The coming elections in Zimbabwe will be a very interesting event in the history of this country. While the stakes are high with a seemingly favourable outcome for Mnangagwa, at least based on the pre-surveys conducted so far, I posit the thesis that, ultimately the economy and electoral management processes will determine the outcome on July 30. The latest March 2018 survey by Afrobarometer revealed that 62% of potential voters are concerned that Zimbabwe’s economic conditions is “going in the wrong direction”, 81% regarding the present economic conditions as very bad, 80% suggesting their personal living conditions to be dire and 83% maintaining that this is worsening. Notwithstanding the November 2017 military instigated transition from Robert Mugabe to Emerson Mnangagwa, 75% of the public suggest that elections could help them make choices that will improve their lives.
Interestingly, the 61% of the respondents who think that voting can bring about positive change are however negative on the direction the economy will take. The economy is key. No wonder, voters across age groups are worried about unemployment (64%) and management of the economy (39%) even though the youth standout to be the most affected. Equally, the statistics that, (73%) of the youth are now registered compared to 57% in 2013 is telling.
If the management of the economy is crucial for the next election, how do contesting parties pledge to end acknowledged challenges? This is an important question given that the ZANU
PF and MDC Alliance manifestos were launched way after the survey had been carried out on the 4th May and 7th June respectively. To make sense of the (im) possibilities for Zimbabwe from August 1, I concentrate on these two because they are the ones with realistic chances of winning. Zimbabwe remains a bi-partisan state.
Promises, narratives and (dis)continuities
So, how may promises and narratives advanced by the political parties influence electoral outcomes and how will this impact on the lives of citizens’ post July 30? Interestingly, the two documents have more parallels than variances. Both the MDC Alliance and Zanu PF suggest a neoliberal economic policy framework anchored on increased foreign direct investment (FDI) and free market economy.
For the MDC Alliance, the overarching narrative - “Behold the New #ChangeThatDelivers” - will be achieved from a compendium of fiscal and monetary reforms anchored on the observation of “principles of constitutionalism and the rule of law” and a shared growing and stable economy. For ZANU PF, “opening the country for business” narrative underline its commitment to re-engaging the monopoly capital, “fighting corruption, creating jobs, modernising the public sector and promoting investment, economic empowerment re-aligning to an investor friendly trajectory leading to economic growth and employment creation” under a free enterprise market economy.
To reverse the dual economy, a legacy of colonialism, the MDC Alliance proposes to transform the agricultural sector. This is to be achieved through subdivision of remaining large farms, industrial transformation and stimulating higher productivity in the rural areas. In the case of ZANU PF, this will be achieved through a revised indigenisation and economic empowerment policy through issuance of security of tenure, rightsizing farms, eliminating multiple farm ownership and supporting the informal sector.Whereas, ZANU PF have abandoned its longstanding radical redistributive agenda in favour of free enterprise economy while the MDC Alliance has maintained macro-economic management, off from social democracy, voters will find no meaningful differences between the two main parties in this election. In reality the manifestos are two sides of the same coin.
The question to pose is: If the manifestos do not differentiate the two parties, then what does? I argue that by emphasising the ushering of a new dispensation, ZANU PF seeks to draw a line from the Mugabe era of economy-wide collapse. In response, the MDC Alliance has sought to highlight the continuity in illegitimacy, collapse of social contract, absence of public service delivery and the need for a new real transformation.
Both parties have new candidates following very recent dramatic changes in both parties, although one was planned and the other was involuntary. Could this be a differentiating factor? In theoretical terms, both have indicated willingness to protect the legacies of their predecessors, but, both have practically demonstrated a departure from same. A major difference is that Emmerson Mnangagwa has liberation credentials and mature (also read, old) while Nelson Chamisa has none, instead he is young and a staunch Christian. But these can hardly separate the two.
The only separating factor that can withstand scrutiny is the elections management given the fear factor and associated privileges only accessible to Emmerson Mnangagwa. For instance, the Afrobarometer reveals that 51% of the potential voters feared being victims of political intimidation. Moreover, the infrastructure of violence made up of the soldiers under 'Operation Maguta,' youth officers, traditional leadership have not been dismantled. While Zimbabwe’s liberation struggles dismantled racism and the fast track reversed inequities associated with land ownership, the traditional system created to gain indirect control over the secondary economy remains undamaged and has been abused by ZANU PF for electoral gains. The voter roll remains contested.
Whose turn, what turn?
If these were to be taken advantage of, the electoral outcome will favour Emmerson Mnangagwa since only he has control over the infrastructure of violence and have greater access to the voter’s roll. The current gap of 42% and 30% between ZANU PF and MDC Alliance is likely to be reduced and the youth vote is likely to sway the election results in favour of Nelson Chamisa and his Alliance partners. There is a sense that regardless of the electoral outcome, Zimbabwe’s (mis)fortunes are likely to be the same. Neoliberalism suffocates indigenous advancement by configuring an extroverted accumulation model where resources are exported at token value while waylaying Zimbabweans using ideals of order, stability and democracy. Under this regime, individualism will propel while social protection and transfer programs will be limited. The poor will be poorer while working for the few rich political elites under flexible labour regime and trickle-down promises. Primitive accumulation will subordinate accumulation from the bottom and by the majority.
If the divisions and fragmentations in the opposition and ruling party equally were to be sustained after elections, never mind its preliminary effects on the electoral outcome, political instability will combine with exclusionary and suffocating neoliberalism to impoverish the majority, whichever turn Zimbabwe takes. Given the limited differences between the main protagonists in the election, prospects of a close electoral outcome and functioning GNU are high, depriving Zimbabweans of a real break or turn from suffering.
Regardless of whose turn it is, such a turn will be defined by “actually existing” neo-liberalism that foisted structural adjustments on governments, and ensured the articulation of extroverted accumulation, impoverishing locals and undermining domestic sovereignty and development. For Zimbabwe, such a turn means today’s economic challenges will persist into the future whether ‘Zimbabwe is open for business’ or ‘Behold the new #ChangeThatDelivers’.
Neo-liberalism links good governance to the agenda for economic development. But the trickle-down effect has never been achieved anywhere. Yet inclusive growth is about ensuring Zimbabweans participate and enjoy the fruits of their sweat and resources. To improve the livelihoods of Zimbabweans, radical structural transformation at primary sectoral level is key. Not much is promised by both parties. The emphasis is order, stability and security.
Dr Toendepi Shonhe is a postdoctoral fellow at the Thabo Mbeki Institute of African Leadership. He writes in his personal capacity