The new cannot be born if the old is refusing to die. In November 2017 Zimbabwe went through what was supposed to be the birth of a second republic, a republic that repudiated the ways of the first republic born on April 18, 1980. However, the second republic with each passing days and waning of the coup euphoria is turning into a mirage or better still a false dawn.
Understanding the bad and what needs to be done in Zimbabwe now can only be fully appreciated by interrogating what the late former President Robert Mugabe did wrong.
Mugabe did not slid Zimbabwe into a pariah start in one move, but it was a progressive failure, omissions and commissions. Mugabe breached the sacrosanct private property rules that are worshipped in liberal West. The compulsory acquisition of white commercial farms without compensation marked the red line, pushing the European Union (EU) and the United States to slap sanctions on Zimbabwe.
Mugabe also failed to contain endemic corruption both in the public and private sectors, creating the emergence and consolidation of cartels, monopolies and clientelism. This had a negative effect on the economy which more or less went into autopilot and rapacious capital went onto overdrive, registering 300% growth on annual turnover and profits doubling.
The ensuing poverty among the oasis of plenty was a recipe for disaster. It gave unions, civil society and opposition justification to hold rolling demonstrations. Mugabe responded with clamping down of the democratic space, banned demonstrations and enforced Public Order and Security Act (POSA) like never before. This fuelled the abuse of human rights by the State and its agents, further confirming Mugabe as a tin-pot dictator.
Mugabe, who did not take rejection well according to Heidi Holland in her book ‘Dinner with Mugabe’, retaliated by throwing tantrums to primarily the US and UK at international forums. He withdrew Zimbabwe from the Commonwealth, making Zimbabwe an island in an interconnected global world.
It is in these aforementioned circumstances that Zimbabwe witnessed the dramatic coup of November 2017 coming with the promise for a new dispensation from all the ills of the past. The event was accompanied by euphoria and near unanimity among Zimbabweans from the political divide.
Two years after the historic event, historic in the sense that this was the first coup in Southern Africa, Zimbabweans and the region are fast losing hope in President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s regime, with many saying the old dispensation was far much better.
The economy has contracted, hyperinflation has ravaged the citizens’ savings, reduced their earnings and thrown them into abject poverty. In addition, the democratic space has further shrunk, far worse than in Mugabe’s era.
State security agents have killed nearly two dozen people during protests using firearms. In the first instance that came barely 72 hours after the July 30 2018 general elections, soldiers killed six people in central Harare who were protesting against the delayed announcement of the presidential results. It was for the first time since 1980 that armed soldiers were deployed to quell protests in peace times. Scores of protesters were injured and hundreds were arrested and severely tortured in dragnet police operations.
Four months later, 13 people were killed in January 2019 during protests over a 150% fuel hike that took place across the major cities in the country. The military was for the second time deployed. Hundreds of people were tortured and some women raped during the joint police/military raids at people’s homes.
On the corruption front, Mnangagwa’s regime in an attempt to portray itself as doing something about the issue has brought ridicule to itself, with the public now derisively calling the process “a catch and release” circus.
So far, former ministers David Parirenyatwa, Ignatius Chombo, Saviour Kasukuwere had been to the court, but no one has been convicted. Two ministers from Mnangagwa regime have been also arrested. These are Prisca Mupfumira and last week Joram Gumbo. However, both are out of custody and the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission seems not ready to finalise investigations and have them out of the dock.
It is time that civil society and opposition political parties understand the gravity of the situation and start calling more loudly for political and economic reforms. Mnangagwa should be made to live up to his promises that he would democratise the public spaces, allow opposition parties to operate without restrictions and stop arresting people for criticising his government.
It is important that the rhetoric associated with electioneering should now cease and the regime start delivering in terms of repealing or amending undemocratic statutes. There should be a clear timeline when this would delivered, not the mere reciting of intentions in during state of the Nation addresses in Parliament.
On the economic front, the regime should have policy consistency; have a lean, clean and efficient Cabinet. This should also be replicated in the management of State owned enterprises and the improvement on State procurement, which according to the Auditor-General Mildred Chiri is disappointing and cost the nations millions if not billions in lost resources.
The Southern African Development Cooperation (SADC), African Union (AU), the United States of America (USA) and the European Union (EU) should start applying more pressure on the regime to implement reforms. Make it clear that any stalling with reforms would be met with ostracisation. International treaties should be invoked against the regime, particularly where State agents kill innocent civilians with impunity like what happened in August 2018 and January this year. Moreover, State abductions of human rights defenders and political activists should be stopped forthwith.
The international community can also have clear sign-posted roadmap on reforms and incentives tied to the achievement. These can include easing of sanctions, targeted investments into areas like energy, transport and water and sanitation. Any further delay in these investments will drag Zimbabwe back into poverty making it more difficult to recover even when the reforms are done in future.
However, after all is said and done, Zimbabwe should start curing the November 2017 coup with the military not symbolically moving from the political front, but to be seen to be independent State players who respect human rights with the only core functioning of protecting the State and not who wins what in ZANU PF internal politics.
In the interim, all those serving soldiers who want to be in ZANU PF should be generously cashiered out and professional soldiers come aboard. Even if this means giving immunity to some of the leaders involved in atrocities, so be it as it would be a better price to pay for the stability of the future.
Zimbabwe should rewind to civilian politics, democratise the political space, fight corruption, have clear international policies, mend bridges with the regional and international community and above all carry itself by its bootstraps and bite the bullet on economic reforms and implementation of government projects.
The coup may have reversed the democratic processes and should be looked at with a view to say never again shall the military be directly involved in settling internal disputes within political parties. In that way keeping politics in civilian hands gives a better chance that they country can help itself.