Tag Archives: Emmerson Mnangagwa

‘As soft as wool’? Reform and Repression in Zimbabwe

When he came to power in November 2017, Emmerson Mnangagwa rode a wave of local and global goodwill. But by March 2019, the USA had renewed sanctions against Zimbabwe that have been in place for nearly 20 years. In February, the UK held parliamentary discussions on Zimbabwe and the Africa Minister, Harriet Baldwin, made it clear that a full normalisation of relations with Zimbabwe was no longer on the table.

So how exactly did we get here?

Mnangagwa the ‘Reformer’

“I’m as soft as wool,” President Emmerson Mnangagwa stated in an interview with Sky News in August 2018, in response to a question from a journalist regarding his fearsome nickname – the ‘crocodile.’ Mnangagwa had worked hard in the 18 months since the ‘coup’ that had put him in state house, cleaning up his image and promising to be a president for all Zimbabweans, vowing to set the country on a new path. President Mnangagwa came to power promising extensive reforms, global re-engagement and repeating the mantra that Zimbabwe was “open for business.”

Ahead of the elections on 30 July 2018, on the main thoroughfares through the capital and scattered across the country, big billboards towered over Zimbabwe’s citizens as they went about their business. These billboards were filled with images of an engaging and smiling President Mnangagwa, making sweeping promises about universal healthcare, decent jobs, power generation and ‘free, fair and credible elections.’ The administration invited credible election observation missions from around the world – missions that had not been allowed to monitor the country’s elections since the violent 2002 polls. Between them, the observer groups spanned 46 countries and 15 regional blocks, making the 2018 election the most observed election in the country since independence in 1980.

Mnangagwa had traversed the globe promising change and a “new dispensation” in Harare, and was well-received in global capitals, with the UK’s Rory Stewart – at the time the Minister of State for Africa – the first to arrive in Harare following Mnangagwa’s installation in 2017. Zimbabwe applied to re-join the Commonwealth, with the UK supporting its application. The administration sought to re-engage with international financial institutions – the World Bank and IMF – from which it had been alienated since the early 2000s. The EU and USA began to discuss the relaxation of the remaining limited sanctions and it seemed that Zimbabwe under Mnangagwa might finally be welcomed back in to the international community, shedding its ‘pariah state’ status.

The July 2018 election

Despite all of the positive changes ahead of the polls, it was clear that there were rumblings of dissent from within the ruling party – and there were early indications that despite initial assurances about free and fair elections, some aspects of the playing field would remain skewed in the ruling party’s favour. The state media refused to give equal coverage to all 23 presidential candidates, particularly ignoring the ruling party’s key opponent – Nelson Chamisa of the MDC-Alliance. Despite their initial openness, the electoral commission soon began to stonewall key discussions on reforming the electoral process, making the electoral roll available for an audit and allowing the opposition to oversee the printing of ballots. Instead, an unconstitutional ballot was designed and printed, civic groups and opposition parties were left with little time to review and validate the roll and there were serious and widespread reports of intimidation in rural areas in the lead-up to the polls.

When 7 protestors were gunned down by soldiers in the streets of Harare in front of the global media on 1 August, the international community and political commentators were dumbfounded. The administration was so close to legitimating the 2017 coup with a flawed-but-meets-basic-standards election, that it seemed unthinkable that they would have squandered local and global goodwill so easily. At his inauguration, Mnangagwa condemned the violence, vowing that his new administration would usher in a “brighter tomorrow” – and he announced the creation of a commission of enquiry into the deaths on 1 August. He described himself as a “listening president”, and insisted that his government was committed to ‘constitutionalism, the rule of law and judicial independence.’ Again, the commentators were caught off-guard, and were inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt, to believe that perhaps the military had acted without sanction – or worse, that the Vice President, Constantino Chiwenga, had an eye on his boss’ job and had loosed the military on civilians to undermine Mnangagwa’s position.

To sanitise his image in the wake of the global outcry, several opinion articles appeared in the global media, ostensibly penned by Mnangagwa. He spoke of reconciliation, new beginnings and a better future for a long suffering populace. But when the commission of enquiry – headed by former South African President Kgalema Motlanthe – wrapped up its business, they had heard from soldiers that those killed had not been shot by soldiers but instead had been stabbed by members of the opposition; that the MDC-A was to blame for the violence and deaths; and that Mnangagwa had given the orders to set up the rapid response unit that had been mobilised to the streets in response to the protests. Despite all his assurances of being accountable, Mnangagwa is yet to publicly release the full report which was handed to him in December 2018.

A disastrous January

By January 2019, less than 6 months into the administration, a simmering economic crisis had prompted disgruntled and increasingly desperate members of the civil service to make more demands from the state. Inflation in the black market for the country’s surrogate currency was at over 50% in January, and long lines at fuel stations made basic tasks difficult.

Mnangagwa announced an enormous fuel price hike on 12 January, before jetting off in a private aircraft to Central Asia. The country’s labour unions called for a national stay away to protest the declining economy and unaffordable fuel prices, which was then enforced by unknown elements and angry youths. In the melee that ensued, shops were looted, cars were burned and a policeman was stoned to death. In the wake of this, the state launched a violent and angry three-week crackdown on the country’s poor, beating those who lived in close proximity to the worst of the looting and violence – and committing systematic torture and collective punishment. Nearly a thousand people were rounded up, beaten and put in prison. Fourteen women are reported to have been raped by soldiers, and at least 17 people were reported to have been killed.

In person, Mnangagwa seemed to condone the violence, though his Twitter feed condemned it and called for accountability for the state-sponsored violence. In a strange twist, his spokesman went so far as to tell the public not to believe everything said on the president’s Twitter feed. This fresh crackdown prompted yet another round of global concern, and it appears that all prospects for international re-engagement have stalled. ZIDERA has been renewed, and the UK has disowned any plans to support Zimbabwe’s bid to re-enter the Commonwealth. US sanctions will make the bailout that Zimbabwe so badly needs from international financial institutions even more unlikely.

Mnangagwa’s consistent inconsistency

While early in his presidency, many were willing to give the new president the benefit of the doubt, it is increasingly clear that the new administration in Zimbabwe is both more authoritarian than its predecessor, and less strategic. Having denounced the January 2019 protests as a Western-backed attempt at regime change, the ruling party has dusted off its old anti-imperial mantra as a cloak for their repressive actions. They have charged key opposition and civic leaders with treason. In 25-year old Joanah Mamombe’s case, she is alleged to be the first woman charged with treason in the country in over 150 years. According to veteran journalist, Peta Thornycroft, “about 10 MPs from the opposition MDC Alliance are variously charged with incitement, subversion and treason.”

In light of all this, in early March, the United Nations Human Rights Council announced that it would send special rapporteurs to Harare to investigate the claims of human rights abuses. In another spectacular about-face, this has apparently been welcomed by President Mnangagwa. The Foreign Ministry’s official who was sent to brief the press appeared to be living in a parallel universe, and reported substantial gains at international re-engagement. In a similar vein, it was reported on 6 March that the government – who are currently unable to stabilise the economy, pay civil servant salaries or settle vast debts to neighbouring South Africa – have decided to engage the services of a Trump-affiliated lobbyist to have the US sanctions dropped. This comes at an annual cost of $500 000 dollars. The likely success of this initiative is low, and Zimbabweans will probably see little gain from their misspent taxes.

Unfortunately, this young administration has proven to be both erratic and tone deaf. Having had several chances at reform, they have consistently undermined their own case but still hoped to find themselves in a strong negotiating position. For now, the reform ship appears to have sailed, and the long-suffering citizens of Zimbabwe are likely to continue to suffer under a regime that seems to care little for their welfare, and less for their protest. As Panashe Chigumadzi stated in August 2018, “the old Zimbabwe is the new Zimbabwe.”

Zimbabwe – More than 100 days into the new administration, little has changed

 

It has been 123 days since Zimbabweans went to the polls, in an election that was intended to usher in a new era for the troubled Southern African nation. But the fatal shooting of seven civilians by soldiers in the full view of the global media was an important reminder that the new administration looked much like the old. Although he positioned himself as a reformer, little appears to have changed in Mnangagwa’s Zimbabwe.

Mnangagwa came in on a wave of popular support after he and his military backers ousted former President Robert Mugabe in a coup that broke the continent’s longest coup-free stretch since the late 1950s. He promised accountable governance, a return to the rule of law and a tough stance on the pervasive corruption that has eaten through Zimbabwe’s social services like a cancer.

Following his election Mnangagwa appointed respected Cambridge-educated economist Dr Mthuli Ncube as his Finance Minister, sending positive signals to international investors and the IMF and World Bank that the country planned to turn over a new economic leaf. He also appointed a commission of enquiry into the killings on 1 August, headed by the respected former president of South Africa, Kgalema Motlanthe.

But the Military…

As if to confirm the fears of political scientists about the adverse outcomes of coups, the military has continued to play an outsized role in Zimbabwe’s post-coup dispensation. Rumours abound of the factional fights between the president and his Vice-President Constantine Chiwenga, the former Commander of the Defence Forces. It is widely reported that the deal between the two men was that Mnangagwa would serve just a single term before handing over to his second in command.

But repeated statements suggest that Mnangagwa has other ideas and hopes to run again in 2023. This was reportedly the reason behind the grenade attack at one of Mnangagwa’s rallies during the election campaign. The country’s independent media carries regular articles detailing the alleged factional fights within the state which continue to give lie to Mnangagwa’s ‘new dawn’ narrative.

At the same time, Chiwenga and Foreign Minister and former Lieutenant-General Sibusiso Moyo (of the Chiwenga camp) are reportedly gravely ill, with Moyo apparently suffering from unexplained kidney failure. In a country where many leaders have died under unclear or suspicious circumstances – notably Mugabe’s former General, Solomon Mujuru, in 2011 – the illnesses amongst those said to be opposed to the President further raise suspicions.

As for Kgalema Motlanthe’s Commission, the military has bizarrely claimed that the deaths of civilians were caused by the opposition to destabilise and discredit the army and administration. Having refused to take any responsibility for civilian deaths, it appears that impunity will continue to plague the country’s armed forces. Zimbabwe’s civic groups have expressed grave concerns over the process, and confidence in the Commission appears to be waning rapidly.

What about the Economy?

Despite promises of massive international investment during the election campaign and the appointment of a technocratic Finance Minister, Zimbabwe’s economic woes appear to be deepening. Ncube has promised both austerity and wide-ranging reforms, vowing to cut down the country’s public sector wage bill which consumes 90% of the annual budget. In trying to restart the economy, he will need to bring the opaque extractives sector back under the wing of treasury and ensure that the burgeoning diamond and platinum sector remit finances to the state.

But in doing so, the Finance Minister will find himself up against entrenched interests in the military and the upper echelons of the governing party. Vowing to root out ghost workers in the public sector through biometric registration, Ncube will find himself up against the ZANU-PF elites who draw the salaries from these ghost workers in order to finance their own patronage networks. These reforms will also retire more than 6 000 ‘Youth Officers’ on the public payroll, who behave as little more than ruling party enforcers. This will certainly ruffle some feathers with their handlers.

The Minister faces a massive debt mountain; at the end of August 2018, public debt stood at $17.69 billion USD of which domestic debt accounted for 54%. This represents a national debt of over 100% of current GDP. But with industrial capacity operating at 20%, a massive trade deficit engendered by the collapse of local manufacturing and opacity in the minerals sector, it isn’t clear where the finances will come from to turn the listing economic ship around.

The country’s most important export earners are minerals (gold, diamonds, platinum and ferrous metals) but these sectors suffer from heavy involvement of the military and military elites and few of the proceeds from exports reach the public purse. Any attempts to introduce greater transparency in minerals and mineral governance is likely to come up against stiff resistance from those who benefit from the status quo.

Finally, Mnangagwa’s flagship project of 2017 was the country’s ‘Command Agriculture’ project which sought to incentivise and push agricultural sector growth to revitalise the ailing economy and return the country to its former status as a major agricultural producer. This project was run by the military and is said to have been lucrative for many government and military insiders. Ncube’s recent declaration of intent to scale down this programme will likely push him further into conflict with the beneficiaries of this scheme.

And the Opposition?

The Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) has continued to loudly contest the legitimacy of Mnangagwa’s government and tries to capitalise on broad public dissatisfaction with the collapsing economy. On 29 November they held a massive march through the streets of the capital to deliver a petition to parliament demanding a new transitional government to address the financial and political crisis.

Although the opposition is a far cry from its strengths of the early 2000s and the country’s formerly indomitable trade unions are a shadow of their former selves, the widespread desperation brought on by 20 years of deepening economic crisis have pushed citizens to the brink. This has won the MDC many inadvertent supporters and poses a threat to the ruling elite.

Mnangagwa the Reformer?

There remains a robust debate in Zimbabwe about whether or not the president is honest about his intentions to reform the state – and many would like to believe that he is indeed trying to rein in the military. Even if he is sincere in his intentions to reform the state, he is facing threats from all sides – the military, the economy and the opposition – and it remains difficult to see how the administration can possibly dig their way out of the current morass.

The events following the July elections have reminded foreign governments and investors of the reasons for their long hesitation over investing in Zimbabwe, and consequently little foreign investment has been forthcoming in the three months since. The instability of the relationship between the military and the executive as well as the entrenched nature of the army in the country’s productive sectors continues to give investors pause.

Sadly, a year since Mugabe’s removal, the country’s battle-weary citizens hardly look any closer to the end of their long suffering.

Zimbabwe – President Mnangagwa makes his electoral play for international legitimacy

On 30 May 2018, President Emmerson Mnangagwa finally set the date for the long-anticipated Zimbabwean elections. The polls will inevitably be remarkable, as they are the first in 38 years without former President Robert Mugabe on the ballot. The opposition is also fronting a new and untested candidate following the death of opposition titan, Morgan Tsvangirai, in February. As a result, this election has quickly moved into uncharted territory.

While ZANU-PF has used extensive electoral manipulation, intimidation and violence in the past, they are more constrained in 2018 by vastly increased global interest in the polls. Following nearly 20 years as a pariah state, relations between Zimbabwe and the international community have begun to thaw in 2018. President Mnangagwa, who came to power in a military coup in November, is eager to assert his democratic credentials to give the government the legitimacy boost that it needs to restart international lending.

The 2018 election is the last hurdle that he needs to clear before his government will get the global stamp of approval.

The ‘New Dispensation’

In trying to garner such legitimacy, Mnangagwa is trying hard to show that it will truly be a new Zimbabwe under his leadership. There have been some positive moves in terms of electoral administration. In early June, the Judicial Services Commission appointed and deployed magistrates to deal with politically-motivated violence during the campaign.

The National Peace and Reconciliation Commission appears to be throwing off its long hibernation since its creation in 2013. The enabling act for the country’s transitional justice mechanism was only passed in 2018, under the new administration. The opposition also seems to have been able to mobilise largely unhindered – contrary to their experiences of sustained state harassment during previous polls.

The MDC Alliance held a protest in front of the Electoral Commission’s offices on 5 June in Harare, and many expected it to be marred by clashes with a planned ZANU-PF counter-demonstration. However, this was called off by the ruling party’s leadership who were wary of attracting negative publicity and compromising the credibility of the election.

Plus ça change…

But despite the claims of a ‘new dispensation,’ few things have changed for ordinary Zimbabweans since November. Cash and foreign exchange shortages continue to cripple the economy, formal unemployment remains stubbornly at over 90% and public services are still woefully inadequate. The government recently raised the ire of the public sector by firing 16 000 striking nurses from an already-paralysed healthcare system. It is hard to see how Zimbabwean voters could possibly vote for the party that has overseen the country’s protracted decline.

But Mnangagwa remains the incumbent, and that comes with major advantages. The public media have continued to largely exclude the opposition and trumpet the president’s successes, and the electoral commission has begun to stall key processes for verifying the credibility of the process. The opposition appears to be woefully underfunded, and the ruling party is believed to currently be out-spending them by nearly $50 to every dollar they spend.

Although the president has promised a free and fair election, there remain worrying signs of intimidation in rural areas. A deputy minister announced at a rally in late May that the army would not allow the opposition to take power and although it was quickly denounced by the ruling party, it cements existing fears by many Zimbabweans of the dangers that elections pose. Just-released Afrobarometer survey results suggest that the majority of voters don’t believe that the army will allow the opposition to win the polls.

The Electoral Resource Centre, a Harare-based NGO, recently released findings that while electoral administration appears to have improved in the 2018 polls, the use of intimidation, vote buying and the widespread belief that there is no secrecy of the ballot undermines the process. But at the same time, the electoral commission failed to put the ballot procurement out to tender, raising serious concerns about the secrecy ZEC has maintained around the chosen providers of key electoral materials. This was a major concern in the 2013 polls, and it undermined the credibility of the process.

What about the Opposition?

The opposition lost their long-running leader on Valentine’s Day, and suffered through a damaging succession process. But contrary to experiences in 2008 and 2013, a broad coalition of opposition forces has united behind 40-year old Advocate Nelson Chamisa. He is running on a platform which seeks to maximise the youth vote, dubbed #GenerationalConsensus. Up against a 75-year old incumbent, Chamisa has made much of his youthful energy during the campaign, stopping to do push-ups during marches in the capital.

With a young population, few of whom remember the horrors of the 1970s liberation war and had little experience of the prosperity of the 1980s and early 1990s, Zimbabwe’s youths only know economic contraction and joblessness. Chamisa is selling big ideas, like bullet trains and bringing the football world cup to Harare. It’s hard to say how Zimbabweans feel about these promises.

The opposition is struggling against serious financial shortcomings after most of their traditional funders abandoned them after the 2013 elections. Polls released by Afrobarometer suggest that while support for the opposition has increased (from a very low base), they remain several points behind the incumbent. Their rallies have thus far been well-attended, but it’s unclear whether they can convert rally attendance into votes on 30 July.

Finally, the opposition coalition appears to be considering a very risky strategy. Although Mugabe was pushed out of power, he doesn’t seem happy to while away his days away from the political fray. Most of the members of ZANU-PF who were forced out in the wake of the November coup have resurfaced in the newly-created and (ostensibly) Mugabe-backed National Patriotic Front. In a shock move at the MDC protest on 5 June, members of this party endorsed the MDC Alliance ahead of the polls.

A cash-strapped opposition is now trying to gauge whether Mugabe’s endorsement would be good or bad for their electoral prospects. In Zimbabwe’s rapidly reconfiguring politics, it’s hard to reliably predict the effects of such cross-party collaboration. For a country that suffered for so long under Mugabe, it might just be enough to push some staunch opposition members out of the electoral process. But proponents argue that any help is good help against Mnangagwa’s ‘junta.’

With less than two months to go until the elections, all bets are off in Zimbabwe.