Work cut out for President Mnangagwa

It is congratulations to President Mnangagwa for winning Monday’s Presidential election in the first round, giving him his own mandate in a credible poll which also gave his party two-thirds majority in the National Assembly. That mandate opens up opportunities, as well as laying on his shoulders the burden of delivering on his vision.

Now that the emergency work of the past eight months and the election are over, the real hard work starts, work that will require a great deal of listening and persuading rather than just giving orders. The President will need to carry the country with him, meaning both people who agree with him and those who disagree with him, if he is to build on the foundations he has already dug to get Zimbabwe, its people and its economy moving forward faster.

That large parliamentary majority is going to require deft management. When he took over the leadership of Zanu-PF in November last year, President Mnangagwa quickly ended the factionalism that was destroying his party and diverting effort needed for national development into internal power struggles. But he also threw the primary elections for party candidates open to every party member to ensure that parliamentarians did have genuine local credibility. As a result he has a good majority, since voters were voting for “their guy”, not some placeman from Harare; but at the same time those sitting on the Government benches know that they owe their places as much to their home communities as to the Zanu-PF endorsement.

A quarter of the Senate, the senator chiefs and the two senators representing people with disabilities, do not belong to a party and need to be persuaded, individually, to support legislative changes. And again the largest bloc of senators, those elected on the Zanu-PF ticket, were nominated because they won an open primary.

A second practical problem facing the President is the electoral map, showing islands of red opposition-voting towns and cities in a sea of rural Zanu-PF green. This has been largely the case since 2003 and was often badly managed. Since every mayor is likely to be a MDC-Alliance member, just as every chairman of a rural district council, bar three or four, is likely to be a Zanu-PF member, one of the most crucial Cabinet appointments will be the Local Government minister. A natural diplomat with the ability to turn the office into a vital channel of communication between local and central government seems needed; and every mayor must find an open door at the President’s office. Working with mayors is possible; they too have to be practical, rather than be masters of opposition rhetoric, dealing with urban voters who want functioning cities and towns, and getting their share of new investment. A mutually beneficial working relationship is possible, but will require continual maintenance and trust and respect from both sides.

At the same time the President needs to maintain contact with the opposition leadership. This doesn’t mean they have to agree; after all they belong to different parties in a democracy. But disagreement need not be personal. Since the President spent his political life in Parliament from independence to his elevation to the Presidency, he knows just about every opposition leader personally and will no doubt wish to retain these contacts.

Of course, all this political management is there for just one reason: to accelerate economic growth, get all Zimbawbeans out of poverty, create decent jobs or opportunties to earn a decent living in self-employment and generally move Zimbabwe fast on the right path to prosperity. President Mnangagwa is aided by the fact that there is now general consensus on what needs to be done, but the Government has the job of inking in the details, so the management team, that group who head the economic ministries, needs first class men and women.

His large parliamentary majority, and the new blood from open primaries, gives the President a larger pool to choose from, and he has the right to bring in three technocrats from outside Parliament.

Finally, apart from heading a Government running the country, the President is also Head of State. President Mnangagwa won support from just over half the voters; but just under half voted for the other 22 candidates. But he has to be the Head of State for everyone when it comes to enunciating shared beliefs and goals, defending the Constitution and setting the standards for national debate. He has shown he can do this in his first eight months, reaching out to all people and communities who after all share a citizenship and a flag even when they vote for different candidates.

The next five years will be interesting, and will be crucial. His success will be our success.

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