PAID spokespersons sometimes say stupid things, so stupid that one wonders if they still have grey matter between their ears. They sometimes defend the indefensible. And this week presented one such event when President Emmerson Mnangagwa travelled to Equatorial Guinea on a State visit.
Mnangagwa is known for large entourages every time he flies out of the country. This is not hard to see because he, like his predecessor Robert Mugabe, enjoys the small ceremony of goodbyes and welcome home at the airport. The optics are really bad. They portray a country with leaders who have nothing to do except twiddling their fingers in offices, hence they can spend hours on the airport tarmac waiting to receive a goodbye handshake from El Presidente.
There are some people who have become permanent members of the Mnangagwa entourage, especially on trips that culminate in Zimbabwe signing memorandum of understandings with the foreign country on business/economic co-operation. They have become a shadow, always there next to the President.
These two are Emmerson Mnangagwa Junior and business magnate Kudakwashe Tagwireyi. Emmerson Junior’s role is not defined, but it is becoming clear he is slowly emerging as one of the biggest wheeler dealers in Harare post the November 2017 coup. Tagwireyi, meanwhile, was a member of the now dysfunctional Presidential Advisory Council, but before that he was identified as the chief benefactor to Zanu PF in the 2018 general elections.
Citizens have started questioning the duo’s close proximity to State functions that have potential to produce economic deals. Allegations are that they are riding on State functions/trips. Emmerson Junior is alleged to be playing the role of a lobbyist or gatekeeper to people who need access to his father, while Tagwireyi uses the opportunity to grow his business profile using his links to the State.
It is in this context that Zanu PF information director Tafadzwa Mugwadi in trying to explain the duo’s presence on the trip to Equatorial Guinea wrote on his social media platforms: “@JoeBiden travels with Hunter Biden, @realDonaldTrump actually employed his son, daughter and son in-law in the White House same with Obama etc. The lesson here is that if you have never been closer to State power, don’t unleash your stupidity unprovoked, lest you are left sneezing.”
This was a fair try from Mugwadi, but it has a number of untruths. US President Joe Biden is still being troubled after his son Hunter was mired in Ukraine deals long before his father became President. They rarely travel together, because Hunter is a political liability particularly that Biden is seeking re-election next year.
Trump, while portrayed as a jester, had the decency to do the correct thing. He officially appointed his daughter Ivanka and her husband Jared Kushner as his personal advisors. So their presence on presidential trips was neither here nor there. They actually officially represented Trump, especially in the Palestine/Israel question.
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As for Barack Obama, his two daughters were too young to be of any use to him. They travelled simply because they were too young to remain behind so they had to be close to their mother Michelle. And in all fairness Michelle, unlike Auxillia Mnangagwa, never tried to upstage her husband. She understood how to play her complementary role to the President.
In the interest of transparency and accountability, the President, Vice-Presidents, ministers and Members of Parliament (MPs) declaration of interests should be publicly known. Mnangagwa, despite his attempts to present himself as a reformist, his activities are still as opaque as Mugabe’s era. The public is still as blank on what his public officers own or control. Citizens cannot form a view on whether or not these public officers have abused their time in office to amass new wealth at the expense of working for the people.
The same policy of public declarations should be extended to political parties contesting in elections. They should publicly declare their donors and how much they donate. There are many businesspeople who after elections are getting State contracts/tenders as a thank you from victorious politicians.
Leaving things opaque is dangerous and has a potential to lead to State capture. This may seem far-fetched, but evidence from South Africa in the wake of the Zondo Commission report has shown how three Gupta brothers controlled South Africa while being accountable to no-one. They had the President, several Cabinet ministers and dozens of State enterprise executive directors under their control. What the Guptas wanted, the Guptas got.
Zimbabwe is not far from the above scenario, particularly if one looks closely at how parastatal boards are appointed or rotated. They are a few familiar faces who have made a career of being on the boards of public enterprises, yet they have no trail of any success story.
It is interesting to know how many politicians across the political boundaries are willing to publicly declare their interests. This probably may be expecting too much from our politicians as experience has taught us. They passed the Reserve Bank Debt Assumption Act (2015) without demanding that the names of farm implements beneficiaries be made public.
Even when the late Kent law lecturer, Alex Magaisa, put into the public domain a list of the beneficiaries, no MP or committee has sought to authenticate it in Parliament. This remains a sad indictment on the calibre of public representatives we have. It is clear they are in it for themselves.
It would be interesting to see how much the electorate and party activists have matured since the November 2017 coup. Will they demand transparency and accountability, not only in the selection of election candidates, but also demand that the winners publicly declare their interests? Otherwise, Zimbabwe is running standstill or fast retracing its footsteps from where it came from.
- Paidamoyo Muzulu is a journalist based in Harare. He writes here in his personal capacity.