Basic freedoms have vanished

ON November 24, 2017, President Emmerson Mnangagwa gave his acceptance speech in line with the rites of presidential inauguration. In that speech, in the morning of his presidency, Mnangagwa made several pledges in the full hearing of the nation and the world at large.

Editor’s Memo
Faith Zaba

He promised to address the outstanding issue of compensating former white commercial farmers. Mnangagwa promised to put agriculture at the centre of economic resuscitation, pledging to assist farmers to increase their productivity. He vowed to end the cash crisis. He pledged to re-engage nations with whom Zimbabwe had fractured relations, with a view to normalising the relations. The freshly-minted President vowed to put a stop to fickle policy decision-making that had been emblematic of the erstwhile regime, of which he had been a key player.

He reasoned that consistent and predictable policies were critical to attracting Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). In his moment of inauguration glory, he delivered sweet news to international creditors that Zimbabwe would start servicing its sovereign debt. The President vowed he would not want to encumber future generations with legacy issues such as debt.

Mnangagwa promised the birth of a new season of governance where corruption in all its forms would not be countenanced. To that end, he promised swift and decisive action on cases of corruption. He gave his word, citing his party’s branding tagline “Unity, Peace and Development” that he would be a unifier of the nation, a merchant of peace and tolerance, as well as an enabler of development. He was emphatic that he would strengthen the institutions that underpin and underwrite democracy.

He pledged to respect and work with our regional and continental bodies. These are the performance management areas, Mnangagwa set out for himself. How does his scorecard look at this point in time? Before we can answer this question, it must be noted that his pledges did not explicitly address the standard expectations such as pledging to uphold basic freedoms.

It could be argued that his undertaking to safeguard democratic institutions implicitly covered these.

True to his word, Mnangagwa managed to sign an acknowledgement of debt of US$3,5 billion for compensation of improvements on acquired farms. There is no viable strategy to raise the compensation funds. Instead, Treasury has indicated the taxpayer would have to fund the programme. Together with government’s failure to reach a debt treatment deal with the international financial institutions and bilateral lenders, the sovereign debt has ballooned, defeating Mnangagwa’s pledge not to encumber posterity with legacy problems.

The cash crisis is still with us despite the premature introduction of the Zimbabwean dollar. Policy reversals and over-policing through a litany of statutory instruments has worked against Mnangagwa’s pledge to foster policy predictability. That has militated against his foreign direct investment (FDI) mobilisation pledge, with Zimbabwe’s annual FDI the lowest in the Sadc region. Agricultural support is mired in controversy, with poor accountability for the funds drained from the taxpayer not commensurate with agricultural output — food imports have intensified and those classified as food insecure and under extreme poverty increasing.

The adoption of Pfumvudza was incidental, but has the potential to significantly contribute towards food security. The jury is still out on this one.

The pledge to deal swiftly with corruption has been marred by the catch-and-release syndrome. Cartelisation has permeated key sectors of the economy.

Corruption index ratings are not improving. The pledge to respect continental bodies is under threat — the African Union was condemned by proxy when a senior official of the continental body in an official capacity raised concerns over human rights infractions and the suffocation of basic freedoms.

The pledge to be guided by the “unity, peace and development” compass is crumbling. Tolerance for dissent has all but vanished. Coarse and virulent responses to those raising concerns are becoming the norm.

The nation is deeply polarised. Democratic space is being closed. Basic freedoms such as freedom of expression are increasingly being violated.

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