OPINIONBy Lovemore Ranga Mataire
President Mnangagwa’s interview with Alec Russell of the London-based Financial Times was illuminating in many ways. For a start, the President seemed to have been in a relaxed mood, which unlocked some stringency typical of conversations with persons of his stature.
The relaxed environment inspired or rather spurred the interviewer to ask almost all the pertinent questions that any potential investor would be keen to get an answer to from the President. Virtually all pertinent areas were covered: the President’s relationship with his predecessor, the economy and what needs to be done to revive it, impending elections and re-engagement initiatives.
And somewhere at the tail-end of the interview, the emotive Matabeleland disturbances of the early 1980s popped up. The President appropriately apprised Russell and Financial Times readers that he had already signed into law the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission Act.
The Act is in line with Chapter 12 (6) of the Constitution and seeks, among other things, to ensure post-conflict justice, healing and reconciliation, developing and implementing programmes to promote national healing, unity and cohesion. Despite asking all the relevant questions, it was apparent halfway through the interview that Russell lacked intricate knowledge of Zimbabwe politics, the nuances, particularly on bread and butter issues.
The lack of follow-up questions was glaringly visible and it appeared as though the interviewer was running through a series of questions. At that point, it ceased be a conversation, but a mere question-and-answer session. Price hikes, cash crisis, health delivery system and corruption were scantly tackled. The interviewer’s lack of depth in understanding pertinent local dynamics might have been attributed to the targeted audience or rather the coaching or miscoaching from the “effervescent” Petina Gappah.
It is not clear at the end of the interview whether Russell felt satisfied with what he had done or felt that he could have done better. If the idea was to narrow the interview to the expectations of the Financial Times readers, then he probably did a splendid job, but to the general observer, there were so many loose ends. At its birth, the Financial Times was touted as “the honest financier, the bona fide investor, the respectable broker, the genuine director and the legitimate speculator”.
A simple Google search shows that the paper has an average daily readership of 2,2 million people worldwide and 4,5 million registered users and over 285 000 digital subscribers as well as 600 000 paying users. It’s quite a rich newspapers in all respects. The key take-way from the interview was that despite being a Mugabe protégé, Mnangagwa was keen to project himself as his own man and is prepared to take a different route from that of his predecessor. As usual, there was no ambiguity or any bombastic response – he was straight to the point.
The President’s eyes are definitely focused on the ball. He is conscious of the weight of expectations from Zimbabweans, who view him as a saviour thrust upon Zimbabwe to change their fortunes. As highlighted in the interview, the President is aware that the first step is to create confidence in the new dispensation – locally, regionally and internationally.
He is keen to show that the new dispensation wants to conduct its business to internationally accepted standards of governance. And to show his sincerity, he repeated what he has always said since day one – Zimbabwe is open to election observers from any part of the globe as long as they also stick to the terms of reference of their task and not to pre-empt the whole process.
Although not a member of the Commonwealth Club, the President is not averse to members of the club coming to observe the 2018 harmonised elections. That’s a remarkable statement from someone who is keen on re-imaging a country, which for almost two decades has had the ignominy of being hamstrung by economic sanctions imposed by the European Union and the United States.
Debt relief is another issue that’s on the President’s priority list. The breakdown of the Lima Plan must be an issue of great concern to the President, who is all aware of how debt can be an albatross around the neck of the country’s economy. While Russell lacked the local “rapport” needed in understanding the man – ED, the political dynamics – no detailed question on the G40 cabal, no mention of regional engagements initiatives, no specific mention of whether alleged economic saboteurs, who externalised funds had met the deadline to repatriate the money, Diaspora engagement – he nevertheless asked about China and its relations with Zimbabwe.
The President aptly said that China was Zimbabwe’s all-weather friend, but was quick to say that the “Look East Policy” was a survival policy. What this implies is that there is now room to explore other avenues and the Look East Policy is no longer the overriding foreign policy consideration.
As President Mnangagwa leads a high-powered delegation comprising Cabinet ministers, top Government officials and private sector representatives to Davos, Switzerland, for the 48 World Economic Forum meeting, the world already knows what kind of man the Zimbabwean leader is. His message has from day one been consistent. He simply wants Zimbabwe to be back on track economically and re-establish the country as an equal member of the community of nations.
The Davos summit is an important event, particularly for the new dispensation. But it goes without saying that the three-day event won’t be a panacea to the gargantuan work that needs to be done to revive the country’s economy. Everything does not start and end with Davos. There is need to sustain the current goodwill and the messaging should be multi-pronged, but always domestically grounded.
Charity begins at home. First local, regional and international. There is need to frame the messaging within a clear ideological philosophy. If President Mnangagwa is not a “Deng” then it was opportune for Russell to have asked him his economic philosophy. There is no doubt that like Deng, he is a pragmatist. But it’s interesting that he refuses to be put in a box or given a label.
Deng Xiaoping was a Chinese revolutionary and politician who took over after the death of Chairman Mao Zedong from 1978 until his retirement in 1989. Deng led his country through far-reaching market-economy reforms. A lot of sensible things are lost in the hyperbolic frenzy of social media, which is perennially in the habit of peddling opinions as facts. That given, I have absolute confidence that ours is a discerning President, capable of fishing out well-meaning counsel from sycophancy.