Reforms critical for re-engagement

Nyasha Chingono

PRESIDENT Emmerson Mnangagwa should up the ante on political and economic reforms in 2020 if he is to save Zimbabwe’s re-engagement drive which careened off the rails last year under a barrage of international criticism over the worsening human rights situation in the country.

Although there is still international goodwill towards the reform programme that began following the ouster of former president Robert Mugabe in a military coup three years ago, Mnangagwa’s government should be wary of losing a golden opportunity to normalise relations with the international community.

Mnangagwa’s government must stop wasting time and resources by hiring western public relations firms to spruce up the country’s battered image, but should instead implement reforms.

Government should implement a wide range of political and economic reforms, including low hanging fruits like the alignment of laws to the 2013 constitution. Failure to implement reforms will result in Zimbabwe retaining its pariah state tag.

Since taking power in a military coup in November 2017, Mnangagwa has repeatedly stated his intention to re-engage the international community and woo investors under the “Zimbabwe is open for business” mantra.

The promise to institute far-reaching economic and political reforms was a breath of fresh air following decades of international isolation, resulting in previously hostile nations giving him a chance.

But the 76-year-old has failed to live up to his promises and has instead entrenched Mugabe’s ruinous and violent policies.Political analyst Piers Pigou said Mnangagwa should prove to the world that Zimbabwe was serious about reforms if re-engagement was to gather pace.

“Posturing and throwing allegations of illegality and regime change from the sidelines is not a pragmatic approach, even if it excites some local constituencies.”

The year 2019 did not start well for Mnangagwa as diplomatic relations with most western countries worsened after the January crackdown by security forces, which resulted in 17 deaths.

The clampdown, accompanied by an internet blackout, prompted a backlash from the international community as the so-called new dispensation exhibited old and familiar traits.

Countries which had publicly supported Mnangagwa, including Britain, were disappointed by the government’s heavy-handedness. It came as no surprise when, in February, the former British minister for Africa, Harriet Baldwin, declared that her county would not support Zimbabwe’s readmission to the Commonwealth.
Mnangagwa should therefore rein in the security services and avoid making costly blunders.

With the international community calling for security sector reforms, Mnangagwa should demonstrate that the military will not repeat costly mistakes as witnessed on August 1, 2018 and January 2019. The police should also avoid brutalising citizens as witnessed last year.

Mnangagwa’s regime was criticised by the international community last year for other human rights abuses which include alleged abductions of more than 50 political activists and closing the democratic space by banning demonstrations.

According to the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum, the majority of abductions and human rights violations were targeted at political activists. With the economic situation worsening and the re-engagement drive derailed, Mnangagwa has progressively squandered opportunities for reform, blaming the West and sanctions for his failures.

However, the poorly subscribed anti-sanctions march on October 25 last year proved that Zimbabweans are well aware that government rather than sanctions is to blame for the country’s predicament.

Government’s decision to summon United Nations ambassador to Zimbabwe Brian Nichols in August last year to express its dismay over Washington’s decision to impose sanctions on then ambassador-designate to Tanzania Anselem Sanyatwe and his wife Chido Machona worsened diplomatic relations.

In response to the government’s anti-sanctions march, western embassies highlighted corruption and failure to implement reforms as bottlenecks to thawing of relations. They also indicated the West’s growing impatience with Mnangagwa.

It was also an indication of worsening diplomatic relations.In August, European Union head of delegation in Zimbabwe Timo Olkkonen publicly condemned human rights abuses at an event attended by Mnangagwa and challenged Zimbabwe to implement the reforms it promised.

Analysts say the government’s shrill anti-sanctions rhetoric — supported by Sadc — in the face of strong condemnation for gross violation of human rights will not help Zimbabwe’s international re-engagement effort.

Diplomats who have spoken to the Zimbabwe Independent feel government should respect basic human rights, and their sentiments were shared by the United Nations (UN) special rapporteur on the freedom of expression, Clément Nyaletsossi Voule, who visited Zimbabwe in September following a spate of abductions.

Political analyst Stephen Chan said reforms remained the only hope for Zimbabwe which currently has no diplomatic leverage in the wake of human rights violations.

“Zimbabwe seems not to have fully understood that it is now unimportant to the West — which is far more pre-occupied with Middle Eastern and Chinese issues — so it is easy for the West to maintain its stance on Zimbabwe, a country that now has no diplomatic leverage in any part of the world. That includes leverage with China. Zimbabwe should not misunderstand Chinese politeness and openness as any kind of a blank cheque. The Chinese, like the West, want to see fiscal transparency and accountability. Angola is scoring high marks with the Chinese on that front,” Chan said.

“The West wants also to see a genuine opening of political space. Without a de-securitisation of politics there will not be any opening towards better relations with the West.”

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