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President Mnangagwa made his maiden address to the United Nations on Wednesday, marking his entry onto the global stage on the plinth of Zimbabwe’s Second Republic.
There is the easy temptation to compare his performance with that of his predecessor, Mr Robert Mugabe, a man who enchanted the world with addresses fraught with stinging anti-imperialist rhetoric.
It is at this stage that Mr Mugabe got his fame, not undeservingly, across the world as a champion of the poor and oppressed peoples of the South.
But President Mnangagwa was bound to be different. Already, his philosophy, temperament, style and approach to a myriad issues have thrown him far off the old block. He is his own man, and he has shown no real appetite to ape his predecessor, though a long time lieutenant he was to the elderly statesman and founding father.
And on the world stage, Emmerson Mnangagwa stood out.
In typical fashion, he stood out without being obtrusive or protuberant on a global arena where it was easy to play to the gallery and announce his presence.
An attempt at dissecting President Mnangagwa’s UN performance – for the purposes of this discourse – can be bifurcated into two. First, what was the key message or messages that the Zimbabwean President articulated and in what tone?
Second, how is President Mnangagwa shaping Zimbabwe after his own image?
A remarkable streak in President Mnangagwa has come out since he assumed office last November.
He is a man who carries the weight of changing Zimbabwe from the old to the new and his tack and task is to project a Zimbabwe that is in reform.
He is a reformist.
Domestically, he has carried out a number of changes that mark his Zimbabwe from the Zimbabwe of old.
The key issues relate to the opening of the democratic space, allowing the enjoying of freedoms and entrenching constitutionality.
The election of July 2018 was the biggest marker of political reform.
He said: “Following my deliberate and conscious decision to open up the democratic space and emphatic call for peace, unity and tolerance of divergent views amongst our people; political contestations, election campaigning, voting and counting processes were conducted freely, peacefully and transparently.
“In the spirit of transparency and openness, a broader spectrum of international observers and global media houses were accredited to observe our elections.
“The exceptionally peaceful pre-and post-electoral environment represented the maturing and entrenchment of democracy in Zimbabwe.”
Emphasising thus: “We shall continue to entrench constitutionalism, democratic traditions and norms, peace, unity and harmony; for it is indeed under such conditions that sustainable development, inclusive economic growth and prosperity can occur.”
This is his biggest seller in terms of domestic policies. The second rung of importance in that relates to how he will take care of the social and economic needs of the people by fighting hunger and want as well as protecting the historical legacy of the land issue.
Land reform is irreversible.
His other key message is anchored on projecting Zimbabwe as a willing member of the family of nations, ready to carry out its duties and obligations.
The Zimbabwe that President Mnangagwa wants is involved in productive and economic benefit, hence the mantra that “Zimbabwe is open for business”.
He sold that out on Wednesday night.
He said strategies were in place in various sectors to enable Zimbabwe to enter global value chains with the development and modernisation of roads, railways, airports, energy and ICT infrastructure is being accelerated in line with our regional and continental quest for enhanced connectivity and integrated infrastructure.
“Zimbabwe looks forward to playing a positive and constructive role as a free, democratic, transparent, prosperous and responsible member of the family of nations. We are committed to strengthening dialogue, cooperation and partnerships, underpinned by mutual respect, common values and shared principles,” he said.
At the United Nations, President Mnangagwa displayed mature appreciation of the structural realism which defines international relations. His submission made it clear that a confrontational approach to global dialogue – that characterised his predecessor – only breeds animosity and isolation.
Over the years, history has taught us that antagonistic postures in international fora only attract hostility to a nation.
In the same manner, aggressive postures of a nation or its head of state attract reciprocal arrogance of other like sovereigns. As such, President Mnangagwa has meticulously beamed the Second Republic’s warming up to pure diplomacy in the interest of international security and exchange of sustainable political buy-ins for Zimbabwe.
The humility of his declaration for our unequivocal upholding of sovereign values has ushered a renewed and acceptable turning point to realigning Zimbabwe’s respective interests into the broader agenda of global development.
Of note was President Mnangagwa’s prefacing statement on the need for global peace, security and stability as key ingredients for diplomatic engagement. This valorises his role as a globally foresighted statesman, who understands that the structure of international relations has a natural asymmetrical enabling influence for conflict and thus his emphatic call for cordial multilateralism as key in satisfying the interests of humanity. His address was a solicitation for a departure from the defined tensions that have characterised the divide of the first world and the third world.
President Mnangagwa’s understanding of the structural dynamic nature of the United Nations as an apex of nations’ interaction captures the wisdom of the need for Africa to be a strategic competitive actor in the global political-economy.
This comes against a background of the polemic constructs of Global-South attitudes towards the Global-North.
Therefore, President Mnangagwa’s speech offers a refreshing narrative about Africa’s role to modernise her trade acumen so that her contribution to the global value chain may be accounted for.
Indeed, the presentation captured the realism that has been long overshadowed by a normative proposition of Africa’s centuries of subjection to Western capitalism and political domination.
Clearly, President Mnangagwa’s tone and posture was that of re-engagement and the posterity of global peace which resides in finding points of common interest.
In his presentation, citing Zimbabwe as a point of departure, President Mnangagwa has made it clear that Africa must open for investment and in the process navigate policy innovations that eradicate poverty, enhance the gross domestic incomes and eliminate the potential of growing class struggles as a result of uneven distribution of the “wealth of nations”.
President Mnangagwa’s bold emphatic position on the irreversible position of the land reform demystified the generously misconstrued view that Zimbabwe’s openness for business will lead the country to a neo-liberal capture.
President Mnangagwa has made it clear that we are the captains of our ship and that our diversion in the course of our freedom can only be on the merits of satisfying principles of mutual beneficiation.
This position clearly indicates the direction that Zimbabwe is taking in promoting re-engagement; at the same time firmly upholding permanent national interests.
President Mnangagwa’s understanding of structural realism has just assured that Zimbabwe got into the family of nations, noiselessly. Finally.
We are no longer pariah from here.
His use of language and diction of a globalised world and speaking to its values underpin his commitment to the reform agenda.
Interestingly, it is also an approach that is likely to disarm his rivals in the opposition at home – literally taking words out of their pretentious mouths that have been accustomed to the same.
In all of this, President Mnangagwa is lacking in hubris.
The reform agenda that he is pushing both domestically and internationally will likely yield a Zimbabwe that has strong institutions, a strong economy – and he is thinking of making Zimbabwe a middle-income country by 2030 – and an outstanding global player.
Much like a reformed China emerging from the 1970s, to use that much abused analogy.
Emmerson Mnangagwa is not an ideologue; he is almost self-effacing.
This implies that much of his work will be credited to a bigger story of a beautiful country that transitioned history.
It is scant doubt that, given the new era, there will be no songs sung for his heroism, just as at this United Nations General Assembly, he was no candidate for the most outstanding, revolutionary or iconoclastic speeches.
His is just on a simple mission of birthing a new and different Zimbabwe.