Candid Comment:Owen Gagare
ON the unforgettable evening of November 22, 2017 President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who had fled the country to South Africa via Mozambique a fortnight earlier, made a triumphant return to Zimbabwe after cornered late former president Robert Mugabe resigned under pressure from the military, which was holding him and his family hostage, while impeachment proceedings were underway in parliament.
Thousands of his supporters gathered at the Zanu PF headquarters in Harare for his address.
“The voice of the people is the voice of God,” he said to thunderous applause, flanked by party secretary for administration Obert Mpofu and his wife Auxillia.
“Today we are witnessing the beginning of a new unfolding democracy in our country . . . I pledge myself to be your servant . . . We want to grow the economy; we want peace in our country. We want jobs, jobs, jobs.”
In subsequent speeches and interviews, Mnangagwa promised to be “a listening president”, who would focus on the economy and less on politics. He promised to rid Zimbabwe of its pariah status by bringing the country back onto the table of nations.
He pledged to oversee a democratic Zimbabwe that will respect human rights, respect the rule of law and embrace citizen participation.
How things change. Many Zimbabweans are wondering what happened to the man that promised servant leadership. Where is the engaging and tolerant president? What happened to the listening president?
With the passage of time, Zimbabweans have watched in horror and disappointment as Mnangagwa’s leadership became more and more authoritarian. Contrary to his pronouncement that he was a listening president, Mnangagwa has used the full might of the instruments of coercion at his disposal to crush any dissent and opposing voices, at a time the economy is imploding causing massive dissatisfaction and suffering.
Mnangagwa, who in his meeting with chiefs in January 2018, emphasised that Zimbabweans should not blame sanctions for economic failure, is now at the fore-front of blaming Western sanctions for the country’s woes.
He has turned a blind eye to deepening corruption, policy inconsistency and his inept leadership. His defensive regime is seeing shadows everywhere, hence the knee-jerk reaction to any sort of criticism.
The African Union, South Africa’s African National Congress, Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops Conference, among others, have fallen victim to the government’s vitriolic attack for merely acknowledging the crisis in the country.
But by being ultra-aggressive, Mnangagwa is digging his political grave at a time he should be engaging stakeholders both at home and abroad, to dig Zimbabwe out of the hole it is in. Engagement may be the only way he can salvage his legacy. After all, didn’t he say he would be a listening and engaging president?