Crackdown on Corruption or a Publicity Stunt: The Arrest of former Energy Minister in Zimbabwe

By Prince Kurupati

They say the election season is a crazy season. As Zimbabwe draws closer to its first post Mugabe election, this has indeed been the case. From all political fronts both the ruling party and opposition party, the Zimbabwean electorate has had to listen to some outrageous election promises. However, the main talking point right now pertains to the arrest of former Energy and Power Development minister Samuel Undenge.

Samuel Undenge was sentenced to five years in prison with one-and-a-half years suspended on condition he does not commit a similar crime having been found guilty of abuse of office. The state’s case argued that Undenge prejudiced the Zimbabwe Power Company (ZPC) of $12 650 through authorising ZPC to engage a public relations firm without following due process. The public relations firm in question is Fruitful Communications, a firm reportedly owned by Oscar Pambuka a television personality and Psychology Maziwisa, the former Member of Parliament for Highfields West.

While any corruption prosecution is a welcome development, the arrest of Samuel Undenge has divided opinion among Zimbabweans largely due to its timing as it comes just a week before the harmonised elections. On one hand, there are those who argue that the current government is indeed staying true to its vow on cracking down on corruption. On the other hand, there are those who believe that the arrest of Undenge, one week before the elections is just a publicity stunt meant to blind the nation into thinking that the incumbent Emmerson Mnangagwa is doing what he promised on his inauguration i.e. fighting corruption.

It’s possible that the arrest of Undenge is all about fighting corruption. While the majority of Zimbabweans have not perused court documents nor have they seen the investigations into the matter, there is a general consensus that Undenge during his time did abuse his power. The most cited example for backing Undenge’s abuse of office charges pertains to the Wicknell Chivayo-ZESA Deal. Its reported that Chivayo received US $5 million several years back to implement a solar project but to date he has only managed to erect two shacks. While others argue that the incompetence of Chivayo to honour his side of the pledge is all down to him, part of the blame should also be labelled towards Undenge as he was supposed to ensure that Chivayo honours his pledge or if not, he institutes legal proceedings against Chivayo for failing to honour his contract. In all, Undenge’s tenure as the energy minister leaves a lot to be desired and his arrest is the right call if it was not influenced by political reasons.

There is another side however which argues that Undenge is just a sacrificial lamb and his arrest has nothing to do with the fight against corruption but it’s all a ploy to hoodwink the public into thinking that the incumbent Emmerson Mnangagwa is staying true to his declaration that he is going to fight corruption in the country.

When Mnangagwa took office, several names of top government officials were touted as the ‘criminals’ around the former president who were benefiting from being close to the president. With Mnangagwa stating that his administration is a new dispensation meant at ushering a new way of running government, most people thought that these top ranking officials (criminals) would soon lose their government positions and at the same time be brought before the courts to answer allegations of corruption and abuse of office. That was never the case however; surprisingly, some of the so-called criminals even found their way back into the government occupying top positions including ministerial positions.

It is against this background that the arrest of Undenge a week before the harmonised elections is seen as a mere publicity stunt rather than a crackdown on corruption.

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