guest column:Pearl Matibe
A RAND Corporation research report by Alexander H Noyes assessing Zimbabwe after former President Robert Mugabe was published as part of the corporation’s national security division on February 6, 2020. The report: A New Zimbabwe? Assessing Continuity and Change After Mugabe has a pivotal finding in that it logically lays out how the world of commerce, finance and trade is inseparably chained to that of governance, public office life and affairs of the State in Zimbabwe.
The US corporation unambiguously classifies the transfer of power that took place in November 2017 as a military coup saying: “After 37 years in power, President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe was toppled via a military coup.” Given that President Emmerson Mnangagwa came into office promising a Zimbabwe unlike one anyone has seen before that would be “open for business,” the report’s author, Noyes, asks a central question: To what extent has Mnangagwa delivered on his promises?
To Zimbabweans, this is the foremost question of his presidency, since much of the fast declining social, political and economic fabric has been blamed — by the Mnangagwa government — through distorted narratives on US foreign policy towards Zimbabwe, in particular, the Specially Designated Nationals list and the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Amendment Act (Zidera).
The report says Mnangagwa’s pretty speeches and public statements about sincere reforms of a “new Zimbabwe” are a contradiction to the findings of the research.
On methodology, elite interviews of existing and former senior government of Zimbabwe officials, opposition office holders, members of the diplomatic corps and industry leaders carried out in two capital cities: Harare and Washington, DC. The full publication is available and easily accessible to the public at no cost on the Rand Corporation website. The report contextualises the historical, current, and future deeply embedded roots of the military and intelligence in the top-most echelons of the civilian-led government by showing their ties. Mnangagwa previously held Cabinet-level posts in national security and defence. “Former generals Constantino Chiwenga and Sibusiso Busi Moyo, are Vice-President and Foreign Affairs minister, respectively,” the report correctly illustrates. Notably, the report explains that citizens have endured the rising fierceness of State-backed violence in a society in which a civilian life is inescapable from the military and security arms of government.
Ahead of the country’s 2023 elections, bona fide reforms are improbable. Zimbabwe will regress further and is projected to degenerate into greater political fissures. The assessment is that more politically-motivated, State-sponsored violence will prolong, as will public demonstrations. Its economy is expected to crumble away further.
Assurances by the government of Zimbabwe are said to be pretentious; dressed up for foreign service representatives.
On the political landscape, the prevalence of the heavy-handedness of security forces is ever more dominant, and demonstrations continue. What increased weight of the military that existed before Mugabe has changed for the worse. The ever-increasing power of the military in the country’s political economy, is biggest under Mnangagwa.
Little to no reforms is resulting in economic ruin. Even the small steps taken, are superficial, says the report. The country is beleaguered by corruption on a grand scale by senior government officials and those close to them.
In one of Zimbabwe’s new pieces of legislation — Maintenance of Public Order Act — nothing has changed for the better, it is more severe. At the time of its drafting, Mnangagwa geared up a narrative that praised his government’s reform agenda on this key security Bill. In practice today, public demonstrations are banned. In contrast over the past 12 months, protesters in Hong Kong, Algeria, Malawi and Sudan brought their issues to the world’s attention, at times resulting in the removal of an authoritarian leader. Political demonstrations have differing aims and varying results in different parts of the world, in the Gulf States and Venezuela. In Algeria’s Smile Revolution, the purpose was for Abdelaziz Bouteflika to step down as president. In Zimbabwe, the State police silence peaceful civil resistance.
International community cautioned
The International Security and Defence Policy Centre carries out in-depth research to assist the US and its allies in making national and international security decisions. It is part of Rand Corporation’s research division and lists recommendations to the world — global policy-making and lending community — in particular, that a concerted approach would be best warning: “The international community should proceed with extreme caution on economic support for the government.” It is an incredibly grim outlook.
The research concludes that a prudent approach would be for the international community to work together in a collective and coordinated way. From this report, it seems the military that deployed and employed deadly force on demonstrators — shooting, arresting and torturing protesters — has raised the curiosity of those in the world interested in examining the politics and economy post-Mugabe. Either way, the Rand Corporation report does raise the red flag on these issues to the world about the actions which have the potential to tarnish further the Mnangagwa regime’s brand.
Zimbabwe has not been “open for business” for decades and “genuine reform is unlikely in the next one to three years under present conditions.” In fact, as the report rightly explains, “the party-military alliance is alive and well in a post-Mugabe Zimbabwe”.
The gist of it is that Mnangagwa has put his personal interests and that of his near and dear supporters ahead of the fourteen million Zimbabweans for more than two years. Getting the country back on its feet, is going to take an agreed upon approach by a joint international effort.
Will the help come from the international stomping ground? Can Zimbabwe’s highly cartelised, tyrannical rule be reshaped and remodelled, or can Mnangagwa turn over a new leaf?
For fourteen million Zimbabweans, politics and the economy are inescapably bound together. A freer economy goes hand in hand with freer political space.
Any approach to resolve, must run on parallel tracks.
The Rand Corporation’s National Security Division “conducts research and analysis for the Office of the [US] Secretary of Defence,” intelligence community, and governments allied to the Trump Administration among others. The author of the report — Alexander Noyes—is a political scientist whose focus area includes the security sector.
Pearl Matibe has geographic expertise on US foreign policy, think tank impact, strategy, and public policy issues. You may follow her on Twitter: @PearlMatibe