Tag Archives: Zimbabwe

Continuity and Change: Presidential Succession in Southern Africa

At the risk of using a tired cliché, it would appear that the winds of change are blowing across Southern Africa. On Wednesday 14 February 2018, South Africans awoke to the news that there had been a dawn raid on the Saxonwold compound – derisorily referred to as the ‘Saxonwold Shebeen’ – owned by the Gupta family, close friends of President Jacob Zuma. It was the clearest sign yet that the president’s powers had faltered and his time was drawing to a rapid close. Having lost the succession battle at the ANC’s elective congress in December 2017, speculation had been brewing that he would soon be removed by the ruling party. With most of his friends and allies having shifted positions to the new sheriff in town – newly-elected ANC President Cyril Ramaphosa – Zuma’s days in the presidential residence seemed to be numbered. On 13 February, after more than a week of negotiations between Zuma and Ramaphosa, the ANC National Executive Committee formally requested that Zuma resign the presidency, in an apparent repeat of Zuma’s 2008 removal of former President Thabo Mbeki. They gave him until midnight on 14 February to do so. In a late-night address, Zuma resigned on Valentine’s day; Ramaphosa was sworn in less than 20 hours later.

On South Africa’s northern border, events in Zimbabwe have also heralded spectacular changes. Following the November ‘soft coup’ that removed Robert Mugabe from power after 37 years at the helm, new President Emerson Mnangagwa has spent three months on a major marketing drive, trying to convince the region and the world at large that he is setting Zimbabwe on a new course. The UK has been eager to re-engage, with several high-profile visits to Harare, and moves suggesting that the country will soon re-join the Commonwealth. But having been burnt before by promises and intransigence on the part of the ruling party, all eyes are on the general elections to be held later this year. The full normalisation of relations with Harare is largely contingent on the holding of a ‘fair’ and peaceful election. But the same day that Jacob Zuma was facing down a recall by his party, 65-year old Zimbabwean opposition veteran Morgan Tsvangirai passed away in a Johannesburg hospital. Despite his two-year battle with colon cancer, Tsvangirai had been tipped as the presidential candidate for the opposition’s 7-party coalition, due to fight the upcoming elections in less than six months’ time. The week prior to his death was marred by a very public succession battle between the MDC-T’s three vice presidents – something that will no doubt hurt the party and the coalition’s electoral prospects. The Zimbabwean opposition’s prospects look dire – Tsvangirai’s unmatched public profile and failure to pick a successor has left the coalition rudderless, while changes instituted by Mnangagwa have taken the bite out of the opposition’s ‘change’ mantra. It’s unclear whether the fractious opposition can regroup, rebrand, paper over their squabbles and develop a positive messaging platform in the months before the looming polls.

Meanwhile, change is also afoot in the rest of the region. Botswanan President Ian Khama announced that he will be handing over power in April 2018. Khama, the son of Botswana’s independence President Seretse Khama, is stepping down after ten years at the helm. When he steps down, the Vice President, Mokgweetsi Masisi, will automatically succeed him until the 2019 general elections. But Masisi won’t necessarily be the ruling party’s candidate for those elections as the party will go to a special elective congress in 2019 where several high profile government leaders have thrown their hat in the ring to succeed him. In Angola – Southern Africa’s largest oil producing nation – President José Eduardo dos Santos handed over power in 2017 after 38 years at the head of the country’s ruling MPLA, after anointing his successor, João Lourenço. When Lourenço won the August elections, few predicted that he would follow through on his promises to clean up the MPLA and the state. However, in a shock move, he removed the former president’s daughter – Isabel dos Santos – from her position at the head of the state-owned oil producer Sonangol. Lourenço also removed the heads of police and intelligence, governor of the Central Bank, head of the country’s diamond company and the boards of all three state-owned media companies, as well as dos Santos’ son who was head of the country’s sovereign wealth fund.

However, despite all the apparently positive changes across the region and some significant reasons for optimism, there is a need to maintain a cautious stance. In Angola, many remain sceptical of Lourenço’s moves, arguing that it resembles a “dança das cadeiras” – a ‘dance of chairs’ or little more than a reshuffling of the political deck. Whispers in Gabarone suggest that Ian Khama is hoping to position his brother, Tshekedi Khama, to take up the presidency. Having tried to anoint his brother in 2014 (after making him a Cabinet minister in 2012), but facing outright revolt from the ruling party, Khama backtracked. But he has one more chance to secure the dynasty in the ruling party’s special congress next year. If he is successful, three of five of independent Botswana’s presidents would be from the Khama family. In Zimbabwe, following the possible collapse of meaningful opposition in the wake of Tsvangirai’s death, Mnangagwa may feel little pressure to make substantial changes to the state, and will instead continue along the well-worn path that ZANU-PF has tread for nearly four decades.

As for Ramaphosa, he is riding high on a wave of public optimism and international goodwill, but he will need to prove that he is serious about rooting out corruption in the state by removing Zuma’s key backers through whom public finances were so wantonly squandered and misappropriated. But over the longer term, serious questions remain over whether Ramaphosa’s business- and market-friendly approach will be sufficiently flexible to make the necessary policy changes to tackle the country’s burgeoning inequality and mass joblessness. With the possibility of a Congolese election (or mass uprising in the absence of an election) at the end of 2018, what is certain is that the Southern African region will look very different at the end of 2018 to how it looked just more than a year before. But it remains to be seen whether these changes will be thoroughgoing, or if it will be little more than a dança das cadeiras.

Zimbabwe – President Mnangagwa blows cold and then hot on elections

These are confusing times for Zimbabwean voters and political commentators.

On 12 January, the spokesperson for the country’s new president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, told journalists that the opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, had asked to postpone the general election. In a meeting between the two, which appears to have been inspired in part by Tsvangirai’s poor health, the opposition leader is said to have demanded that the polls – which are currently scheduled to take place between July and September 2018 – be deferred by three years to allow much needed reforms to be implemented.

The fact that this information was leaked by the government immediately raised suspicions that in reality the story was being used by the ruling party to “fly a kite” for a plan to push the elections back. The idea that a ZANU PF faction was testing the waters to see whether the government could get away a power grab were leant credibility when Tsvangirai’s advisors subsequently rejected the president’s account, claiming that “the matter was never a subject for discussion”.

This interpretation subsequently gained further ground when former Cabinet Minister and Mnangagwa rival Jonathan Moyo used an interview with Zeinab Bedawi on BBC’s Hard Talk to say what many were thinking, alleging that it was in fact the president who had tried to persuade Tsvangirai to agree to an election delay because he is “afraid of losing”.

However, Zimbabwe has entered new and less predictable political times, and rumours don’t last long these days.

Just six days later, the headline on the front page of the Herald, a recognized government mouthpiece, screamed “Elections in five months: President”. According to the story, elections were not to be postponed but rather brought forward. Although July 23 is the earliest date that elections can be held without a change of the law, the president told Zimbabweans that the country was “going for elections in four to five months’ time”.

This was followed up by a wide-ranging interview with the Financial Times in which Mnangagwa committed himself not only to holding elections quickly, but to holding good quality ones. According to the president, “We want fair free credible elections … In the past those who had pronounced themselves against us; who pre-determined that our elections would not be free and fair, were not allowed to come in. But now with this new dispensation I don’t feel threatened by anything.”

Promoting democracy to secure development

In a surprise to many, the president did not leave things there. Instead, in a move designed to build bridges with the West ahead of the World Economic Forum at Davos on 23-26 January, Mnangagwa committed himself to a wide-ranging process of democratization.

This, he pledged, would include holding credible elections and allowing international observers from the Commonwealth and the United Nations to oversee the process – something that the government did not allow last time round.

The president also said that he was willing to enter into talks with the United Kingdom about Zimbabwe re-joining the Commonwealth. This would be something of a fillip for the British government, signalling that Zimbabwe had genuinely returned from the cold — and that Mnangagwa’s administration had recognized that the demonization of the UK that occurred under Robert Mugabe had not been in either country’s interests.

It would also have important implications for politics in Zimbabwe going forwards. In 2013, Robert Mugabe withdrew his country from the Commonwealth after the organization decided to maintain Zimbabwe’s suspension indifferently.

That suspension resulted, in part, from a flawed election in 2002, when Mugabe retained power in controversial circumstances. Allegations of violence and intimidation during the presidential election campaign led the UK, Australia and New Zealand to express deep concern, and a critical report from the Commonwealth Observer Group proved to be the final nail in the coffin.

Thus, while Mnangagwa can expect a soft landing from the Commonwealth as a new leader preaching reform, he would also be taking a risk. Inviting international scrutiny and welcoming international observers could easily backfire, especially if the president turns out to be less popular than he hopes.

Which all raises one big question: does he really mean it?

Why democracy now?

We know that Mnangagwa is not a democrat by instinct.

Although he has sought to disassociate himself from the Gukurahundi massacres of the early 1980s, few believe his protestations of innocence. The deaths of around 20,000 mainly ethnic Ndebeles in Matabeleland occurred while he held prominent roles within the security forces, and his public statements around the time were telling.

According to The Chronicle newspaper, at a rally in Victoria Falls in 1983, Mnangagwa likened the dissidents to cockroaches and bugs – anticipating the language of the Rwandan genocide – and “said the bandit menace had reached such epidemic proportion that the government had to bring ‘DDT’ [pesticide] to get rid of the bandits.”

More recently, it is important that the new president did not come to power through the ballot box but through a very carefully orchestrated palace coup. The lesson that this episode taught him was straightforward: the one thing that can save you when your influence is on the wane and people you know are turning their backs on you is military support.

In other words, the new president is not someone who is ever going to believe the naïve cliché that the pen is mightier than the sword.

Given this, how are we to interpret his newfound commitment to democratic norms and values? It is possible that Mnangagwa has had a “road to Damascus” moment and that the leopard really has changed his spots. But a more likely answer is that he is using the promise of democracy to pursue other ends.

The president knows that Zimbabweans will judge him on the state of the economy, which is looking like a tough ask. Despite all of the talk of a more clean and efficient government, and of an open door for foreign investors, many are waiting to see if the government will come through on its promises before parting with their money.

This represents a significant challenge for Mnangagwa, because while some of his own speeches have stoked popular expectations of an instant recovery, the reality is that the economy has been tanking for so long that it will take a while to turn it around.

One thing that could help to change this picture is debt relief. According to the International Monetary Fund, Zimbabwe will owe external lenders more than US $10 billion. Because this represents over half the country’s annual GDP, the government’s capacity to invest in public service and economic recovery will be severely hampered unless this debt can be cancelled or heavily rescheduled.

And while that is said to be a purely economic decision by key players such as the IMF and the World Bank, in reality it us much easier to justify saving the economic bacon of governments that take and hold power legitimately.

But if Zimbabwe’s new leader is mainly talking up democratic reforms to unlock economic assistance, what does that mean for the next election – might we actually see a “good enough” contest? Or is there a way that the president can have his cake and eat it?

What does a quick election mean?

There are some presidents in the world who do not really understand the nuts and bolts of how an election works – who make mistakes by failing to grasp key procedures and processes, and agree to what the think are small changes, only later to find that they have large consequences.

Emmerson Mnangagwa is not one of these presidents.

Having played a central role in the ZANU-PF election machine for many years, he has an intimate knowledge of how to control the Zimbabwean Electoral Commission, the mechanisms that the party uses to mobilise the vote, and is well aware of the fact that the government’s hegemony relies on a system of intimidation to keep opposition supporters away from the polls.

If he is floating the idea of an early election it suggests that he thinks doing so will be to his advantage. Why might that be the case?

An early election could help Mnangagwa in three ways.

First, going to the polls quickly gives voters less time to be disappointed if the promised economic resurgence does not materialise. The longer the president leaves it, the more he will need to show some green shoots of recovery to back up his claim to be the answer to the country’s financial difficulties.

Second, with Morgan Tsvangirai in poor health and the opposition divided over the question of whether or not he should be replaced by a younger leader, there may be no better time for the president to test his popularity. Whether or not Tsvangirai asked Mnangagwa to postpone the election, it is clear that the Movement for Democratic Change is not in great shape to contest one today.

Finally, the new president is well aware that clever autocrats rig elections well in advance – through the electoral roll, the channelling of patronage, and the manipulation of traditional leaders – and that to detect and expose these abuses the international monitors need to have long-term observers on the ground months ahead of any contest. If a snap election is called, it will be impossible for international monitors to deploy in time – even if the president keeps his promise to invite them – because they would effectively need to be in place already.

A quick election might therefore be just what ZANU PF needs. By taking advantage of Mnangagwa’s honeymoon, the challenges facing the opposition, and the massive head-start that the ruling party enjoys after decades of political manipulation, the government can retain power without needing to do anything on polling day that will create troublesome media headlines.

And by inviting international election observers who will only be able to deploy close to an election day, missing the preparations, the president will be able to sustain the image of being a democratic reformer without actually having to hold a democratic election …

Nic Cheeseman (@fromagehomme) is Professor of Democracy at the University of Birmingham and the author of How to Rig an Election

Zimbabwe – Removing a tyrant but not a tyranny?

As the upper echelons of Zimbabwe’s ruling party shift following President Robert Mugabe’s ouster, what can we expect from the ‘new’ regime in Harare?

The ‘Soft’ Coup

When on 14 November, army personnel carriers rolled into Harare, social media was ablaze with speculation. At 4 am on the 15th, the military appeared on the public broadcaster to announce that they had ‘secured’ the first family and were working to arrest criminals around the president. Military officials stated repeatedly and emphatically that this was not a coup, and that the constitution had not been abrogated. On 21 November, after a week of negotiations, Mugabe’s removal from the head of the ruling party and the instituting of impeachment proceedings against him, he resigned – ending his 37-year tenure. Vice President Phelekezela Mphoko became possibly the shortest-serving acting president in African history upon Mugabe’s resignation, but his whereabouts remain unknown. Emmerson Mnangagwa was then chosen by ZANU-PF to be the new president of Zimbabwe, just twenty minutes later. Mnangagwa was inaugurated on 24 November as Zimbabwe’s third president.

It appears that the military had been planning their move for some time and had consulted with regional and international allies – although many, including China, deny this – to ensure that any intervention to remove the long-standing head of state would have international buy-in. But to carry it off, they had been warned that it needed to appear as legitimate and bloodless as possible. The military’s move had been planned for just before the December ZANU-PF congress where it was expected that Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa would be removed; but it was moved up when Mnangagwa was unceremoniously removed on 6 November and Army General Constantine Chiwenga (Mnangagwa’s closest ally) received reports that he was to be arrested upon arrival in Harare from a trip to China.

Mugabe’s removal was extremely popular – prompting thousands of Zimbabweans to march and celebrate in the country’s largest cities, and in cities around the world. Despite the popular celebrations, most analysts remain sceptical and believe that his removal has allowed the ruling party which backed him and sustained his regime for four decades to ‘renew’ itself. The title of this article was taken from a quote by Bulawayo MDC Senator, David Coltart on the day of the president’s ouster – a reminder that the system that had sustained Mugabe for so long remained intact, despite his removal.

The Enigmatic Mr Mnangagwa

For those who don’t watch Zimbabwe closely, Emmerson Mnangagwa appeared to be a new, fresh and unknown figure. But Mnangagwa – or the ‘Crocodile’ (Ngwena) – has been at the heart of ZANU-PF and Zimbabwe’s politics for more than four decades. Mnangagwa is one of just two politicians who have served in every cabinet under Mugabe since 1980. Billed as Mugabe’s most likely successor in 2014 when he was appointed republican vice president, he and his allies had increasingly come under attack in 2017 from Women’s League President and First Lady Grace Mugabe as well as the ‘young Turks’ in the faction who supported her.

Despite the public attacks against him, Mnangagwa has spent the last two years positioning himself as a pragmatist and negotiator who would help to resolve the political and economic crisis wrought by the Mugabe administration. He had been reaching out to the farmers dispossessed in the early 2000s, to foreign diplomats in Harare who had been eager to see meaningful re-engagement with ZANU-PF and the opposition whose fortunes had declined markedly since 2009. This was partly the reason for his ouster, when leaked Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) documents reported on by Reuters suggested that Mnangagwa was planning a post-Mugabe future which would involve a 5-year transitional government with the opposition, and the backing of Western diplomats.

Three days after his inauguration, Mnangagwa formally dissolved Cabinet and announced that he was returning his key ally, former Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa to his previous position to allow for continuity. Several key members of Mugabe’s last cabinet are facing charges, and their families have been subjected to significant abuse, harassment and intimidation by the security forces following the takeover. The former finance minister was also beaten so badly during his detention by the military that he had to be hospitalised. Despite Mnangagwa’s inaugural statement regarding a ‘return to democracy’ in Zimbabwe, many Zimbabweans are (understandably) sceptical. Analysts Tinashe Chimedza and Tamuka Chirimambowa refer to the new president as the ‘Trojan horse’ of the ‘deep state,’ which was desperate to ensure its political and economic survival. And despite the apparent lack of bloodshed of the ‘soft coup,’ it is clear that the involvement of the military in politics (and their choosing of an amenable successor) may set a concerning precedent.

The new president’s political history also provides some reasons to be suspicious regarding the likelihood of democratic breakthrough in Zimbabwe – he was implicated in the manipulation of electoral processes (including the stolen and violent 2008 polls) and in the misappropriation of diamond revenues in Zimbabwe and the DRC. He was also complicit in – and thus partly responsible for – the politically-motivated killings of 20 000 Zimbabwean civilians in the Matabeleland region between 1983 and 1987. As noted by Historian Stuart Doran, “Along with Mugabe and the minister responsible for defence, Sydney Sekeramayi, none of the Zanu politicians was more embroiled in the Gukurahundi than Mnangagwa. He was not the architect, but he was one of them. Of that there is no doubt.”

Where to from here?

If reports from inside the political negotiations are correct, it appears that Mnangagwa is still considering an ‘inclusive’ government which includes prominent members of the opposition – who had been caught completely unaware by the rejigging of the political playing field. It appears that he would like to use an inclusive arrangement to consolidate international goodwill, and possibly to postpone the elections scheduled for mid-2018. This is a risky prospect for the opposition, as suggested by Brian Raftopoulos; such an arrangement is likely to be a poisoned chalice for the weakened opposition who will almost certainly be given a marginal and negligible role. International political goodwill also already seems to be at a decade-long high, with the arrival of the first British Minister to the country in twenty years – though the content of the engagement was hardly a resounding endorsement. Less than a week after Mnangagwa’s inauguration, a Chinese envoy had also arrived in Harare and extended an official invitation from President Xi to the new head of state. Such events – along with frequent displays of public goodwill – may lead instead to a decision by Mnangagwa to renege on the negotiations for a more inclusive Cabinet.

The four years since Mugabe’s last electoral victory in 2013 have seen a collapse of living standards in the country. Zimbabwe’s economy is now half the size it was in 2000, with 95% of citizens no longer formally employed and a national budget of just $4 billion USD – of which 97% was spent on public sector salaries in 2016. The health and education systems are barely functional and propped up by donor interventions while the substitute currency has seen hyper-inflation soar at over 300% for 2017, despite the dollarization of the economy in 2009. Reports suggest that political insiders had been raiding the economy of hard currency while military elites monopolised the income from the country’s diamond reserves. On 28 November, Mnangagwa announced that he would be combining ministries and streamlining staff in an attempt to speed up decision-making, cut costs and increase productivity. He also plans to quickly revise the country’s indigenisation laws which legislate that all businesses must cede a 51% stake to a Zimbabwean partner. Suddenly – and for the first time in months – there are more dollars available in ATM’s, and reports suggest that black market premiums on notes have dropped from 85% to just 25%.

Although Mnangagwa clearly plans to repair the ailing economy, the likelihood of full liberalisation is low, given the high levels of military involvement – particularly in lucrative sectors such as diamond mining. Meanwhile, Ignatius Chombo – the finance minister at the point of Mugabe’s removal – has been charged with defrauding the central bank. These charges allegedly relate to corruption perpetrated two decades ago while serving as minister of local government, suggesting that the ‘new’ government will be loath to prosecute for more recent crimes in which current members of the administration might be implicated. Having instituted a three-month amnesty period for externalised ill-gotten funds and threatened to prosecute thereafter, it remains to be seen how tough the new administration will be on corruption. The high levels of complicity across the political and military elite suggest that this is unlikely. It appears that Mnangagwa is already reaching out to former dispossessed Zimbabwean farmers to help re-boot the agricultural economy – along with his flagship ‘Command Agriculture’ project.

Looking forward, the most likely outcome for Zimbabwe’s future is that we will probably see the emergence of something approaching a ‘developmental’ authoritarian state – in which levels of repression remain significant and citizen’s political and civic rights continue to be constrained, but the economy begins to grow again and people’s material prospects improve markedly. Having billed himself as a technocrat and pragmatist, Mnangagwa appears to have wagered that he can normalise relations with Western donor states to improve the economy and that – after decades of downward revision of democratic prospects in Zimbabwe and shifting donor goalposts – the international community would be satisfied by a veneer of democratic legitimacy coupled with significant economic growth and improved trade relations. However – in a stark break from the experience of his predecessor – Mnangagwa will only have two presidential terms in which to do so, following the introduction of a new constitution in 2013.

Amidst reports that Western diplomats had long been backing Mnangagwa’s push for the presidency, it is imperative that his administration is treated warmly, but with a healthy dose of scepticism, and that significant levels of aid disbursement are linked to meaningful democratic reforms. Equally, while they still have some leverage, opposition actors must also negotiate for an even playing field and the repeal of the most repressive legislation that had served the ZANU-state project for so long. If they fail to capitalise on it, this opportunity won’t come around again soon.