TRUE to Isaac Newton’s axiom, which eloquently asserts that for one to see further it is only by perching on the shoulder of giants, the new President of Zimbabwe, Emmerson Mnangagwa, affectionately known as ED, ought, for all intents and purposes, stand on the shoulders of giants in order to envision and usher a prosperous Zimbabwe.
By Tich Mushambadope
There are many luminaries that he can borrow a leaf or two from their life books, but of special note and peculiar interest is one economic, political and intellectual titan, who is responsible for rewriting the Chinese narrative and setting it on course to become the greatest economy in the world by 2029. Deng Xiaoping, a physically diminutive figure, serves as the metaphoric and intellectual giant on whose shoulders Mngangagwa needs to firmly stand in order to espy, visualise and materialise a better Zimbabwe.
Though separated by time and space, there are irrefutable similarities in their political trajectories thus far and deliberate adoption of some of the strategies that were employed by Deng when he ascended to the leadership of China may see Zimbabwe resuming its status as the jewel of Africa in next to no time. Both Deng and Mnangagwa assumed power in their mid-seventies after very long, illustrious and sometimes tumultuous political careers from supreme leaders that were revolutionaries, who led liberation wars and presided over their respective countries for lengthy periods. Deng is to Mão Zedong what Mnangagwa is to Mugabe. In a similar manner to Deng, Mnangagwa joined politics at a very tender age and was fortified ideologically outside his mother continent in China, while the former’s formative political ideology was entrenched in France, where he met a number of influential Communists including Zhou Enlai, who later on went to become premier of China.
A revered veteran of the struggle within the Chinese and Communist Party context, Deng participated in the Long March and the civil war against the Chiang Kai-Shek’s Nationalist Party, rose through the ranks from lower echelons to secretary-general, deputy premier and eventually supreme leader. Mnangagwa is revered as a revolutionary stalwart, who was imprisoned for 10 years for acts of sabotage, before his appointment as special assistant to the President at the 1977 Chimoio Conference, then serving in different ministerial positions, until reaching the Vice-Presidency and eventually ascending to the Presidency.
Prior to reaching the apex of their respective parties, both men were purged at least twice in their respective contexts, with Mnangagwa facing long knives as an aftermath of the infamous Tsholotsho Declaration and ultimate dismissal from the party and government that, inevitably, triggered Operation Restore Legacy. In Deng’s case, he was first in 1967, humiliated, demoted and branded a “revisionist and capitalist roader” during the height of the Cultural Revolution and, after a remarkable comeback, reduced to a card-carrying member on the party in 1976 at the height of Chairman Mão’s succession battle.
Pitted against the villainous “Gang of Four” led by Jiang Qing, Mão’s wife, Deng found himself in the political wilderness when he was accused of having organised demonstrations against his ailing principal after the death of his ally, Zhou Enlai, in January 1976. In an astonishingly similar manner, Mnangagwa, who was battling with the G40 formation, was vanquished from the party and government after being accused of having organised the youth who booed former First Lady Grace Mugabe at her Bulawayo youth interface rally.
Restoration of order
The cracks that threatened to tear both Zanu PF recently and the Communist Party in the mid-seventies emanated from lack of a clearly laid-out succession plan. Consequently as persons who had not been sufficiently grounded in revolutionary principles took centre stage in both contexts, key individuals, institutions and values were trampled on and relegated to political insignificance. Whether by design or default, credence can be furnished to the notion that the very soul of the respective movements was being gnashed from within.
The non-negotiable nature of revolutionary ethos mandated the military in both countries to swiftly mend the arc of history towards restoration of order. Albeit in differing fashions, the military in both countries played key roles in ushering new dispensations with the respective ascendancy of Deng in 1978 and Mnangagwa in 2017.
Once both leaders had taken the reins of power, the pertinent need for restoration and rejuvenation in literally every facet of their respective societies was apparent. With the comprehension that the Cultural Revolution had wreaked havoc within Chinese society including the devaluation of the status of key revolutionary personalities, Deng promptly honoured and rehabilitated them. The posthumous veneration of figures like Liu Shao qi restored the revolutionary legacy in a similar manner that was done by renaming of barracks throughout the country from colonial names to those of Zimbabwean liberation icons epitomised by the alteration of King Georges IV Barracks to Josiah Magama Tongogara.
The pertinent need to restore the rule of law behoved Deng to promptly reassemble the rudiments of the decimated legal system. The Justice ministry, which was one of the first victims of the Cultural Revolution, was re-established together with reopening of state courts and law schools. The Chinese courts were urgently seized with matters that involved criminal abuse of office by high ranking officials culminating in the 1980 trial of the “Gang of Four”. Similarly, concerted efforts through Zimbabwean law enforcement agencies in co-ordination with the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Authority have expedited proceedings relating to criminal abuse of office by high-ranking officials. The prosecution of high-ranking officials sends a positive message to the populace and as it becomes evidently clear that there are no sacred cows, corruption and willy-nilly abuse of public office is effectively abated.
Economics, economics, economics
The spark for the radical transformation was ignited by Deng when he took a deliberate strategy to move away as many light years as possible from Mão’s policies. Inspired by his famous quote, “It doesn’t matter whether the cat is black or white, as long as it catches mice”, which basically asserted that the modus operandi was not essential for economic emancipation, the end itself justified the means, hence whether its capitalism, socialism, communism or other, all he wanted was economic freedom for the Chinese. This line of thought inspired him to open up China for and to the world and launch the Reform and Open Up programme in 1979. When the programme was launched China’s gross domestic product was one-fifth of Japan’s, one half of the UK’s and less than a tenth of the US’s.
The results of the programme have been more than phenomenal, transforming China into the second largest economy in the world and with a prediction that it may overtake the United States exactly 50 years after Deng’s programme.
Mnangagwa has initiated his Presidency with emphasis on economics, as he like Deng comprehends that sloganeering and politicking without economic fundamentals in place is not only unsustainable, but a major source of frustration for the populace at large.
In a bid to jumpstart Chinese economic transformation, Deng reached out to regional and international partners including Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew, who he greatly admired for revolutionising his country’s economy into a giant in a very short space of time. Deng adopted some of the ideas from the Singapore context and ran an experimental programme dubbed, “New communism with Chinese character”, which was basically a subtle way of introducing capitalism without getting massive backlash from the old conservative guard within the Communist Party.
Shenzhen, one of the most industrialised metropolitans in China, which is affectionately dubbed “the Silicon Valley of China”, is a product of Deng’s efforts to replicate Singaporean success within China. In similar fashion, Mnangagwa’s recent efforts in reaching out to regional partners are not only aimed at strengthening political and historic ties, but seek to emulate successful economic strategies. With the comprehension that Zimbabweans occupy key positions and play important roles in regional economies, Mnangagwa’s interactions with members of the Zimbabwean business community in the Diaspora are earmarked not only to furnish him with a platform to articulate his vision for the country, but also an opportunity to get ideas, strategies and resources that are essential to leapfrog the economy.
On the international front, Deng’s January 1979 visit to the United States was not only restricted to Washington, but he also went Coca-Cola headquarters in Atlanta, Boeing in Seattle and Johnson Space Centre in Seattle. This was a clear gesture that China was open for business and many international organisations commencing with Coca-Cola either initiated or recommenced business operations in China. Mnangagwa used the opportunity at the World Economic Forum in Davos to reiterate to the international business community that Zimbabwe is indeed open for business. The amendment of the Indigenisation Act in order to waiver the 51% local requirement from all business operations except mining of diamond and platinum is a vivid statement of intent from the Zimbabwean government in the creating and fostering an ambience that attracts foreign direct investment. The recent release in January 2018 of an official document stipulating the investment guidelines and opportunities in Zimbabwe is instructive of the positive and pro-business attitude Harare has embraced.
In both the Chinese and Zimbabwean contexts, agriculture plays a key role in the economy. Deng’s improvements in Chinese agriculture were significant as grain production reached 1,2 billion tonnes in 1989 up from 200 million tonnes in 1976 when Chairman Mão died. Mnangagwa’s brainchild, command agriculture, was responsible for enabling Zimbabwe to have surplus produce for the first time in more than 15 years. The programme has been expanded to livestock and other crops in order to ensure that the country restores its previous status as the breadbasket of Africa.
In essence, as Mngangagwa seeks to change the Zimbabwean narrative to a glowingly positive one, he has Deng’s success to emulate. Replication of Deng’s success within the Zimbabwean scenario by Mnangagwa mandates the later to essentially meditate on the strategies that resulted in China’s radical transformation and ruminate on expediting contextualisation and implementation.
Following in Deng’s footsteps will, without an iota of doubt, usher in a vibrant modernised economic order in Zimbabwe.
As the political configurations in the two countries differ, it is critical that the anticipated economic development in Zimbabwe is in tandem with democracy, freedom of expression and tolerance. Mnangagwa has been advocating for tolerance among Zimbabweans and has capped it off by signing the National Healing and Reconciliation Act to ensure that economic growth is experienced in a tolerant and united nation.