ED’s big-man politics of populism

Guest Column Paidamoyo Muzulu

FRENCH West Indian political philosopher and revolutionary, Frantz Fanon made an interesting observation in his book, The Wretched of the Earth that those who took over leadership were envious of the white man and would like to behave the same.

It is a theme that overlaps into many of his works, which in a way, can help us understand a problem that has stalked post independent Africa and, in some cases, continues up to this day: big man politics and mimicry of past oppressors.

It has not gone unnoticed that President Emmerson Mnangagwa is imitating former President Robert Mugabe in many respects and, in others, he is so excelling
that he is outdoing his god father. This can be seen in having a bloated Cabinet, suppression of demonstrations, penchant for luxury travel and having a
controlling spouse who loves the media and publicity.

Mnangagwa appears to have “learnt nothing and forgotten nothing” about the manner he conducts his politics. Like Mugabe, Mnangagwa makes serious policy
pronouncements at political rallies, taking everyone by surprise and would rather consolidate power to himself despite a commitment to devolution.

Mnangagwa on Friday July 19, was at his populist best, speaking to the Zanu PF women’s league at the party’s national headquarters in Harare. He announced a
serious government policy position to a partisan crowd, promising to steer the second amendment to the 2013 Constitution.

He told the party’s women leadership that he would push for the extension of the women’s parliamentary quota system by a further 10 years through a
constitutional amendment.

This would be a minor, but significant amendment by substituting the word “two” and replacing it with “four” in Section 124(1)(b) which reads: “For the life of
the first two Parliaments after the effective date, (there will be) an additional 60 women members — six from each of the provinces into which Zimbabwe is
divided, elected through a system of proportional representation based on the votes cast for candidates representing political parties in a general election
for constituency members in the provinces.”

This is only about 30 to 35 Zanu PF women leaders, if one considers how the seats have been distributed in the first two Parliaments post the 2013
Constitution. This is a simple ploy to hoodwink women to back him both in the party and nationally.

If Mnangagwa is a reformist and wants 50/50 gender parity like he claims, why can’t he simply amend the electoral system from the Westminister’s “first-past-
the-post” to 100% proportional representation, with a “zebra clause” as is the current set up in the Senate? This, in one swoop, would give the country 50/50
gender parity in Parliament, not the expected trickle down and the prevailing tokenism representation.

In the run-up to the February 2013 constitutional referendum, both Zanu PF and the opposition MDC formations traversed the length and breadth of Zimbabwe
campaigning for the new supreme law that, among other things, promised devolution of power.

Mnangagwa, like the pseudo reformist he is, at his first inauguration after the November 2017 coup, spoke about speeding up devolution, much to the enthusiasm
of all. Devolution is the panacea to development, but to a man who loves power, that would deprive him of the power to be Father Christmas when it comes to
dishing development for votes.

Local authorities were and should still be the bedrock of development as the Rhodesian authorities proved during colonial rule. Harare and Bulawayo would
suffice as examples in this regard. The two cities had control over development, housing, education, road networks, liquor licensing, public transport,
including electricity generation and distribution. They also directly collected vehicle licensing fees that went a long way to maintain and develop the road
network in the two metropolitan cities.

Harare had the viable Rufaro Marketing (a liquor undertaking), Harare United (public transport), Lake Chivero and Harava Dam (Water supplies) and Harare
Thermal Power Station for electricity generation. Enter the Zimbabwe government and its deregulation policy during Esap, Rufaro Marketing folded, Harare United
was collapsed into Zupco, then annexed to the ruling party and quickly driven into the doldrums due to mismanagement; the two dams went under the
administration of the Zimbabwe Water Authority and Harare Thermal Power Station was appropriated by Zesa Holdings.

Meanwhile, vehicle licensing was annexed by Zinara, while housing ownership was changed by the central government and councils lost all their housing stock
under the homeownership scheme and forced sales to sitting tenants of its suburban properties.

Councils were made employment centres for idle ruling Zanu PF party youths, ballooning the wage budgets of the cities and setting them on the path to economic
ruin. Zanu PF apparatchiks were strategically deployed as town clerks or other senior executive roles for patronage purposes in awarding city tenders.

Devolving power is now a remote issue, considering that the opposition MDC controls all the 15 major urban councils in Zimbabwe, including the metropolitan
cities of Harare and Bulawayo. Devolution, as enshrined in Chapter 14 of the Constitution, would take away a tidy $2 billion from Zanu PF control in a stroke,
including the patronage of youths who are drawing salaries for doing nothing in the cities. It would further expose the regime of its extreme incompetence if
the opposition was in a position to efficiently and effectively administrate the urban centres. It can be concluded from the aforesaid, that Mnangagwa would
continue to spew rhetoric on 50/50 gender parity and devolution as a smokescreen to his insatiable appetite for power and being a benevolent dictator for
political expediency.

The opposition and civil society have the duty to blow away the smokescreen and demand immediate implementation of electoral reforms hinged on changing the
electoral system to 100% proportional representation and full implementation of devolution in the spirit and letter of the Constitution.

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