It’s three years of disaster

IN November 2017, President Emmerson Mnangagwa swept to power through a military coup that toppled long-time leader Robert Mugabe, pledging to mend the country’s battered economy, curtail rampant corruption and roll out a raft of economic and political reforms.

Tinashe Kairiza

However, three years after the dramatic take-over, Zimbabwe’s fragile economy continues to be battered, characterised by runaway inflation of 471,3% in October, declining exports, widespread company closures, job losses and a ballooning debt of around US$10 billion (official figures). The Covid-19 pandemic and the containment measures have had a significant impact on the country’s economy.

At the heart of Zimbabwe’s multifaceted crisis, the southern African country is in the throes of rampant public corruption fuelled by the political elite and a checkered human rights record.

Ironically, Mnangagwa’s administration riding on a wave of international goodwill and overwhelming support at home after decades of Mugabe’s misrule hogged the limelight through his pledge to ring in key economic and political reforms perceived as key to set Zimbabwe on a firm recovery and growth trajectory.

But before the euphoria surrounding Mugabe’s dramatic exit from power had receded, critics pointed out that Mnangagwa’s ascendency to the helm would perpetuate the system of patronage and corruption that his predecessor had established, rather than uproot it.

Economist Tawanda Purazeni observed that with Mnangagwa bent on consolidating his grip on power, the odds were stacked against his government’s ability to turn around the economy.

“Three years after the advent of the new dispensation, Zimbabwe’s economy is worse off. Power transfer was not smooth and this affected the goods and financial markets.

“Inflation has skyrocketed and this is compounded by low capacity utilisation. FDI has continued to shrink over the years,” Purazeni said.

In 2018, ahead of a historic poll in August, state security agents shot dead six civilians protesting against “delays” in the announcement of presidential results. Though Mnangagwa’s victory was upheld by the Constitutional Court (ConCourt), the polls were blighted by the gunning down of civilians by state security agents.

Faced with a tide of criticism, the government instituted a commission of inquiry headed by former South African president Kgalema Motlanthe to probe circumstances around the fatal shootings.

Its recommendations, which included bringing the soldiers who shot the civilians to book and compensating the victims and their families, received international endorsement.

However, three years after the military coup, no arrests have been made and compensation to the victims is yet to be paid.

Barely six months after the shootings, members of the security forces shot dead more than a dozen unarmed people protesting against fuel price increases of around 150%, according to human rights organisations. Mnangagwa was once again roundly condemned.

In his first term in office, which ends in 2023, Mnangagwa’s administration has also been castigated for its heavy-handed approach towards dealing with dissent. His administration has been hit by allegations of abductions of political opponents.

The alleged abduction and torture of three women activists, namely Joana Mamombe, Cecilia Chimbiri and Netsai Marova by state security agents and subsequent arrest of the trio also sparked criticism.

Amnesty International said then: “The continued arbitrary detention of Joana Mamombe, Cecilia Chimbiri and Netsai Marova amounts to persecution and is designed to send a chilling message to anyone daring to challenge the Zimbabwean authorities.

“Zimbabwean authorities must end this travesty. The authorities must immediately and unconditionally release Joana Mamombe, Cecilia Chimbiri and Netsai Marova, and stop their campaign of intimidating and harassing opposition leaders and activists. Authorities must immediately withdraw all the charges against the opposition leaders.”

The continued incarceration of local journalist Hopewell Chin’ono has done little to deflect criticism against Mnangagwa’s beleaguered administration.

On corruption, Mnangagwa’s administration has also been roundly criticised, particularly over its mismanagement of funds meant to contain the global pandemic, coronavirus.

The controversy surrounding the awarding of a US$1 million procurement contract in June without going to tender to Drax International, whose beneficial owner has close ties with Mnangagwa’s son Sean, laid bare rampant corruption pervasive in government circles being fuelled by the political elite.

Earlier this month former Zimbabwe Mining Federation (ZMF) president Henrietta Rushwaya was nabbed by security agents on charges of attempting to smuggle a 6kg gold contraband valued at US$330 000.Though Mnangagwa’s wife and her son Collins were also implicated in the matter which is now before the courts, the duo was not questioned.

Mnangagwa has also scoffed at growing calls to engage in a broad-based national dialogue with the Nelson Chamisa-led MDC Alliance, insisting on caucusing with fringe opposition leaders who garnered very few votes in the 2018 election under the banner of the discredited Political Actors Dialogue (Polad).

On the economic front, Mnangagwa’s policy missteps have done little to extricate Zimbabwe from its intractable economic crisis.

More recently, the government suspended trading on the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange (ZSE) among a raft of measures it deployed to curb the rapid depreciation of the local currency against the United States dollar and the illicit trade of foreign currency.

Coupled with this, the government also suspended trades in three fungible counters, namely Old Mutual, SeedCo and PPC, on the ZSE in June rendering the fungibility void.

The government has also missed targets of implementing the International Monetary Fund (IMF) Staff-Monitored Programme (SMP) which had clear sign posts indicating how Zimbabwe could stabilise its volatile economy.

Economist Prosper Chitambara contends that though Mnangagwa’s administration has relatively managed to stabilise the currency volatility crisis, the economy remains in the doldrums.
“Mnangagwa’s government has managed to introduce some measure of macroeconomic stability, but growth has been negative over the past two years,” he said.

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