Emmerson Mnangagwa, who took over as the President of Zimbabwe on November 24 following the 37-year rule of Robert Mugabe came to an end, faces formidable challenges. After Mugabe he will have to deliver tangible political and economic dividends to a nation often frozen between stasis and change.
There is consensus that Mnangagwa can deliver on his promises to revive the economy, but doubts remain about him as a political reformer. Sceptics insist that he is not just part of the system: he is the system. They worry, too, about his use of the phrase ‘pasi nemhandu’ (down with enemies) in his homecoming speech on November 22. Critics are concerned that the world has mistaken an elite transfer of power for a national revolution, and that the ‘powerocracy’ of patronage will not change fundamentally.
Mnangagwa’s first presidential speech was widely acclaimed, however. He acknowledged Mugabe, and admitted past ‘mistakes’. He promised reconciliation, jobs and economic reform, security of investment, democracy and global re-engagement as the foundations of his policy. Surveys following his speech have shown that 50 to 60 per cent of Zimbabweans trust him to deliver on these promises. This is a useful social base. Yet Mnangagwa still faces a crisis of expectations: he has the political capital to deliver change, but must strike a balance in addressing the country’s problems between the party, the people and a global approach.
Mnangagwa also faces the challenge of unifying the ruling ZANU-PF party. Mugabe may yet come to play a sekuru
(elder statesman) role in that regard. The military and war veterans have restored their primacy in ZANU-PF, but Mnangagwa will need to include the younger generation − the Youth and Women’s League supported by Grace Mugabe − as the party regroups.
Mnangagwa’s invitation to Morgan Tsvangirai, a leading opposition figure, and others to attend the inauguration was an important goodwill gesture. However, there was some disappointment that while Mnangagwa reached out to his key constituencies and included military and war veterans in his cabinet, he did not include the opposition. Nevertheless, there are some positives: the cabinet includes technocrats in charge of the key development education and finance portfolios; it is a predominantly civilian, rather than a military cabinet; and Mnangagwa has had to make his choices within the constraints of constitutional limits to the number of non-MP’s he could appoint.
Moreover, with Zimbabwe’s new president pushing for the overhaul of indigenization policies, which require all foreign companies in Zimbabwe to be 51 per cent locally owned, zero tolerance for corruption and a new investment code, it is clear that he aims to fast-track economic reform.
Politically, there are five things he can push for before elections in 2018. First, although the opposition is not included in the new government, Mnangagwa could still invite opposition and non-party business and civil society figures to join a sustained consultative process.
Second, the conformity of existing acts of parliament with the constitution should be examined, and the Public Order and Security Act in particular should be reviewed.
Third, electoral reform should be given priority before next year’s elections. Nearly three million voters have already registered as part of a drive to rebuild the electoral roll on a reliable basis.
Fourth, a presidential amnesty for political detainees and minor offenders, and improvements in Zimbabwe’s often deadly prisons, would be positive steps.
Fifth, in the spirit of reconciliation, President Mnangagwa could visit Matabeleland to engage in dialogue with communities still scarred by the 1980s Gukurahundi state-sponsored massacres of rural communities in southern Zimbabwe.
Zimbabwe’s opposition has rebounded somewhat from its disastrous 2013 election result. Grassroots structures have been rebuilt, and Tsvangirai, Joice Mujuru and Tendai Biti are well-established voices. A new generation of citizen activists and young parliamentary candidates such as Fadzayi Mahere are shaking up political orthodoxies. But the public is confused by the plethora of opposition parties, and Tsvangirai’s health issues − he has been having chemotherapy in South Africa − have dented his support. The opposition must learn the language of business and law now that the ‘Mugabe must go’ era is over, as it is the business and legal sectors that are the real change-makers in Zimbabwe. The challenge for the opposition is not to define what they are against; it is to define what they are for.
Some 70 per cent of the population live on less than $5 per day, and there is an acute shortage of cash. Banks frequently limit withdrawals to $50 a week, and bank deposits were less than $300 million in 2016, down from $500 million in 2009.There is no economic quick fix, but there are some positives. Zimbabwe’s greatest asset is its human capital, with the private, public and informal sectors showing resilience and innovation. Mnangagwa can build on the reform agenda the government had already agreed to as part of its re-engagement with the IMF and World Bank, after Mugabe severed relations in 1999. Structural economic reform will be
required, but the government does not need to re-invent the wheel − simply to implement stalled reforms.
There are five key ‘to dos’ on the economy. First, there has to be a plan to deal with the liquidity crisis. An injection of bond notes could be an emergency repair, but there must be clarity on how the economy is to be remonetized as a dollar economy. A return to liquidity will require revival of investment from abroad and consistent economic reform.
Second, the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission must become a credible force, and the zero-tolerance approach must be shown to be more than just a slogan.
Third, it would be good to have representation from the public and private sectors, in national economic policy-making.
Fourth, there needs to be an inclusive national dialogue to discuss Zimbabwe’s complex land challenges − initial goodwill gestures could include stopping land invasions.
Fifth, the government needs to act on Auditor-General Mildred Chiri’s 2015/2016 reports on inefficiencies in government and government-owned companies. The 2016 public service wage bill of $3.2 billion, in a national budget of $5 billion, is unsustainable. The government must trim bureaucracy, and fast-track policies to improve the ease of doing business. All this would match the feel-good ‘Brand Zimbabwe’ rhetoric with action. But calls to return Zimbabwe’s economy to a mythological golden age are unrealistic. Zimbabwe and the world have changed. Fresh thinking is essential.
Surge of excitement
Zimbabwe needs to re-energize its stuttering financial and political global re-engagement with western countries and the international financial institutions. Rory Stewart, minister of state for Africa, was the first serving British minister to visit Harare since 1998 and met the new president. Boris Johnson, foreign secretary, has promised to support Zimbabwe so long as the president follows through on promises of economic and political reform. Britain should maintain its development budget for Zimbabwe, as cuts now could send the wrong signals. It would also be useful for Harare to send high-level government delegations − possibly including President Mnangagwa − to western capitals before the 2018 elections.
There are caveats: Britain should not try to shoe-horn Zimbabwe into an economic ‘Anglosphere’. The UK’s engagement with Zimbabwe should be based on principled pragmatism, and it should not see Zimbabwe as the new beachhead for resuscitating a flailing global liberal democracy agenda. Britain would do well to interact diplomatically with Zimbabwe on the basis of parity and through inclusive multilateralism with Asia and the Middle East. Zimbabweans are aware that Britain needs allies. The Commonwealth is also an arena where Zimbabwe’s voice would matter, and serious consideration should be given to a possible Zimbabwe return.
The United States needs to review its attitude to Zimbabwe. The current policy of minimal engagement has had little strategic utility for either side. Harare has to realize that, despite media noise, Zimbabwe is not a top priority for the West. For the West, a good relationship is desirable but not essential. Zimbabwe’s ‘Look East’ strategy will see a continued focus on Asia and the Middle East. China’s President Xi Jinping visited Zimbabwe in 2016 and in the same year Mugabe paid a state visit to Japan’s Emperor Akihito. South Korea, India, Pakistan, Malaysia, Turkey and various Middle Eastern countries also have trade, educational, health and religious ties with Zimbabwe.
Zimbabwe’s three million-strong diaspora is a key partner for development. Remittances are still important, but the
diaspora itself needs to reach consensus on how it can help.
I was in Harare as the revolution began and can bear testament to the surge of excitement and energy as I saw initial disbelief turn to hope and, finally, to jubilation. It was not the audacity of hope, but the hope for audacity. If Mnangagwa can partner with Zimbabweans in the people-centred approach he has promised, and if the predicted investor ‘scramble for Zimbabwe’ can be about people − not just power and profit − then positive change can happen.