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Three years on...Mnangagwa's crisis of expectations

Three years ago, euphoria gripped a nation that was epitomised by cronyism, corruption mis-governance and repression when President Emmerson Mnangagwa took over from long-time leader Robert Mugabe after a military-assisted intervention that was code-named Operation Restore Legacy. Zimbabwe had known one leader since Independence in 1980 and this gave many who took to the street the more reason to celebrate Mugabe’s fall. Mugabe’s ouster was a culmination of dramatic events on the political front which were triggered by internal dynamics within the ruling party ZANU PF. Mugabe who died aged 95, two years after being booted out had himself to blame for failing to address an inevitable question on succession. Before his death, he said Mnangagwa was inept and so were other ZANU PF apparatchiks. This paper seeks to take stock of the executive pronouncements that were made ostensibly to build a better developmental state and what is obtaining now. At the time of the coup, battle lines were drawn within the governing party after Mugabe fired his long time prodigy Mnangagwa. His dramatic escape and threats by a faction coalesced around former First Lady Grace Mugabe among other simmering tensions led to the coup. Post Mnangagwa's sacking Mugabe reshuffled his Cabinet and on his first meeting after the reconfiguring of his executive team army tanks were rolled on to the streets. The few of Mnangagwa's sympathisers snubbed the high-level meeting signalling their allegiance. Sibusiso Moyo, then a high ranking military official became the face of the coup when he announced that “the situation in the country had moved to another level” and the army wanted to restore liberation war ethos—driving out corruption and building a prosperous post-colonial state. The wheels have been moving slowly in Mnangagwa’s anti-graft drive amid revelations that corruption was one of the drawbacks to economic growth. While the dragnet netted Environment, Tourism and Hospitality Industry minister Prisca Mupfumira and former State residences director Douglas Tapfuma, critics say the big fish remain unscathed. Zimbabwe fight to end corruption remains a fallacy now despite promises made in 2017. Against a backdrop of international isolation, frosty relations with the West and drying up of credit lines, Mugabe’s successor promised a raft of reforms to attract foreign capital. After his ascendancy, Mnangagwa promised to adopt neo-liberal policies to grow the economy. Issues relating to property rights, re-engagement, compensation of white former commercial farmers topped his agenda. Zimbabwe defaulted on its payment of arrears owed to international financial institutions such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the African Development Bank in 1999 and new allies had to come to its rescue at the turn of the century. In pursuit of a socialist agenda, Mugabe attempted to change that narrative of relying solely on Western capitals to advance his development agenda. Mindful of the growing international isolation, re-emergence of the bi-polar international political system, and the breakneck pace of globalisation, he looked east. After all, relations had soured after he embarked on the fast-track land reform that had been in abeyance during the first 10 years of majority rule. He took radical steps during the land exercise and immediately he transformed from being a knight to a hermit. Most Western capitals declared him a persona non grata and despot. His admirers who disdained what they termed contemporary imperialism extolled him as a modern-day Kwame Nkrumah. In 2003, the long-time leader pulled out of the Commonwealth amid ratcheting pressure to do so from Western powers and today Zimbabwe wants readmission.

Following Mugabe’s dramatic resignation and failure by multitudes of locals to emigrate to the United Kingdom to seek better economic prospects, the ‘Zimbabwe is open for business’ mantra gained some currency. On the face value of it, Mnangagwa wanted to reach out to Zimbabwe’s erstwhile foes. International relations 101 teaches you that the foreign policy-making process is like a game of chess – one can only be declared the winner when the game is over. Encouraged by the international goodwill, Mnangagwa, during his early days as head of state played down the impact of sanctions imposed by the United States on Zimbabwe. Now that is no longer the case, he now sings from Mugabe’s hymn book after seeing the writing on the war—Washington is not ready to have dinner with him unless he embarks on political and economic reforms he promised. The arrest of journalists, leaders of civic society organisations and opposition party officials has presented challenges on his reform agenda. Despite promising to break with the past, Mnangagwa is now seen by many critics as perpetuating the doctrine of Mugabeism which was coined by renowned academic Sabelo Ndlovu-Gatsheni. Foreign policy is complex and the international affairs of a state can be classified under the status quo, imperialism and ambiguous. Zimbabwe appears to have adopted a deliberate policy of ambiguity. Last year in October, Mnangagwa was seen cosying up to the Israeli Foreign Affairs Minister Israel Katz on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly meetings. Something which would have not happened under Mugabe's rule? Traditionally, Zimbabwe under Mnangagwa’s predecessor lobbied for the independence of a Palestine state as part of Zimbabwe’s Foreign Policy on the Middle East region, but Mnangagwa chose a different path and many are watching. Visiting Chinese Foreign minister Wang Yi this week made a cryptic message that left many asking whether or not Beijing was shifting its foreign policy on Harare and why. Zimbabwe-Japan relations are deepening and the question is “where does this put China?” Before leaving for the Tokyo International Cooperation on Africa Development (TICAD) in August this year, Mnangagwa expressed his gratitude to Shinso Abe’s government for helping Zimbabwe to construct a 6.5 km road stretch along the slippery Harare- Chirundu highway. The story of President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s rise to power has been a subject of study for political science and international relations students across the continent.

It’s the election aftermath, which placed Zimbabwe back on the spotlight, for the wrong reasons. A dark cloud hung over the country when security forces opened fire killing seven people in the capital city after protesters expressed anger over the delay by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) to release the results, two days after polls. Mnangagwa controversially "won" 50.8 per cent of the vote while his closest rival Nelson Chamisa of the MDC-Alliance garnered 44.3 per cent of the polls. The election victory was upheld by the Constitutional Court after the MDC Alliance accused the ruling party of manipulating the results. Now three years on, Mnangagwa faces a crisis of expectations as he battles to stimulate economic growth. The outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic forced authorities in Zimbabwe to bring back the United States dollar through the backdoor. The local currency was fast losing value barely a year after being reintroduced it appeared that there was no hope in sight. Now the Finance minister Mthuli Ncube can smile for now as prices appear to have stabilised due to a plethora of factors such the reintroduction of the greenback and capping daily limits on mobile money platforms to tame parallel market foreign exchange trading.

In 2009, Zimbabwe ditched its local currency for a basket of multiple currencies, mainly dominated by the United States dollar, to tame runaway inflation which had reached 231 million per cent in 2008, becoming one of the highest in the world. It never rains but pours for Zimbabwe, many will say. Only time will tell. Scenarios

The post-coup period has also exposed new fissures within the governing party as it restructures. The election of members of District Coordinating and the provincial leaderships has been marred by infighting, violence and vote-rigging allegations. Unsubstantiated reports claim that war veterans, who have been the backbone of the party, have been backing fronting Vice President Constantino Chiwenga’s allies while newcomers and party members from the Midlands and Masvingo provinces have been rallying behind Mnangagwa’s associates.

However, the vice president chances of succeeding might just but be a pipe dream and his political fortunes are becoming slim if Mnangagwa’s attempt to push for a Constitutional Amendment sails through, as the president will have the powers to appoint a running mate of his choice who may not necessarily be his deputy at party level.

Consequently, while the ruling party is faced by its own challenges the main opposition, MDC alliance seems clueless, with a lack of a clear direction which may affect the party in the next elections. After losing grip in Parliament as well as some local authorities, Chamisa has to go back to the basics and strategies otherwise the MDC Alliance’s chances will further dwindle in the 2023 elections.

As Mnangagwa consolidates power, Zimbabwe’s constitutional democracy weakens. Millions that voted for 2013 Constitution which among other reforms, limited the powers of the executive presidency will be disenfranchised as political gladiators sacrifice democracy on the altar of expedience.

A level mediation process led by respected former heads of state like Joachim Chissano, Jakaya Kikwete or any other renowned negotiator could break the political jinx in Zimbabwe that has taken the southern African nation backwards.

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