By Pedzisai Ruhanya and Bekezela Gumbo
In an effort to rebrand and remake himself, President Emmerson Mnangagwa has made glaring misrepresentations on the nature of the political transition, commitment to free and fair elections, ability and sincerity to reform the economy, commitment to tackling corruption, sincerity to introducing democratic change and respect for human rights and the rule of law in Zimbabwe.
From the onset, it should be stated that military coups rarely deliver democracy. Democrats and reformers do not engineer military takeovers as witnessed in November 2017. Mnangagwa’s role in subverting democracy in the past 37 years is well documented; starting as security minister in 1980, supporting the one-party state internal politics of Zanu PF, his role in the 1980s Gukurahundi atrocities as a key right-hand man of former president Robert Mugabe and the crushing of opposition victory in the 2008 elections through deployment of soldiers to subvert Morgan Tsvangirai’s victory. This is not the history associated with reformers.
A close assessment of the five policy commitment areas articulated by Mnangagwa provides enough evidence that the policy pronouncements are nothing but misleading political gimmicks concocted to deceive the nation and the world to assist him and his military allies to entrench their authoritarian hegemony on state power without empirical commitment to the democratisation of the political economy after 37 years of corruption and decomposition of which he was a chief architect since independence from Britain in 1980. Any attempts by President Mnangagwa to dissociate himself and his not-so-new regime from the maladies committed by Zanu PF in the past 37 years will be disingenuous. For starters, Mugabe, despite all his publicly acknowledged mistakes, was not running a solo political system but a collective militarised, patronage, clientellistic and parasitic political system that benefited Mnangagwa and the current Zanu PF leadership.
Mnagagwa has not created any new political system to justify his public oratory about a new dispensation and new Zimbabwe. More so, Mnangagwa is not new to Zimbabwe’s political architecture and the decay associated with it.
The undeniable factual truth is that Zanu PF’s militarised patronage network that has been running the country since 1980 has been intensified, emboldened and fortified by covertly, overtly and systematically placing the security apparatus at the centre of governing the state. Actually, Mnangagwa has gone two steps further than former president Robert Mugabe in conniving with securocrats to capture key civilian institutions responsible for giving citizens opportunities to freely participate in democratic processes.
For instance, Zanu PF has been a dominant political party in Zimbabwe responsible for providing makers of policies that destroyed the economy and political freedoms in Zimbabwe that he talks about and he has been at the helm of leading those failed policymakers for the people for 37 years. Instead of bringing sanity and real freedom of choice to Zanu PF supporters, Mnangagwa went on to finish such a dream by providing himself and the party for capture by securocrats. Today key decisions are made by military personnel retired purposefully to grab political posts from civilians.
For the first time in history, Zimbabwe has witnessed the retiring of four generals who led the November 2017 coup d’état to occupy most important policymaking positions in the country such as the foreign affairs and agriculture portfolios, Zanu-PF commissariat and the Vice-President post. If this level of militarisation has been done at the helm of decision-making, open to public scrutiny, and before being elected, what more in those institutions, commissions, and agencies that are not usually in the public eye after 2018?
Failure is the best teacher. The president has been part of 37 years of failed economic policies that have seen a once vibrant economy face hyperinflation, decay of infrastructure, erosion and ultimate decay of public institutions where hospitals run without drugs and personnel are always on strike, cholera outbreaks, where the education system has been destroyed with highly connected government officials getting degrees at universities through corrupt practice. With respect, very few changes have happened since the November 2017 military coup to justify the reform mantra.
It is a matter of public record that the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) is captured and infiltrated by security agents mainly the military. Their purpose is to subvert the sovereign will of citizens to elect their leaders freely. This is a key area of political contestation that Mnangagwa has deliberately not addressed substantively because it is key to the security apparatus’ ability to manipulate elections for him. What new era is the president talking about with this electoral chicanery? It is clear the president is bent on administering elections without democracy and his menu of election manipulation including marshaling of traditional leaders to force their citizens to vote for Zanu PF under military surveillance has been put in motion. Surely that cannot be deemed a new order different from Mugabe’s when elections are used as rituals for self-legitimation of an entrenched authoritarian system.
Mnangagwa has done nothing to reform ZBC partiality, the electoral law and despotic legislation like Aippa, Posa, Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act and the Interception of Communications Act which cannot exist and leave the electoral environment fair to opposition parties. Zimbabweans in the diaspora are not given the right to vote, yet this cannot take 300 days to implement. The Constitutional Court and the legislature have even gotten more unreliable to citizens when it comes to defending them against military authoritarianism.
Since the violation of the constitution by the army in November 2017, none of these institutions have lifted a finger against the military government of Mnangagwa. We saw the behaviour of a senior minister in Mnangagwa’s government, Obert Mpofu, when he appeared before a parliamentary committee in connection with the probe into the missing US$15 billion diamond money.
Why will there be surety that these institutions will defend the people’s vote and their right to a fair electoral environment let alone defending foreign investors against arbitrary military action? There simply has not been any commitment to the rule of law and its availability in the future remains with a wide margin of uncertainty. The fact of the matter is that Mnangagwa is not serious about tackling corruption when his cabinet is allegedly filled with the who-is-who in Zimbabwe’s corruption and decomposition of the political system.
Commitment to transparency in dealing with corruption has not gone beyond targeting political opponents of Mnangagwa’s government in the G40 faction. Apart from that, the government has not been transparent in all its anti-corruption crusade. A genuine complaint was made that close to US$15 billion disappeared in the diamond sector under Mpofu’s former ministry, yet nothing tangible has been done to find answers to this fundamental concern of national interest. The President and key military generals are named in a UN report on looting diamonds in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) during the civil war when Zimbabwe sent its troops. These are issues he should address to demonstrate his commitment to address corruption.
The president has made numerous allegations about resolving economic challenges in Zimbabwe but there has been neither tangible nor felt evidence other than promises of mysterious foreign investment of the fashion he used to deputise Mugabe to make. A very simple negative litmus test of this is that queues in banks across the country have intensified, price hikes, informalisation of the economy, money laundering among others that would have been contained by now. These are not good indicators of genuine openness for business. Openness for business should be both in talk and deed. The livelihood questions of ordinary people are worsening under the so-called new era of public lies packaged as reforms.
The new era should espouse a new governance culture premised on the rule of law and constitutionalism. It must address the fundamental areas of political and economic contestation premised on reforming Zimbabwe’s governance architecture and its institutions and political culture and not through lipstick reforms, Mr President.
Dr Ruhanya is a post-doctoral research fellow with the University of Johannesburg and Gumbo is the principal researcher of the Zimbabwe Democracy Institute.