Salvaging Battered Image

Significant events happened this week in the political economy of our teapot shaped country. They were not random events. They wound around a common thread — a spirited attempt by government to salvage its image that took a massive battering in the past month.

International goodwill experienced an accelerated depreciation as regional, continental and international disapproval over the flagrant violation of basic freedoms and extra-legal means to deal with growing dissension. When the African National Congress, a long-time political ally of Zimbabwe’s ruling Zanu PF party with impeccable liberation credentials, expressed its displeasure in measured tones, it carried a lot of political weight.

The network of influence spreading from South Africa could potentially sway other liberation movements in the Sadc region. That would be a gamechanger. Beyond the region, South Africa’s influence potentially shape the African Union’s response to Zimbabwe’s political and socio-economic environment that was deteriorating rapidly, threatening to destabilise the region’s own precarious socio-economic challenges spawned by the coronavirus pandemic.

This was the sub-text of the messaging from the ANC — an argument that would in all likelihood find support in the region and beyond.

Government, on the whole, undiplomatically responded to concerns registered by local, regional and international political formations, ecclesiastical groupings and members of the fourth estate. The pendulum had swung too far than before.

The central pieces of the administration’s international relations strategy was crumbling before its eyes at an alarming pace. All of a sudden, its international re-engagement strategy was mutating into a disengagement plan, turning its key messaging of “Zimbabwe is open for business” mantra hollow and farcical. August became a month when Vision 2030 started becoming Vision 1830.

The debt relief strategy that had been derailed by failing to meet voluntary targets set in the International Monetary Fund’s Staff-Monitored Programme was now on the verge of total collapse, as preconditions for debt relief would be made redundant by political and socio-economic drivers scaling back political and economic reforms. That would be a justification for the continuation of restive measures under the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act (Zidera).

International political and economic Siberia is looming on the horizon.

Initiatives to mobilise foreign currency, such as the Victoria Falls Stock Exchange were all but dead and buried.

A shape-shifting remedial response was desperately needed to undo the diplomatic damage done in August. To the international community, the appeasement became the decision to return farms seized by government that were protected by Bilateral Investment Treaties.

That would be big international news addressing the issue of property rights, a key issue in normalising relations with international political and financial institutions (Bretton Woods and the Paris Club) that hold the key to unlocking financial flows to Zimbabwe.

Returning seized land was a subtle message to Washington that a key issue in the Zidera was being decisively addressed. Not only Washington; South Africa too was targeted.

By pointing to the fact that Zimbabwe was following the Constitution, the intended subliminal messaging is the administration was demonstrating constitutionalism.

One swallow does not make a summer — we cannot talk of constitutionalism when political self-interest manifests as cherry-picking parts of the Constitution that advance political self-preservation and flagrantly violate or ignore other parts of the constitution for political survival.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa is sending a deputation to Zimbabwe. Government desperately wants to vacuum-clean itself before his emissaries – the storylines will be built around constitutionalism, property rights (white farmers’ compensation and return of Bilateral Investment Treaties (BIT) farms), release of political activists, stabilising forex rates, among others.

Convincing Ramaphosa will turn him into a marketer of a story to liberation movements, the region and the continent and to key international formations of a Zimbabwe on the path of recovery, deserving to have sanctions lifted and reintegrated into the international community.

The hope is that August events will fade from the optics of the international community courtesy of their self-interest piqued by the promise of returning seized BIT-protected land.

Realpolitik is alive.

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