By Prince Kurupati
At one point, ‘Zimbabwe’ and ‘Mugabe’ became synonymous. Whenever one name was said, the other quickly came to mind. This really was not surprising considering that Mugabe had become the face of Zimbabwe as he had been involved in the country’s politics for far too long starting off as the leader of the opposition during the last days of the colonial era and later on Prime Minister of the newly independent Zimbabwe before becoming the executive President in 1987, a position he held till the time he was forced out of office in November 2017.
The exit of Mugabe from the political scene in November 2017 saw the entrance of another man in the mould of Emmerson Mnangagwa taking the supreme position of the President of Zimbabwe. Since the time Emmerson Mnangagwa was chosen to lead Zimbabwe after the fall of Mugabe, he has gone on to win an election which will see him lead the southern African country for a 5-year term which will end in 2023.
The Zimbabwean Constitution allows a maximum of two terms for anyone aspiring to be a president. This essentially meaning Mnangagwa can be the Zimbabwean president till 2028 if he happens to win the 2023 presidential race. While there is a new face in the presidium in Zimbabwe, a face which may be around till 2028, nothing has really changed in the country both on the political and economic front. Despite there being a new man in charge of the country’s affairs, Zimbabwe still finds itself in deep socio-economic turmoil and political crisis.
Zimbabwe became the first nation in the world to record inflation figures running into millions in 2008. This on its own proves just how dire the economic situation was during that time. A year later, then leader Robert Mugabe was forced to enter into a Government of National Unity with two leading opposition candidates (Morgan Tsvangirai and Arthur Mutambara) to save the country from falling further into the hopelessness abyss. At the advent of the unity government, Zimbabwe adopted a multi-currency system. The system immediately brought some sanity on the economic front but didn’t help much in overturning the country’s economic fortunes. That situation prevailed till Mugabe was ousted from office and Mnangagwa inherited a country that was economically struggling.
The confidence that engulfed the nation as well as the international community soon after the disposal of Mugabe briefly brought some economic joy to the country. However, that was all too short-lived as many in a matter of months began to realize that Mnangagwa just like his predecessor was following the same disastrous economic pathway. The lack of confidence in Mnangagwa’s economic trajectory soon showed on the country’s local bourse, the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange as stocks began to drastically drop. In an effort to save the situation, the Mnangagwa administration began to target some traders accusing them of sabotaging the economy and this did not help matters as it alienated the government and the private sector.
On the black market, which since Zimbabwe’s hyperinflationary days (late 200s) had started operating parallel to the formal economy, the lack of confidence in Mnangagwa’ economic trajectory showed as the country’s local currency (at the time known as the Bond Note) rapidly began to lose value against the greenback. The Bond Note’s rapid loss of value made the salaries of workers worthless. The government itself felt the effects of the Bond Notes’ loss of value leading several government departments to increase the prices of their services and products. Surprising, the government did not see it fit nor prudent to adjust the salaries upwards to commensurate with the rising prices of commodities. This paved the way for many social problems as protests, demonstrations, and stay always became the order of the day.
After realizing that the country was heading towards a disastrous outcome, Mnangagwa decided to solve the problem by reverting back to the decision taken at the advent of the government of national unity that is, adopt a multi-currency system. The hope here being that people could freely use whatever currency they so wish to conduct any transaction they so wish. While this problem certainly eased the liquidity problem as well as allowing citizens to conduct their business more freely without checking their shoulders for law enforcement officers, it created another problem. Commercial outlets started to favour transacting in foreign currency over the local currency citing high volatility on the part of the local currency. Customers thus were now expected to use foreign currency – herein however lays the challenge, the government and other private sector workers were still paying their workers in the local currency. To get the foreign currency required to purchase goods and commodities in commercial outlets, they had to exchange the local currency for the foreign currency on the black market which was charging exorbitant rates. In trying to solve one challenge, Mnangagwa therefore created another.
Some challenges that Mnangagwa is currently facing most notably social problems talk of extreme government criticism and demonstrations have been ushered in by the lackadaisical approach that Mnangagwa has been taking in addressing graft cases. When Mnangagwa assumed office, he stated that there were some ‘criminal elements’ surrounding then President Robert Mugabe. He thus promised to flush out these criminal elements so as to allow the country to function more efficiently and effectively. With many people pinning their hopes on Mnangagwa to arrest some top government officials who for so long had been accused of corruption, the so-called ‘criminal elements’ were only arrested, detained and after a few days in remand prison released on bail. Their court cases would drag on and on and some are still going to this day. No convictions on any top government officials have been effected. This has frustrated many who now claim that Mnangagwa’s declaration to arrest all those implicated in corruption cases is just a façade and the few arrests made (albeit with no convictions) is just a ploy to hoodwink the masses.
Without looking at the criminal elements who were supposed to be flushed out soon after the ousting of Mugabe, several graft cases have been exposed by investigative journalists in the country. One such case is the CovidGate scandal which implicates members of the First Family, then Minister of Health, and officials from the Ministry of Finance. Reports by investigative journalists exposed that the government had purchased COVID-19 personal protective equipment at highly inflated prices. Face masks which were readily available in the country and in neighbouring South Africa for around US$3 were purchased at a whooping $17! Several other PPEs were also purchased at overly inflated prices from a company which had just been registered whose proprietor had close links to the First Family. The report stated that over a million dollars had been systematically stolen by purchasing the equipment at overly inflated prices. Soon after the release of the reports, the public started to make calls to the President and the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (ZACC) to look into the reported corrupt deal. Both the President and ZACC took time to deal with the issue. Only after several weeks did the President fire the Minister of Health on abuse of office charges. From the whole ‘stinking’ deal, that was the only real consequence faced by anyone of the officials implicated as no arrests were made. The handling of the CovidGate Scandal not surprising angered many hence the reason many people believe that the First Family links to the proprietor of the company that supplied the PPE at inflated prices is real. Not to help matters is the arrests of investigative journalists on flimsy charges as is the case with Hopewell Chin’ono as this paints the presidency in a bad way as from a distance it looks like the arrest is a way of silencing journalists while at the same time instilling fear in others that if they dare to expose corruption linking the First Family and top government officials, they too will find themselves in jail. To gain public confidence, it’s imperative for the President to ensure that such issues of grand corruption are dealt with ruthlessly without fear, favour or bias.
President Mnangagwa is facing a political crisis both at home and abroad. It’s no doubt that Mnangagwa ascension to power in 2017 heralded a win for one ZANU (PF) faction over the other. Mnangagwa was regarded as the kingpin of the Lacoste faction which was fighting against the G40 faction led by the wife of Robert Mugabe, Grace Mugabe and younger ZANU (PF) officials Jonathan Moyo, Patrick Zhuwawo and Saviour Kasukuwere. From the onset, this meant that Mnangagwa had to outsmart the opponent at all times during his tenure if he is to finish it. At this point, he indeed is doing just that but day by day, the divisions that exist in the party continue to emerge. Several top government officials who are also ZANU (PF) members have lost their government positions and others even suspended or fired from the party. From within his party, Mnangagwa therefore faces a stern task of retaining power at all costs otherwise his dreams of running for a second term come 2023 may not come to fruition.
On the national front, the country’s political situation has been deteriorating day by day as the political space is slowly being closed. Soon after the 2018 presidential race, there were protests in country largely in the capital Harare where opposition supporters clashed with security forces. Estimates say that at least 7 people lost their lives during the protests as the security forces opened fire on unarmed civilians. To clear his name, Mnangagwa set up a commission of inquiry led by former South African president Hlalema Mothlathe. The commission of inquiry at the end found out that security forces did have a case to answer and those responsible were supposed to be exposed and tried for their offenses. However, to this day, no officer has been tried or even named for being responsible for the August 1 atrocities.
Political space has also been shrinking day by day as government critics from journalists, members of the civil society, opposition leaders, student leaders and outspoken clerics have all been arrested on flimsy charges including that of undermining the authority of the president. Even more worrisome is that the Mnangagwa administration has used COVID-19 national lockdown to implement measures which hinder political expression. Under the current COVID-19 national lockdown regulations, all elections are banned. However, this is despite that almost every other public sphere has been opened.
On the international front, President Mnangagwa has found his reengagement drive under threat. When Mnangagwa assumed office, he promised that he would ditch Mugabe’s isolation policy. Mnangagwa promised that the only way forward for the country is if it works in partnership with other global countries and as such, he would be launching Zimbabwe’s reengagement drive to the West. At first, things looked like they were going in the right direction as envoys from the UK and other countries visited Zimbabwe. Mnangagwa himself had quite a cordial relation with then UK Ambassador to Zimbabwe Catriona Laing. However, as months passed and many began to realize that things were just the same as before with the Mugabe era, the goodwill that Mnangagwa had enjoyed with the international community dissipated . The coming in of the corona virus pandemic did not help matters as it meant that Zimbabwe’s reengagement jaunts to the West abruptly stopped. In America, the coming in of the Biden administration presents another chance for the Mnangagwa administration to charm America to resume ties with Zimbabwe. This however won’t be an easy feat at all as it is the Democratic administration of the early 2000s which included Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton that penned the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act (ZDERA), a policy document that effectively ushered targeted sanctions towards top government officials, business people and businesses aligned to ZANU (PF). Mnangagwa and his ZANU (PF) party will therefore need to convince the people who applied sanctions on them that they have reformed and there is need for the sanctions to be removed – something which basing on the current situation on the ground is difficult to sell.