Why all-inclusive dialogue is Mnangagwa’s “last way to life”

guest column Moses Tofa

When Emmerson Mnangagwa took over power in November 2017 as President, Lady Fortuna was so generous towards him that she gave him four ways to life.

But it is unfortunate that so far, he has already squandered three of them and is now left with only one. Wherever she is, I am sure Lady Fortuna is not happy with him. She is probably regretting. She must be seeing him as a bad debtor and steward. I doubt that she will give him another way to life should he squander the last one. But at the moment of writing this article, he is on a course which, if not changed radically, will see him squandering his last way to life. From where he stands today, he is like the proverbial prodigal son who squandered all his ways to life until he was left with only one way to life…going back to his father. Fortunately for him, he came to his senses and made use of his last way to life. The father embraced him and he began to live a happy life again. Time will tell whether
Mnangagwa will come to his senses before he squanders his last way to life.

The first and most important way to life for Mnangagwa was to form an all-inclusive government after taking over from former President Robert Mugabe in November 2017. I am one of the people who expected him to take this way.

I have always argued that this would have made him a two-sided hero — a hero of the liberation struggle and a “late hero” of the post-independence struggle for transformation. This way would have allowed him to unite the nation, build hope, eliminate the entrenched culture of polarisation, deal with the question of contested legitimacy, and embark on political and economic reforms before the next election. These steps would have laid a good foundation for the removal of sanctions, either at once or step-by-step. These steps were going to restore confidence.

Some would say we had a GNU in 2009, which was characterised by belligerence. But the foundation upon which something is built matters. The 2009 GNU was established on the foundation of an openly stolen election, widespread killings, and other iniquitous violations of human rights. The post-Robert Mugabe all-inclusive government could have been remarkably different because it could have been built on a different foundation altogether. This is because of the carnival atmosphere which prevailed in November 2017.

In spite of serious reservations based on Mnangagwa’s past and the real and perceived nature of Zanu PF, scores of Zimbabweans, inducing the opposition, welcomed and embraced Mnangagwa’s administration. The opposition participated in the November 2017 protests, it was willing to participate in the process to impeach Mugabe; it also celebrated the resignation of Mugabe and it attended the inauguration of Mnangagwa. People believed that the departure of Mugabe would witness a seismic shift in Zimbabwean politics and society. The international community was willing to give Mnangwagwa a chance. There was no shortage of goodwill, internally and externally. However, Mnangagwa squandered his first and quickest way to life by electing to finish Mugabe’s term and then go for elections.

Mnangagwa’s second way to life was the 2018 election. Having assumed power through a military coup, the 2018 election gave Mnangagwa the opportunity to deal with the crisis of legitimacy. It is this crisis which has caused many of Zimbabwe’s political and economic problems. Since he took over, Mnangagwa peddled the “new dispensation” narrative. The 2018 election was the first major test for Mnangagwa’s commitment to transformation. The holding of free and fair elections is one of the key determinants of the removal of sanctions. But going into the 2018 election, Mnangagwa was in a serious dilemma.

On the one hand, he faced the risk of losing power in a free and fair election because of his limited electability. On the other hand, he wanted to hold an election which was widely regarded as free and fair. He knew that acceptance by the international community was key. He presented a façade of a free and fair election. He invited international observers. There was very minimal political violence.

He almost succeeded, but the election eventually failed the test. It was the August 1 killings which killed Mnangagwa’s second way to life. The violence was brutal and unforgiving. International observers condemned the violence and the election results. The international community withdrew the trust it had invested in the regime. The “new dispensation” narrative became difficult to sell.

Those who had promised to buy it changed their mind.
The third way to life for Mnangagwa was to deliver the “new dispensation” which people expected. After all, he had promised it. At the centre of this delivery is economic transformation.

While people generally dislike leaders whose legitimacy is contested, the question of contested legitimacy can be submerged by an impressive delivery of electoral promises. It is common to hear some voters saying they do not care who wins and how, but just whether the declared winner is able and willing to deliver their expectations. But the problem for Mnangagwa is that when he squandered the second way to life by holding a contested election in 2018, he literally squandered his third way to life.

This is because Mnangagwa’s capacity to deliver depended largely on the credibility of the 2018 election. History has taught us over and over that it is difficult to deliver when there is a crisis of confidence, when legitimacy is contested, when polarisation is entrenched, and when the country is isolated by the community of nations. This is more complicated when the regime is characterised by corruption and ineptitude.

The economy has been on a free fall. We have heard of this mega deal and that mega deal, but the irony is that the conditions on the ground are deteriorating alarmingly. The “new” dispensation is clearly out of its depths, deploying old and failed tactics but expecting new results. All indicators show that nothing has worked, nothing is working, and nothing will work. It is a bleak picture.

Now that Mnangwagwa has squandered the three ways to life discussed above; he is left with only one way to life…all-inclusive dialogue. This way to life is patient and generous, but it cannot be so forever. Mnangwagwa squandered it in November 2017 when he decided not to engage the opposition and form an all-inclusive government. In other words, it is the first way to life which we discussed before.

But it has the wherewithal to regenerate and present itself again, ready to be used. Inclusive dialogue will deal with the issues which are at the centre of our problems. These include contested legitimacy and polarisation. It will enable the country to engage the international community. It will breathe trust and confidence in our politics and economy.

These changes are fundamental to economic transformation. The dialogue which is currently taking place without the official opposition is unable to make the progress which is mentioned above. The opposition parties which are participating in the dialogue have no roots in the democratic will of the people. They have no consent to give or to withdraw. They carry no mandate from the electorate.

They just speak visions of their own minds. If anything, they are used to undermine the official opposition. No serious person can take that dialogue seriously. If Mnangagwa continue on this course, he will no doubt squander his last way to life. What might be happening is that his political opponents in Zanu-PF are vehemently refusing to engage the official opposition, claiming that it is a recalcitrant enemy of the state which regards him as an illegitimate president. But the actual reason might be that they want him to squander his last way to life, so that they can use it as their own way to life.

Remember that the claims which were used to justify the November 2017 intervention was that Robert Mugabe’s leadership had become so detrimental to the nation that a military intervention was the only way to life.

In conclusion, Lady Fortuna was so generous towards Mnangagwa. But Mnangagwa has already squandered three of the four ways to life which she gave him when he took over from Mugabe in November 2017.

He is on the course to squander his last way to life. If Mnangagwa squanders his last way to life, will Lady Fortuna be patient with him? Will she give him another way to life? Will she allow him to go all the way to 2023? Will she allow him to contest in 2023?

It is difficult to know. Only Lady Fortuna knows. But if I were Mnangwagwa, I will use my last way to life. I will not believe that Lady Fortuna will be patient and generous enough to give me another way to life.

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