BY BLESSED MHLANGA
PRESIDENT Emmerson Mnangagwa yesterday declared that he will implement political and economic reforms at his own pace, and insisted that the impetus for change and reform comes from within.
In a statement reflecting on his two-year rule after taking over power at the back of a coup that toppled long-time ruler, the late Robert Mugabe in November 2017, Mnangagwa said the sanctions being used by the West as a tool to demand reforms, were not achieving their desired effect.
Mnangagwa’s statement came at a time the European Union and United States of America were insisting on reforms as a precondition for the removal of economic sanctions imposed on the country two decades ago over gross human rights abuses by Mugabe’s administration.
The Zanu PF leader, who released the statement after leaving the country for the
United Arab Emirates for an economic forum, said his government had tried to make reforms in line with the demands of the international community, and will continue to do so, not as a result of pressure from sanctions, but for the good of the country.
“These have been key demands of the international community, and should be interpreted as a sign of our commitment to reform,” Mnangagwa said.
“Yet the impetus for change and reform comes from within. We are not reforming to appease the nations of the world, but because reform is necessary to build the future our people desire. Of course, there is still much work to do, but we are heading in the right direction.”
He added: “If the goal of sanctions is to stimulate the reform process, their effect is the opposite. They slow down our progress, inhibit our economic recovery and empower those who do not wish to see Zimbabwe change. Their removal will, therefore, be an important step on the road to a better future for all the people of this country.”
When Mnangagwa took over power, he claimed he was a reformist, promising to embark on a new political journey of reform and international engagement.
Insiders in his government, however, claim there are some hardliners stalling the reform process, warning him that he risked reforming himself out of power.
Upon returning to Zimbabwe last week, EU ambassador Timo Olkkonen raised the ire of Zanu PF supporters, when he said the putting up of expensive billboards to denounce non-existent sanctions was disingenuous.
“Good to return to Harare after a busy week in Brussels. Heard about these billboards (how much do they cost?) on all major airport roads, but hadn’t seen one due to having had few flights recently. Seems there still are things that need to be clarified,” Olkkonen said.
The EU and the US have insisted that Zimbabwe has been hurt more by corruption than the sanctions, calling on government to deal with the scourge instead of hiding behind a finger.
For the sanctions to be lifted, the West has been demanding legislative, political and electoral reforms, including bringing to book members of the army and police involved in the brutal killings of innocent civilians during the post-election demonstration on August 1, 2018 and the January 14 to 16 demonstrations which left a combined 23 civilians dead.
In his statement, Mnangagwa, however, was silent about the killings and the closure of the democratic space, which has seen the opposition being denied their rights to take to the streets through a brutal crackdown by the police.
Instead, he claimed that his presidency had opened up democratic space and done away with the old Mugabe ways.
“Coming into office a few days later, we committed to saying goodbye to the ways of the past, and to doing things differently. I immediately moved to give the people their voices back, opening new channels of communication between the people and their representatives.
“Criticism of the government and the presidency would no longer be taboo, but welcomed, even encouraged. I answered tough questions on my Facebook page, as I promised to be a listening President.”
Mnangagwa’s claims contradict a report by the United Nations Special Rapporteur Clément Nyaletsossi Voule which concluded that human rights violations and stifling of the freedoms of expression were growing under his government.
Currently there are also several cases before the courts of people facing charges of insulting Mnangagwa.
“Just last week, we removed the much-maligned Posa (Public Order and Security Act), a remnant of the old Zimbabwe that limited the right to protest, and replaced it with a new Maintenance of Peace and Order Bill, devised with input from civil society and our friends around the world,” Mnangagwa said.
Turning to the economy, Mnangagwa claimed he took over from Mugabe when the country was in an economic mess and has moved with speed to balance the country’s books through his Finance minister Mthuli Ncube, who he described as an “internationally” recognised minister.
“Of course, too many Zimbabweans still suffer, but austerity is a painful, but necessary part of the recovery process. Led by our internationally recognised Finance minister, Mthuli Ncube, we will continue to restructure, revamp and rebuild our economy. We cannot and will not hold up our hands. We must reform or perish,” he said.