The reluctant reformer, Mnangagwa is thy name

guest column Rashweat Mukundu

IT’S nearly a year since Emmerson Mnagangwa (ED) was sworn as the President of Zimbabwe after the disputed July 2018 elections.

The common talk among many is that Zimbabwe should be better than when ED took over from Robert Mugabe in December 2017. On the contrary, Zimbabwe is worse off and the condition of the ordinary citizen more precarious than before.

ED’s failure is the lack of appreciation of the historical mission that he faces and a reluctance to move out of the politics of the past. ED stands between the past and the future. He either has to embrace the future or continue perpetuating the darkness of the past. So far and despite his many good words, he has chosen the past, and with that cementing Zimbabwe as a caricature of an African country.

Africa’s narrative and where Zimbabwe now sits is that of a continent beset with poverty and want, amid obscene riches by a few. This is aptly captured by the words of a super-rich son of conflict-ridden South Sudanese leader who, upon being asked of the source of his wealth said “God has blessed me”.

In ED’s Zimbabwe, we are seeing sleek and expensive cars not fit for out pot-holed roads, and that says it all. ED’s government is working hard to make this sad narrative true, this through the continued electoral disputes, violence by the State against civilians in August 2018 and January 2019, including promises of even worse violence from the likes of Zanu PF commissar Victor Matemadanda. Civil society and opposition leaders are wantonly thrown in prison on charges of plotting against the government.

Despite his many positive words, ED is a man who rules by gesture, just like Mugabe before him. In this regard, Zimbabwe is well on the path to join failed African States like the DRC, Nigeria, and possibly be far worse off thatn the Central Africa Republic and Somalia. The President has chosen to maintain what he inherited. He is betraying the future by embracing Mugabeism. The man has remained a Zanu PF functionary, schooled by Mugabe. His focus is on power, and for its own sake and with that abetting the primitive accumulation of wealth by those surrounding him.

ED had it all

At his first inauguration after the coup on Mugabe, ED had it all. The world was stampeding to wish him well, and for the first time, we had the opposition in Zimbabwe lining up at the National Sports Stadium to congratulate ED.

Word in the international community was that Zimbabwe had turned a new page. In essence, there was immense good will that if ED had extracted, Zimbabwe would have been far better today. Key international players, locked in political disputes with Harare, including the British government dispatched, senior government officials to his 2017 inauguration and word has it that our leaders were asked what form of help they needed.

I wonder if they gave any coherent response. Talk in the opposition was that ED would pull the rug off their feet by embracing the key demands from the opposition, among them free and fair elections, an end to State-sponsored human rights abuses and striking off undemocratic laws.

Human rights defenders were even on the backfoot, sprucing up CVs in anticipation of careers elsewhere. ED had it all, and a chance to compete on the basis of substantive change that he would have accomplished in a matter of just a few months.

For goodness’ sake, media policy reforms do not need six months to accomplish. Many draft texts on what a democratic access to information law looks like exist not only in Africa, but the world over.

Reforming the State broadcaster simply needs removing the controlling political hand. Military involvement in civilian affairs simply needed adherence to the laws of the land. None of this happened. ED’s words are not matched by actions. He is a typical Machiavellian political leader, only that darkness seems to be overshadowing Zimbabwe far more than the little light that the man has brought.

The question is; has ED fully comprehend the burden of governance on his shoulders, or this was a mere take over from Mugabe, and the party goes on? From 2017 to 2019 ED has, therefore, lost all the social and political capital that he had in December 2017. The man who would have saved Zimbabwe is sadly compared to his mentor Mugabe, with some saying Mugabe was even better; how sad for ED?

The missing link, a mindset and mission change

There appear to be no sense of mission by the ED government, judging by how he quickly resorted to the same old politics of Mugabe. Not only has corruption, anchored by a well knit kleptocracy, continued, but there is a notable reluctance to embrace democracy.

ED wants to build a form of democracy that is void inside. He is more kin to be seen as a statesman by foreign governments, but lacks the capacity and commitment to build consensus at a national level.

His moves are mere gestures, including convening political dialogue with opposition party leaders who did not even vote for themselves. He set a commission to look into the post-2018 violence that resulted in the deaths of tens of citizens, only to unleash the same soldiers in January 2019, resulting in even more deaths of ordinary citizens.

Recommendations by the commission have largely been ignored because they are inconvenient to Zanu PF. The civil service that Mugabe abused to oil his patronage system is still intact and boosted by gold-panners from the midlands who now occupy lofty offices in government.

Hope in sober minds like Finance minister Mthuli Ncube is lost as they have been silenced and subdued by the Zanu PF political machinery.

The missing link is a failure to appreciate the possibility of change from what leaders have been accustomed to. When Zanu PF looks at Zimbabwe, what vision do they have for the next 5 years?

Chinas Deng Xiaoping had that vision upon chairman Mao’s death and despite its many challenges, China has taken many out of poverty. In China, corruption is frowned upon in word and in deed. Singapore’s key asset was a strategically located port.

It has no diamonds, gold, platinum or land like we have in Zimbabwe, and from that Lee Kuan Yew had a vision and built Singapore into a first world country. The missing link that ED must look into is whether he is ashamed of the poverty that Zimbabweans live in and what is he doing about it?

That sober reflection has the potential to dismantle everything he has known over the years. It will make the leader look into his own businesses and that of his family, his party and his friends and ask: Is this in the best interest of Zimbabwe?

How much would US$3 billion of command agriculture accomplish if used prudetly? He has to look into the eyes of his friends and say it is enough. If he can’t, then forget about change. ED can only solve Zimbabwe if he rises from being a mere Zanu PF leader and President of a poor country to a statesman. His role is not that of winning elections by whatever means; it is a historical role that will redefine Zimbabwe for many years to come.

Statesmen are prepared for and execute change by defying the norm and going against those who seek to simply feed their stomachs even if it will cost them their political careers. Winston Churchill led Britain to victory against the Nazis and thereafter lost an election. If ED fails to rise above petty politics, then we can only heed Foreign Affairs minister Sibusiso Moyo’s words that austerity, meaning suffering, is to go on for a long time.

It is a statement of unashamed failure and cluelessness, yet it is not too late for ED to rise above petty politics and take Zimbabwe out of this muddle. For how long shall we wonder in this wilderness?

Rashweat Mukundu is a Zimbabwean journalist and can be reached on rmukundu77@gmail.com

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