electricity),” another billboard promised, with a picture of a smiling Mnangagwa against a background of some power lines.

“Vote Mnangagwa for affordable health care,” another campaign banner read, meant to strike a chord with an electorate which has seen health facilities crumble on Mugabe’s watch. Healthcare, however, remains out of the reach of the poor.

Mnangagwa also had a message meant to capture the imagination of a citizenry which had been brutally punished for expressing dissent: “Vote Mnangagwa, for freedom of speech and expression.”

Another banner read: “Reduction of electricity tariffs guaranteed. Vote Mnangagwa for President.”

A year after winning the disputed poll, Mnangagwa has by all objective measures largely failed to deliver on the raft of pledges he pronounced, predicated on transforming Zimbabwe’s comatose economy into an upper middle-income economy by 2030, as well as entrenching democratic tenets.

Just two days after the polls, Mnangagwa’s pledge to observe human rights and his “vote Mnangagwa, for freedom of speech and expression” was torn to shreds after armed soldiers shot and killed six unarmed civilians in broad daylight on the streets of Harare.

Mnangagwa, who was Mugabe’s trusted enforcer for 37 years, promised during his inauguration to launch a commission of inquiry into the shootings, insisting he would steer
Zimbabwe towards “the rule of law”.

But true to form, Mnangagwa has dragged his feet in implementing the recommendations of the commission of inquiry chaired by former South African president Kgalema Motlanthe. A
year after the shootings, the killers have not been prosecuted — despite graphic video evidence — while the victims and their families have still not found justice and closure.

Ironically, after the shootings, Mnangagwa’s administration again unleashed the full might of state security to quash widespread street protests in January after government
increased the price of fuel by 150%, worsening the economic turmoil. In the wake of the demonstrations, which brought Zimbabwe to a standstill, security agents again gunned down
17 people, dashing the hopes of optimists who believed Mnangagwa’s new dispensation.

This month, security agents violently dispersed crowds in the aftermath of a ban on opposition protests which were billed to kick-start in the capital. Human rights defenders and
the international community waded in again, condemning Mnangagwa’s government for its propensity to employ brute force in the face of dissent. Scores of opposition activists were
also abducted by unknown assailants, assaulted and left for dead, culminating in a chorus of condemnation of Mnangagwa’s administration by the international community.

Mnangagwa seemed to confirm his critics’ worst fears in February when he told supporters in Masvingo: “We are the army, we are the air force, we are the police!” in a bid to
underline his nascent authoritarian project.

Human rights watchdog Amnesty International’s deputy director Muleya Mwananyanda was scathing in his criticism, stating: “What we have witnessed since Mnangagwa took power is a
ruthless attack on human rights, with the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association increasingly restricted and criminalised.”

In the process, Zimbabwe’s drive to improve relations with the West, pivoted on the implementation of political and economic reforms, is nearly dead in the water.

In his acceptance speech, Mnangagwa promised to mend Zimbabwe’s battered economy which has been destroyed through mismanagement, cronyism and corruption — the hallmarks of Mugabe’s misrule.

He promised economic revival and jobs galore. One of his prominent campaign billboards screamed: “Vote Mnangagwa, for real, jobs, jobs, jobs.”

However, a year after inauguration, the economy remains in the doldrums, while electricity and fuel shortages have negatively affected production. Although he promised electricity, the reality is that the country is now going for up to 18 hours without electricity daily. Instead of jobs being created, many workers are in fact losing employment
as companies struggle to stay afloat because of the increased costs of production.

Commencing his fresh term after last year’s election, Mnangagwa added another layer to his panoply of economic reforms, pledging to transform Zimbabwe into an upper middle-income
economy through the Vision 2030 blueprint.

But the faltering economy is an indictment on Mnangagwa’s lofty ambitions. The economy, according to the World Bank (WB) is expected to shrink by -2%.

The devil is in the detail. When Zimbabwe began life without Mugabe (as president) inflation stood at 31, 01%. However, it quickened to 230,6% by July, prompting Treasury to
suspend publication of annualised inflation data. As the economic crisis deepens, characterised by widespread company closures, Zimbabwe is in the throes of unemployment,
estimated at 95%.

As industrial output shrinks, exports have waned too, with exporting firms noting that red tape and the soaring cost of doing business were stifling the sector. Some companies
have to pay up to ZW$20 000 just to export a product, and they have to go through a cumbersome process to pay this amount to various institutions.

“Exporters have to go from office to office to pay these different fees. Sometimes when an exporter pays for documentation they are told that the documentation will be ready in
two days, but it comes out after one week,” ZimTrade chief executive Alan Majuru told the Zimbabwe Independent this month.

Zimbabwe is ranked 155 among 190 economies in terms of the ease of doing business, according to the latest World Bank annual ratings. Mnangagwa also promised to fight corruption,
stating “the prosecution of corruption will be carried out without fear or favour”. However, fierce critics of Mnangagwa’s anti-corruption drive say it is more about rhetoric and
witch-hunting than anything else. Zacc chair Justice Loice Matanda-Moyo, the wife of Foreign Affairs minister Sibusiso Moyo, has been accused of “catching frogs”, while the
sharks of corruption are left scot-free.

Moyo made her grand entrance by instituting the arrest of former tourism minister Priscah Mupfumira who is implicated in the National Social Security Authority scandal where
millions of dollars are allegedly unaccounted for.

Similarly, former vice-president Phelekezela Mphoko is also being investigated by Zacc for facilitating the release from police custody of former Zimbabwe National Road Authority
directors accused of swindling the state enterprise US$90 million in 2016. The arrest of a high-profile former public figure such as Mphoko has not won many hearts, with doubt
lingering that the former vice-president is being persecuted for his loyalty to Mugabe and an alleged plot to challenge the legitimacy of Mnangagwa.

Mnangagwa has also received criticism for appointing a special anti-corruption unit housed in his office. At the time of the appointment, legal experts questioned the
constitutionality and legality of appointing such a handpicked panel of prosecutors.

“The constitution provides a clear framework on the institution with power to fight corruption, which is the NPA,” said Lovemore Madhuku, a professor of law at the University of
Zimbabwe. “He (Mnangagwa) is not allowed to do that (setting up a special anti-corruption unit housed in his office). He is trying to re-write the constitution. He has to push
for an amendment to achieve that.”

Yet Mnangagwa’s biggest headache since his inauguration speech remained revitalising the country’s tanking economy after Mugabe’s 37 years of ruinous rule. In his first
inauguration after the military coup in November 2017, Mnangagwa pledged to push for sweeping economic reforms through the mantra “Zimbabwe is open for business”.

Commenting on Mnangagwa’s track record since his August 2018 inauguration speech, political analyst Maxwell Saungweme said the President has fared badly.

“His first year in power after elections is a year of failure to deliver on electoral promises and as a president he needs to change course and change quickly,” Saungweme said.

Political analyst Mike Mavura at the Stellenbosch Academy of Design and Photography said Mnangagwa had failed to deliver on one of his key electoral pledges, creating employment.

“Jobs, jobs, jobs,” he said, yet a collapsing economy and loss of jobs is all we see! It is easy to make grand promises, it is easy to announce mega deals, very easy to make
popular pronouncements on human rights, corruption and social development. The fact that some people now say life was better under Mugabe than Mnangagwa is telling,” Mavura said.

“The domestic and international goodwill he had is all but gone. There was a moment in August 2018, a fleeting moment where he had us believe that he was a statesman, a
visionary, a nation-builder and that a democratic and development-oriented ‘second republic’ was in the making. But all indications point to the second republic being a mirror
image of the first, if not worse!”

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