guest column:Everson Mushava

Last year, President Emmerson Mnangagwa penned an opinion reflecting on his two-year rule since taking over from his long-time ally and mentor turned foe, the late former President Robert Mugabe in a coup in November 2017.

For many people not living the realities of hyperinflation, a collapsed health sector and deepening human rights violations that have characterised the past two years, the opinion piece showcased a man on an unrelenting mission to change Zimbabwe for the better.

Key was Mnangagwa’s claim that his rule marked a complete break from Mugabe’s ruinous and autocratic leadership. He said under the so-called new dispensation, the people of Zimbabwe have been given their voices.

Sweet, only if it were true. According to the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, 21 people have been arrested for insulting or undermining the authority of the President during Mnangagwa’s two-year rule.

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Since January last year, about 22 people have been arrested on subversion laws, apart from the over 20 abducted during the same period that was marked by the first ever internet shutdown in Zimbabwe, making Mnangagwa and Mugabe birds of the same feather.

At least 23 people died after Mnangagwa deployed the military to deal with dissent, six of them dying in August in 2018 in post-election protests crackdown, and 17 more during protests over fuel price hikes in January last year.

Mnangagwa’s failure disappointed many of his faithfuls who never anticipated his failure on the economic and political fronts. Even those who had never budgeted for his failure were shocked by the speed with which he proved them wrong.

Democracy is measured by rule of law, not rule by law. Based on his promise, Mnangagwa’s task was to align over 400 pieces of laws to the 2013 Constitution. But progress on that front has been moving at a snail’s pace, with the draconian Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act still on the Zimbabwe statutes. The Maintenance of Peace and Order Act (Mopa) signed by Mnangagwa last year is even more draconian than the colonial Law and Order Maintenance Act (Loma). Mnangagwa’s façade of reformist is breaking like pieces of Chinaware, exposing a President who is selfish, rapacious and keen to consolidate power at all cost.

Reform — Mnangagwa’s thorn-littered path
“I commit to you that we will continue to reform with an eye on the long term; for we must not reform only for ourselves, but for our children and our children’s children,” Mnangagwa said last month. Contrasting Mnangagwa’s promises against action proves the Zanu PF leader is full of rhetoric, but pathetically short on action.

An array of reasons could be militating against his resolve towards reform, although he could be willing to do so.

Important to note is the way Mnangagwa ascended to power which often presents the biggest precursor to his failure to reform.

Mnangagwa took over power through a coup and existing literature suggests most governments consummated from coups are themselves a threat to democracy. Coup in a dictatorial regime is likely to convey a democratic changeover, particularly in those States that are least expected to democratise the conventional way. But the situation on the ground shows that coups only oust dictators to impose new ones, increasing human rights violations and instability.

Studies suggest that coups cannot bring about a complete democratic transformation, but rather, marginal guarantees of certain rights temporarily to be suppressed when it becomes necessary for the new incumbent to maintain power when subsequently challenged. Such has been the case with Zimbabwe. The vast number of democratic failures in Africa is due to coups, and Zimbabwe has joined the bandwagon. The coup in Zimbabwe was more about self-preservation, than it was about the people. The coup changed the leaders and not the political game plan as University of Zimbabwe lecturer, Eldred Masunungure has observed.

Mnangagwa was thrust in to become a civilian face of the coup and has struggled to balance political stakes in Zimbabwe’s triangular power matrix pitting the military, die-hard party supporters and the people who marched to support his take over from Mugabe.

He can’t reform without stepping on the toes of his biggest stakeholders, particularly the military. In fact, Mnangagwa is a step child, if he washes, he is wasting soap and water, and if he doesn’t wash, he is labelled dirty. He stands at the centre of a political precipice. He knows what needs to be done, as exhibited by his rhetoric, but is doing the opposite because of his compromised position.

The international community, moderates in his Zanu PF party and the people who marched in solidarity with him want reforms; the army and the hardliners in the party are anti-reform, but power consolidation. The military feel more entitled because they engineered Mnangagwa’s rise, and for Zanu PF to step on their toes in the name of reform would be suicidal. There will be grave consequences. Some people might want to argue that Mnangagwa is now his own man after last year’s elections. The way he rose to power will never make him independent from the military. It will remain a thorn in his flesh. Furthermore, Mnangagwa’s administration still has relics of the old regime that are not susceptible to change. Most of the changes by the Zanu PF leader are towards consolidation of power, not democratic transition for fear of reforming himself out of power.

On the other hand, Mnangagwa doesn’t seem to be enjoying a lot of support from his party and the bureaucracy, making reforms difficult. After the January 2019 bloody protests, his politics has shifted from the reform agenda to power consolidation “at all cost.”

Another factor working against reform is Mnangagwa’s type of governance lacks an ideological underpinning. Unlike Mugabe’s days when the world was aware that he stood for black consciousness and empowerment, that has not been the case with Mnangagwa.

It is easy to hazard that party members who support him support the person, not ideology, because none exits. His lack of clear ideological path has even put his Zanu PF supporters into a quagmire. They don’t know what to defend.

The lack of a clear ideological inclination seems to have brought in more confusion in Zanu PF than ever before, unless it is a form of strategic incoherence. Summing up Mnangagwa’s dilemma, foe and ex-Higher and Tertiary Education minister Jonathan Moyo last week tweeted: “The ideology of varakashi is Mnangagwa, and their policies are Mnangagwa, whose only objective is that 2030 anenge achipo. The varakashi phenomenon is just a whole lot of bull expletive.”

Ideological deficiency has also put Mnangagwa at an international relations crossroad. When he got into power, he was keen to engage everyone, including the west, a move that seemed to have ruffled the Chinese that had stood with Zimbabwe or decades, vetoing several United Nations resolutions that could have brought grievous consequences on Zimbabwe.

After efforts to be readmitted into the Commonwealth as well as the removal of sanctions hit a snag, Mnangagwa, forced into a default mode, seem to be heading back to the East, with Russia becoming one of his biggest allies than China. This too seem to be unsettling China.

The statement released by Chinese embassy in Harare last year over Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube’s 2020 budget querying figures was nothing short of a manifestation of the Asian economic giant’s frustration with Mnangagwa’s government.

Could it be Mnangagwa is no longer being trusted by anyone? This leaves him constrained on the reforms to make, in fact, on whom to please. Zimbabwe is back to its pariah status and no rescue package is coming her way.

With the country burning economically, with no solution to the economic challenges; Mnangagwa’s government has turned into a police or military state to keep Zanu PF in power, forgetting the promised reforms.

It is clear to conclude that Mnangagwa doesn’t seem to be enjoying his leadership.

He can’t take any further step without hurting himself.

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