Think about building a united Zim

Zimbabweans like in 1980, 2000 or 2008 are gripped by fear. They are not a free people. The media has not helped matters by churning out their polarised and editorialised news.

ZIMBABWE go to vote in a general election next Wednesday. An election in all likelihood that would give President Emmerson Mnangagwa, by hook or crook, his second and final term. However, gazing into the crystal ball, things could get grimmer in the  outlook going into 2028.

In the last seven days or past couple of weeks, one could not smell or feel the air of change. It seems all normal, nothing signalling the importance of the plebiscite that should reposition Zimbabwe in a new trajectory.

I have travelled extensively across the hinterland and the signs were ominous. People at farms and small towns were more worried about how their favourite teams in the English Premier League would perform in the opening week of the 2023/24 season. People were glued to the player transfers that are still ongoing till September 1, 2023.

Of those who spoke politics, the conversations were not smooth. Some spoke in hushed tones about attending Mnangagwa’s presidential star rallies or openly wondering if police were going to clear rallies for Nelson Chamisa-led Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC).

Zimbabweans like in 1980, 2000 or 2008 are gripped by fear. They are not a free people. The media has not helped matters by churning out their polarised and editorialised news.

The voter is none the wiser after reading the news as to what the political parties propose to do in the next five years.

Political party manifestos were never critiqued. Zanu PF did not even find it necessary to produce or publish one. It was name-calling and pointing to the ills of one political party or the other. Many voters, like gamblers, have resigned to their fate and only hope to deal with the hand they have been given.

Of the nearly a thousand people contesting for the 210 directly elected National Assembly seats, the majority are of unknown quantity and can hardly be candidates for cabinet posts. They will be voted not because of what they stand for, but because of which party nominated them.

Zanu PF using the power of the incumbency and largesse from shady and unnamed benefactors who have poured millions into the campaign. The ruling party had an unlimited budget and its use falls foul of the Political Parties Finance Act. This is a matter for another day, but certainly a reform that needs to urgently take place post the August 23, polls. Zimbabwe needs new political parties financing law.

Let us turn to what a Mnangagwa win will mean. It is more of the same. Mnangagwa has largely failed to curb corruption. He is actually surrounded by a lot of shady characters and does not seem to give a hoot about it.

Mnangagwa had both the presidency and a two-thirds majority in parliament. He proposed 155 pieces of legislation in his parliamentary addresses over the last five years. However, parliament only passed 40 Bills that became Acts. That is an average of eight laws per year. Interestingly, these include the mandatory Finance Bills and the Appropriation Bills that give effect to the national budget. So, in essence parliament was passing on average only six Bills a year.

The long and short of it is that Mnangagwa had the curse of two thirds majority. He did not know how to use it effectively. He failed dismally even if we measure him by his own standards.

His government has been blighted by corruption and policy inconsistency: Policy inconsistencies that have vastly affected economic performance. I will cite his currency policy as an example. In 2019 Zimbabwe moved from a multi-currency regime to mono-currency. The policy did not last a year and we are back to a multi-currency system.

On the same front, the government and the central bank have failed to manage the exchange rate of the local unit against the United States dollar. They, for years had a funny exchange system and then moved to the Dutch auction system and now we are at a managed free-float system by banks.

Storms of economic crisis are gathering on the horizon. They are like a cyclone and most likely to hit our shores in the first quarter of 2024. These include unsustainable debt. Zimbabwe has a large debt portfolio, nearly US$15 billion foreign debt and about US$3 billion domestic debt. Mnangagwa’s efforts to negotiate debt relief have yielded nothing.

Secondly, the Chinese will be demanding their pound of flesh as most of the infrastructure-related loans become due. These, among others, include debt for TelOne fibre project, Robert Mugabe International Airport expansion, Victoria Falls International Airport, the National Defence College and Kariba South Hydroelectric power station. We await to see how Zimbabwe will meet these obligations.

While Mnangagwa can celebrate his re-election, he should start thinking about building a united Zimbabwe: A Zimbabwe that gains its place at the table with the international community. A Zimbabwe that implements agreed reforms with creditors, and have peace with the opposition.

Mnangagwa should be magnanimous in victory. He should form a government of national unity. Give Zimbabwe some breathing space and put it on a socio-economic recovery path. He has a second chance to do it right after squandering the first in 2018.

Above all else, Mnangagwa should be thinking about his legacy – what he would be remembered for. He should, like Robert Mugabe in 1980, make unpopular decisions that are good for Zimbabwe, make a government of national unity and start rebuilding the nation. Those invited should be gracious enough to accept and do their part for the greater good of Zimbabwe.

Any other path or false bravado that Zanu PF can do it alone will be suicidal. The challenges lying ahead are bigger than Zanu PF can solve even at their best.

They are at the deep end. They should swallow their pride and not burn down with Zimbabwe. This being August, they should reconsider what many others sacrificed and died for during the independence war.

I’m out!

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

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