IS THE NEW DISPENSATION NEW DISPENSATION? TWO YEARS IN A COUP GOVERNMENT
Africa and the world at large have been inundated with governments of coup d’état of varying degree and magnitude since the 18th century. In Africa alone since 1956 to 2001, there were 80 successful coups, 108 failed attempts and 139 reported coup attempts according to McGowan as cited by Tendi (2019). Further to that, from 2001 to 2019, almost 12 successful coups took place in West and Central Africa at most. However, post-independent Africa has recorded a highest number of coups as compared to any other continent. Needless to say coup governments have never proved sustainable politically, economically and socially. Ultimately they will collapse in most cases through the very same route that government was ushered in through after failing to bring the much anticipated hope. Notwithstanding that, in November 2017 Zimbabwe ushered in a “new administration” under Emmerson Mnangagwa as the President through a coup d'état. The government called itself a new dispensation, but since then up to now its two years without anything new in the so called new dispensation. By definition a coup d’état refers to an event in which a regime is toppled from power by a relatively small group in which security members in the army and police play a major role on their own or in collaboration with civilians (Tendi, 2019).
It is imperative to note that, coup governments so far are not sustainable as they are bound to be heavy handed than democratic hence they fail to resuscitate the economy.
The most recent coups were carried under the façade of the need to revive democracy and the economy. In Niger an attempt was made which was dubbed Supreme Council for the Restoration of Democracy whilst in January 2019 in Gabon they called themselves National Restoration Council. The whole idea was to hide the military face in civilian sentiments so that the coup could sound like it is driven by civilian authority and not the military. In the very same vein, the Zimbabwean coup of November 2017 was dubbed Operation Restore Legacy particularly political, economic and social legacy of Zimbabwe that was deteriorating.
Consequently, it is worth noting that the African Union (AU) does not recognise coup governments, where it takes place they may either intervene, impose sanctions, suspend from the Union or public denunciation. Despite the existence of such a policy the very same African Union remained coy when a coup was carried out in Zimbabwe in 2017.
Did Zimbabwe usher in a new dispensation after the coup?
This is a trick question which boggles the mind. When the coup was carried out there was media hype and academic baptism of a coup so that it could appear like a military assisted transition. The coup was sugar coated, described by all sorts of level headed statements that sounded civilian like bloodless and peaceful. That much raised high hopes of many people thinking something new was in the offing yet it was just old wine in old bottles. In his swearing in speech President Mnangagwa categorically stated that his administration was a new dispensation totally different from the Mugabe era which was marred by repression and economic malaise. It is now two years since the dispensation was ushered in but there is nothing new to show off to qualify Mnangagwa’s wishful speech during his swearing in of 2017. The so called new dispensation is languishing in the old dispensation, just running around like a headless chicken experimenting different policies in a bid to come out of the mud that the country plunged itself by maladministration and pillaging of state resources. Comparatively, post 2000 under Mugabe was typified by economic and political crisis, massive formal breakdown, failing public service provision, state corruption and Prebendalism among other ill practices. In light of that, the moniker new dispensation carried with it hopes of a pragmatic shift from the old practices but alas, it was just mere black propaganda to hoodwink the public into accepting the coup government. It was also a strategy to convince the international community into believing that the take -over of power was civilian driven not military. It was put in that way by the coup protagonists who were fully aware of the consequences of their actions should they not convince the citizens and the international community. Luck was on their side as they never encountered any denunciation from the international community which appeared to have been sick and tired of Mugabe’s tyrannical rule.
Zimbabwe is open for business mantra
There is some rhetoric that characterised the so called new dispensation and the second republic. The impression given by the aforementioned mantra is that, the country was ready to do business with anyone and the environment was conducive. That was a murky statement to court international investors who had been shunning Zimbabwe for quite a long time. However, if the mantra is to be juxtaposed against the public debt hovering above US$ 8 billion on the national economy there is nothing new in the new dispensation. According to Magaisa’s (2019) Facebook page the Mnangagwa administration incurred a domestic debt of almost US$ 2 billion in two years. That is a clear indication of the extravagance nature of the government just like the old administration of Mugabe. With run -away inflation at 400%, high unemployment at 90%, electricity outages and fuel shortages, cash liquidity, policy inconsistency and political instability surely to think of anything new would be dreaming. The abovementioned characteristics of the so called new dispensation have been the very same problems that led people to get fade up of Mugabe hence there is no new dispensation its aluta continua in an extreme way.
Engage and re-engagement drive
Just like a pastor on pulpit inviting new converts, Mnangagwa has been on the re-engagement drive to mend relations with foes. The Mugabe regime had alienated itself from the international community through poorly executed land reform, human rights abuse, corruption, electoral irregularities and militarization of state institutions. Given that, background selected individuals and entities were slapped with economic sanctions. It is against that backdrop that Mnangagwa wanted to mend relations with particularly the West so as to resuscitate reeling economy. The drive was dealt a death blow by events of August 1, 2018 shootings where the army and police killed six people and injured several. That alone was a replay of what happened in 2002, 2005 and 2008, hence there is no difference between Mugabe and Mnangagwa in light of that incident. As if that was not enough to prove to the world that there was nothing new, the authoritative, repressive and diabolical rule of Mnangagwa reared its ugly head again in January 2019 where the army and police killed 17 people and 954 were arrested including civic activists from ZCTU, ZimRights among other members of the opposition (Hodgkinson, 2019). To further aggravate the situation several demonstration applications by the opposition against high cost of living in Zimbabwe were banned by the regime reminiscent of the Mugabe era. The crackdown on civilians, civic groups and opposition made Mugabe regime to be punished by the West but Mnangagwa seems to have learnt nothing and forgotten nothing by repeating the same. By so doing he shot himself in the foot and since 2017 Zimbabwe had failed to attract the much needed investment and engagement just like the old regime. As it stands Zimbabwe is a geographical landlocked country and internationally isolated even China is now economic when it comes to financially bailing out the ailing economy of Zimbabwe.
With those two policies it can be seen that the so-called new dispensation is not new from its administrators to policies it’s just a recycle of old wine in old bottles. Given that, it is strongly asserted that, there is no new dispensation in the new dispensation and also that coup governments do not sustain affairs of running a state as evinced in the discussion.
Chengetai Faith Gumbo is a social justice activist based in Harare