PUNCTUATED by a series of man-made and natural disasters, there is no doubt 2019 was an annus horribilis for Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa.Amidst the politics of hate and serial violation of human rights by arms of the state as well as poor policy choices, from the onset of 2019 assumed nightmarish proportions.
Barely a fortnight into the New Year, on the evening of January 13, Mnangagwa announced a massive 150% hike in the price of fuel, and immediately flew out to Russia on an itinerary which would take him to three other Eurasian countries: Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Belarus.
At the time, austerity measures, espoused in Finance minister Mthuli Ncube’s Transitional Stabilisation Programme (TSP), had begun to bite, eroding the hope of ordinary Zimbabweans that the so-called second republic would have better prospects for the poor.
As he jetted out, Mnangagwa left a country on fire with riots breaking out countrywide just 48 hours following the announcement.His government responded with brute force: soldiers and police viciously descended on the protesters. There was a bloodbath. Seventeen people lost their lives, and dozens were injured.
World leaders, diplomats, civil society organisations and a large section of Zimbabweans condemned Mnangagwa and his regime.The brutality on unarmed citizens effectively put off those who may have been warming up to Mnangagwa’s re-engagement mission and the “Zimbabwe is open for business” mantra.
As if that were not enough, just before the dust of that unrest had settled, a tragedy of epic proportions happened. Cyclone Idai, having made landfall on the Mozambican coast as a category five hurricane, hit Chimanimani and Chipinge districts, causing massive floods that killed hundreds of people.
The scale of the disaster exposed the government’s lack of disaster preparedness and also triggered widespread condemnation.Sadly, the floods came after much of the country’s crop had been written off because of a catastrophic drought, condemning about half the country’s population (7,7 million people) to hunger — according to the United Nations estimates. The government’s policies were not working either.
The decision to liberalise the exchange rate in February, though welcomed by business, saw the bond note’s value being severely eroded, whittling down incomes in the wake of skyrocketing fuel and basic commodity prices.
That, too, failed, prompting them to introduce new bank notes last month. As it stands, the notes have not made a difference.Zimbabweans are now far worse off than they were when Mnangagwa rose to power through a military coup in November 2017.
For instance, an evaluation of a salary baseline for a worker who earned ZW$500, then equivalent to US$500, would indicate that the same employee now takes home less than US$25.
This means that one’s salary has been eroded at least 20-fold, implying that disposable incomes and purchasing power have been dramatically reduced. The ordinary people have sunk deeper into poverty and suffering.
Inflation is also another indicator of how things have gone so bad this year. When Mnangagwa was elected in July last year, year-on-year inflation was as low as 4,29%. However, it had now quickened to 175,6% by August this year. It became so embarrassing that Ncube suspended the release of annualised inflation figures until February next year under the guise of inflation rebasing and other technicalities, effectively trying to hide the ugly face of price escalations and economic meltdown.
What he could not hide from, though, is that negative economic growth and recession are a reality.Mnangagwa has fared equally dismally on governance, human rights and corruption.
Repression, which was a key feature during his predecessor Robert Mugabe’s lengthy reign, still remains. Political activists and human rights defenders continue to be hounded, as evidenced by the numerous cases of abduction and state sponsored violence.
Dissenting voices are being crushed, while innocent civilians have been maimed and killed in street protests.Nothing has been done to bring offenders to justice and compensate victims.
For instance, despite commissioning an investigation into the callous killings by the army of civilians on August 1, 2018, which commission was led by former South African president Kgalema Motlanthe, no prosecutions have been made.
In fact, recommendations of the Motlanthe commission are yet to be implemented in their entirety. The real tragedy is that those in the military responsible for the bloodshed have not been held to account.
The other issues are reforms and international isolation. Although government is pushing a broad reform agenda, it is largely disjointed, let alone substantial.
The international community remains sceptical and wary, hesitant to countersign the apparently debase and ineffectual Mnangagwa administration.
Public policy expert Tawanda Zinyama said without dramatic policy reforms by the government, it will be difficult for Mnangagwa’s administration to turn around the economy.
“I don’t see how this is going to turn around in the near term,” Zinyama said. “We will have to wait a lot longer before we begin to see an upswing judging by the damage that Professor Mthuli Ncube’s neoliberal economic policies done to the economy this year.”
Political economy expert Ibbo Mandaza said: “Most of the issues that we are dealing with today are induced by bad political choices.“It has been a disastrous year for Mnangagwa and his government because things are getting worse as evidenced by the miserable state of the economy, the health crisis, the power crisis and inflation. It shows glaring lack of capacity on the part of the president and his executive.” All in all, it has undeniably been a disastrous year.