Binga to Rwanda: ED’s dilemma

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Zimbabwe's President Emmerson Mnangagwa

By Paidamoyo Muzulu
THIS was a hectic week for President Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa. He had to process the meaning of the March 26 by-elections results, govern the country and improve the investment climate. This was a tall order and Mnangagwa seems to go for populism dashed with autocracy.

When the by-elections results started coming in, Binga was high on his priority list. Mnangagwa had held a presidential star rally in the remote fishing constituency. At the rally where thousands had been bussed, Mnangagwa outdid himself. He spoke in Ndebele and some well-rehearsed Nambia to great applause.

He even apologised on behalf of government and Zanu PF for failing to develop Binga in the last 42 years. To appease the community, he donated fishing boats, bicycles and laptops to a secondary school. He also pledged that development in the form of roads, schools, electricity, health centres and employment opportunities was on the way.

Despite all this, voters in Binga re-elected opposition MP Prince Dubeko Sibanda of the Citizens Coalition for Change.

Mnangagwa was stung by the result. Binga made it to the Cabinet agenda on Tuesday and the Information minister Monica Mutsvangwa read a long list of immediate government projects targeted at the constituency.

“The nation is advised that following the President’s visit and rally at Siyabuwa in Binga there arose the need to implement a variety of development initiatives for the Binga district.

“These urgent development initiatives include the following: construction of a vocational training centre; and an industrial training centre refurbishment and setting up of a nursing school at Binga Hospital; and the refurbishment and operationalisation of the mortuary at Binga Hospital,” the cabinet statement read.

The statement further said the government was ready to improve radio frequency reception in the area as well as support community radio initiatives in the district. It is interesting that Zanu PF has awakened to the underdevelopment in the region. However, Binga stands out as the only constituency in the rural communities that has consistently voted the opposition since 2000, come rain, come drought.

The fact that this moved so fast from a rally issue to a Cabinet issue points exactly to Mnangagwa’s intention – get Binga as a crown jewel in the opposition camp. Winning Binga would make the opposition appear like urban-centred political party which is disconnected from the majority rural voters.

Mnangagwa has 15 months to convince people of Binga. He also has the same time span to worm his way into urban constituencies. This is not a small thing. It needs money and it seems Mnangagwa is ready to break the bank and make Zimbabwe swim in debt to retain power. Mnangagwa wants a sprinkle of  urban constituencies so that Zanu PF would dump the tag of being a rural party. This week, Zimbabwe had an investment negotiation with Rwanda. In 2017, soon after the coup that brought Mnangagwa to power I wrote an article titled: Is ED the new Kagame? In the article, I argued that Mnangagwa could change Zimbabwe if he adopted Kagame’s development policies but refrain from authoritarianism. Five years down the line, it is coming clear that he is Kagame in his autocracy but far below in imitating the Rwanda leader’s development policies. Could the recent meeting have been on exchanging notes on development and quest to retain power? aRwanda was said to be looking at investment opportunities in a South to South co-operation. We are told Rwanda wants to invest in the technology sector and more importantly, it immediately needs the services of Zimbabwean teachers to improve its educational sector. Media reports say Rwanda needs 477 teachers as early as September this year and logistical preparations are at an advanced stage.

Zimbabwe has, at the moment, failed to tame inflation, receive direct foreign investment and deal with endemic corruption in the public sector. This has weighed down its economic recovery and with it, chances of Mnangagwa to retain his position in next year’s general elections.

It is interesting that the slipping of power would make Mnangagwa more autocratic and strive hard to be a benevolent dictator. Earlier this week, Mnangagwa announced populist position of free primary school education at public schools. The announcement was, however, not accompanied by where the money to fund this programme would come from.

The reality is this is more of an election gimmick. This has been on the table for a long time and has not been implemented. It flies in the face of the recent International Monetary Fund (IMF) recommendation to cut back on social spending.

It, therefore, begs the question: is Mnangagwa ready to go against the IMF yet all his campaign had been based on re-engagement and thawing relations with multilateral financial institutions.

More importantly, these huge ongoing infrastructure projects and the promise to provide free education have a strong bearing on Zimbabwe’s sovereign debt. Zimbabwe’s debt is currently hovering above 70% of the national Gross Domestic Product (GDP). This is unsustainable according to Sadc which says member states should not have debts above 60% of their GDP.  Mnangagwa’s actions are like that of a Spanish matador waving the red flag at an enraged bull. It is highly risk and most likely would result in him being gored. But a man sensing power slipping his fingers could do anything to save his bacon.

The man is ready to close down on democratic spaces like Kagame.

In the final analysis, Mnangagwa has too choices – go ahead and play the populist game and damned be the debt question or play politics of brinksmanship and overtly be the dictator. Both options are high risk and could boomerang in his face.

  • Paidamoyo Muzulu is a journalist based in Harare. He writes here in his personal capacity.