IN the midst of all of the political intrigues and mismanagement that characterised the late former president Robert Mugabe’s rule, it bears pointing out that the national economy was undergoing a severe crisis, perhaps the most serious in its history.
The crisis was compounded in many respects by the wholesale mismanagement, corruption and outright thievery of the Mugabe years.
Thus, the legacy that was bequeathed by President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration was one of a deeply divided country, where narrow interests, a dispirited citizenry, whose faith in government and in the very concept of Zimbabwe had been badly broken, a prostrate national economy, a decayed social and physical infrastructure system, a demoralised civil service and a political elite tainted by crass opportunism.
The question which many observers posed as the Second Republic was being inaugurated in August 2018 centred around the extent to which it was ready and able to meet these challenges with any degree of credibility.
It remains open to question the extent to which Zimbabweans can begin to congratulate themselves on the restoration of governance. This is because most of the problems which the Second Republic has inherited are complicated and, although, some of them may be amenable to a relatively quick solution, others would require both time and the best of political and managerial efforts to resolve.
One of the biggest legacies of Mugabe rule and one which is serving as an immediate acid test for the Second Republic is the state of Zimbabwe’s infrastructural facilities.
In spite of the huge budgetary allocations made to the country’s road infrastructure, most remain in a state of disrepair and unmotorable all year round. The dilapidation of the road network and the virtual collapse of the railway took its toll both on intra and inter-state economic transactions. The water supply, too, sank to new depths of inefficiency which, as with the electricity supply situation, allowed both corruption and criminality to thrive on a stupendous scale. The consequence for the economy and society is far-reaching.
The question of the revival of the national infrastructural system is one which is crucial to the establishment of the basis for a functioning national economy and credibility of the renewed effort at governance.
Success in this regard enables the Second Republic to successfully promote a link in the minds of Zimbabweans between good governance and the effective management of public goods and services as contrasted to the depressing record of Mugabe era. To successfully refurbish the national infrastructural system would require both an outlay of huge investments and the institutionalisation of mechanisms for checking financial leakages and the enforcement of a culture of prompt and timely maintenance of facilities.
An acid test of success in tackling the infrastructure crisis would, therefore, not just be the efficiency of the services provided but also the accessibility enjoyed by the generality of Zimbabweans to electricity, water and transportation at prices that are affordable within the prevailing income structure.
At the heart of Mugabe governance was the institutionalisation of corruption to the status of a primary objective and directive principle of state policy. The use of the carrot of public resources to complement the stick of the denial of patronage became two sides of the same agenda for serving the interests of the regime as personified by Mugabe.
Mugabe tolerated, encouraged, entrenched, institutionalised corruption and glorified its perpetrators. The early indicators since the inauguration of the Mnangagwa administration would suggest that at the level of executive rhetoric, at least, there is awareness that, both for the sake of the well-being of the economy and the viability of the Second Republic, corruption would need to be tackled frontally.
Unemployment, particularly among the educated youth, has grown sharply and the health and nutritional status of many Zimbabweans has declined. The ranks of the vibrant middle class professionals have massively depleted as many slid into poverty on account of the collapse in their real incomes associated with the repeated devaluation of Zimbabwe dollar and the high inflationary spiral in the economy.
Mass poverty, therefore, feeds into the political resentment that is building up in the country to pose direct challenges to the stability and viability of the nation. The real test for the Second Republic would be its speed in making a real difference in the lives of the generality of the people and, in this regard, its effort at getting the economy functioning again.
Managing electoral system
Elections have always been a highly contentious issue in Zimbabwe and those that were conducted as part of the transition to the Second Republic have not been an exception, especially at the presidential level. Local and international observers reported widespread irregularities in the polls with electoral officials accused of electoral fraud in favour of one candidate.
The transition from Mugabe rule that occurred on November 2017 marked the beginning of a first, perhaps tentative step in the continuing quest in Zimbabwe for a stable and democratic political order. It is widely recognised across the country that although Mugabe rule may have been formally ended, the effects of his governance mode and the destruction of the economy and the moral fibre of society that are the legacies of prolonged Mugabe rule have not made the task of democratic reforms easy.
While it could be suggested that democracy has been the only game in town in Zimbabwe since November 2017, the democratic ethos remains virtually captive to its imperfect moorings. The zero-sum politics continues to sap the sinews of democracy of much strength.
New economic experiment
Zimbabwe faces a massive escalating socio-economic crisis, exacerbated by decades of corruption, mismanagement, sanctions and a recent austerity programme.
But the surprise manner in which the mono-currency reform was announced, and Zimbabwe’s track record of printing money to plug holes in its public finances, means many people do not believe it will succeed.
One sign Zimbabweans are distrustful of the Real-Time Gross Settlement (RTGS) is that it is weaker on the black market than on the official interbank market, where it trades around six to the dollar. RTGS is an imaginary currency which lacks international convertibility.
Implementation of macro-economic stabilisation and structural changes are generating transitional unemployment since resources cannot be reallocated instantaneously to alternative uses in response to changes in relative commodity and factor prices. Compensatory actions are needed to offset these adverse transitional side effects.
There are uproarious efforts to promote national cohesion and tolerance. The enactment of the National Peace and Reconciliation Act, creation of Political Actors Dialogue (Polad), amendment of Public Order and Security Act (Posa), the Citizen Act, Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (Aippa) are classic examples. This creates a sense of community.
The creation of Presidential Advisory Council and Polad are commendable for promoting tolerance. However, these innovations are part of controlled openness. Controlled openness provides an opportunity for new constituencies to ingratiate with the government that is eager to find new allies in the attempt to redefine its community base.
It is correct to argue that there is authoritarian rule reconfiguration in Zimbabwe. The authoritarian rule does not have the same features as the authoritarian rule of Mugabe era. It is combined with limited participatory elements.
Political survival, performance
Successful leaders foster economic growth and prosperity for their citizens. By contrast, leaders who produce famine, poverty and misery seem like dismal failures who ought to be removed from office as quickly as possible. Yet the iron is that leaders who produce poverty and misery keep their jobs much longer than those who make their country richer. For Mugabe, bad policy was good politics because his focus on cronyism and corruption ensured his enduring leadership. This is unlikely for Mnangagwa.
Light at the end of the tunnel
Looking ahead, by what criteria should one judge the success or failure of the latest Zimbabwe reform experiment? The proposed measures are aimed at combating and correcting the deficiencies within Zimbabwean state structures that have combined to produce continued economic decline, increased rates of poverty and social dislocation and, in general, a growing alienated and disillusioned population.
The diaspora must connect with what is happening in Zimbabwe. The diaspora should feel that they are part of Zimbabwe through voting. The diaspora is critical for nation building to promote policy formulation and implementation for advancing Vision 2030. The bottom line: how do we make the diaspora, in its totality, work for advancing the country’s interests? It is a peril if the diaspora is relegated to the socio-economic periphery and is not accorded special attention in terms of how it should be comprehensively integrated into the broader country framework in a manner that is broadly consultative and transparent, with the conscious aim of energising human and financial resources mobilisation strategy for Vision 2030.
By pursuing upper middle-income status by 2030, the government should not be blinded to the day-to-day realities with regard to deficiencies in social service delivery, poverty reduction and supporting vulnerable groups.
The market-led economy is a doubly-tragic and paradoxical prescription. On the one hand, it seeks to enthrone democracy. Yet, the policies it seeks to put in place require authoritarian measures to implement.
On the other hand, it is concerned about transparency, accountability, human rights and all that, but it is not concerned with social justice and empowerment of the people. This is the fundamental deficit of the market-led dogma resulting in the commodification of everything. This results in class inequality and might lead to social unrest.
Mnangagwa must deal decisively with the politics of neo-patrimonialism and state capture. Constrained from whipping his opponents in line, he finds himself increasingly a prisoner of the same forces that brought him to power.
Zimbabwe’s bourgeoisie and middle class still support a strong role for the state, seeking government contracts, state bank loans and bureaucratic employment, bailouts, pegged currencies and controlled interest rates in times of crisis. This leads to a central paradox of politics: good policy is bad politics, and bad policy helps leaders stay in office. Where good policy is also good politics, leaders face greater obstacles to maintaining incumbency.
Despite Mnangagwa’s good intentions and formidable power, he finds his ambitious promises much easier to make than to implement. He has to depend on the goodwill of the very groups that are threatened by his agenda and on the cooperation of the same dysfunctional and corrupt systems that he hopes to reform.
While the public clamoured for the principle of change, it remains beholden for daily survival to functionaries, private bosses and political power brokers who are fighting to protect their interests.
Nevertheless, as his critics have grown louder and more insistent, Mnangagwa has exhibited increasing signs of insecurity and repressive tendencies that belie his claims to tolerate constructive criticism and respect institutional checks and balances.
This is evident in the recent banning of all public protests and breaking up public gatherings by opposition leaders. Immediately after the 2017 coup, the government gave the impression that it was out to save the country for democracy, not to gain power for itself. This was evident in Mnangagwa’s Vox Populi, Vox Dei slogan, meaning “the Voice of the People is the Voice of God” .
Tawanda Zinyama holds a PhD and lectures Public Administration at the University of Zimbabwe.