Post-Mugabe optimism faces a reality check. Bolstered by fresh funds, Emmerson Mnangagwa is set for electoral victory
As the first new leader that Zimbabwe has had in 37 years, President Emmerson Mnangagwa begins the year riding a wave of goodwill, having removed the apparently eternally-entrenched Robert Mugabe from power, cleared the streets of the despised police roadblocks and ushered in what looks like a new political dispensation. However, the euphoria of the post-Mugabe street party will fade and Mnangagwa will find it increasingly difficult to manage expectations.
Having begun his time in office with a widely applauded budget which cut government costs while revoking indigenisation laws which had limited foreign investment, Mnangagwa has established that he is committed to reform and to better economic policy than his predecessor. Yet the aspirations of the budget are not reflected in the realities of the economy.
Within the first few months, it will become evident that the new government is unable to deliver on its promise that the economy will grow by 3.7%.
In spite of an Afreximbank loan specifically targeted at replenishing Zimbabwe's nostro accounts (which enable companies to make foreign payments), thereby increasing liquidity and the potential for international trade, the cash crisis and economic failure will not abate.
Between January and September 2017 alone, the government issued US$1.75 billion in Treasury bills (AC Vol 58 No 24, Destruction in his wake). New government or no, debtors will be unwilling and unable to pay back the Treasury bills purchased, leaving a hole in the economy, unsupported by money in the national reserve. Even with the support for the nostro accounts, there will be no surge of confidence in the Zimbabwean economy. The continued lack of cash will help fuel growing disillusionment with Mnangagwa's government that will reach the streets.
There will be a renewal of interest from local and international businesses. On 18 December Mnangagwa met the Harare business community, and the next day the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, Sibusiso Moyo, saw South African business leaders in Pretoria. South African firms will be particularly interested in Zimbabwe as their own economy falters in the continuing tussle for power in the ruling African National Congress. British businesses will be similarly keen.
This revived interest will increase the availability of easy money and exciting deals for economic and political elites, but the flow of cash will not trickle down and out of the well-guarded suburbs of Harare.
The mining sector, which has the potential for rapid development, will be limited by platinum and diamonds being the only industries which are not exempt from the old indigenisation laws, under which 51% of every local company must be owned by a Zimbabwean. This will inhibit international interest in the country's platinum and diamond reserves.
The Zimbabwe Consolidated Diamond Company will be dissolved under the new budget's proposal to privatise or wind up most parastatals. This will enable the military to regain access to the diamond deals they made with Chinese firms before members of the G40 group pushed for the creation of the ZCDC to block the Mnangagwa faction's interests in diamond mining.
Again, this wealth will be confined to the small pool of elite interest groups that control the deals. Mining will continue to have a particularly detrimental effect on communities close to the mineral deposits, as local and now international companies ride roughshod over human rights and the environment. The military will be used to enforce compliance by local people with the requirements of the mining companies.
In March 2018, the 100-day challenge that Mnangagwa imposed on his cabinet will end. Ministers were instructed to come up with a service-delivery-focused target to achieve within their first 100 days. Most of the goals are either too vague or too ambitious; they will have to be implemented through ministries which have not functioned efficiently in years, and particularly not during the faction-fighting of the past few years. Very few of the ministers will make substantial progress in their tasks, which will weaken their credibility.
Meanwhile, once Constantino Chiwenga retires from his post as Commander of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces, Mnangagwa will have to manage his relationship with the military very carefully (AC Vol 58 No 25, A martial mind-set). Chiwenga's successor as ZDF Commander, Phillip Valerio Sibanda, is a professional soldier who is less interested in politicking than Chiwenga, a former Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army deputy commissar. Without Chiwenga to draw the military into active politics, Mnangagwa will have to take care not to lose their support. However, as Vice-President, Chiwenga will be building his own political support base to maximise his chances of succeeding Mnangagwa as President. There will also be pressure from Kembo Mohadi, the other Vice-President, who has indicated that he wants to succeed Mnangagwa.
The precariousness is increased by Mnangagwa's tenuous relationship with the Central Intelligence Organisation, the body which has always reinforced the presidency. Having appointed a CIO director from outside the organisation, Mnangagwa will be hoping that Isaac Moyo will quickly make it a force loyal to his interests, rather than those of his predecessor. The death of Moyo's deputy, Nixon Chirinda, on 30 December in a suspicious car accident, however, can only thicken the fog of paranoia surrounding Zimbabwe's intelligence services.
Although enthusiasm for Mnangagwa is bound to fade, the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front's hold on Zimbabwe will not loosen (AC Vol 58 No 24, Hopes and fears for the new old guard).
The planned 2018 election will go ahead but it is likely to be no freer than those of the recent past. Mnangagwa will use the poll to strengthen his legitimacy as President and to bolster his power base in parliament. He will win the election through a combination of strong-arm tactics and the residual goodwill of the electorate. His close aide Chris Mutsvangwa has already said that the army will play an important role in ZANU-PF's campaign.
This is an ominous threat, given the crucial role that the military played in ensuring that voters supported Mugabe in the 2008 run-off after they failed to vote for him in the first round of elections.
As things stand, the opposition cannot win in 2018, whether or not ZANU-PF deploys the state to help. Its leadership is too fractured to pose a threat to the ruling party.
There will be a change of leadership in the biggest opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change-Tsvangirai, but the factions that support the three Vice-Presidents of the MDC-T – Thokozani Khupe, Elias Mudzuri and Nelson Chamisa – are at loggerheads with each other (AC Vol 57 No 9, Morgan goes it alone). It is unlikely that Morgan Tsvangirai, who has been seriously ill, will have the strength to shepherd the party into a new leadership, so leaving the factions to fight it out among themselves.
The fracturing of the opposition will be deepened and exacerbated by acrimonious, anti-opposition messaging from disaffected social media commentators. The social media activists who came to prominence during the 2016 civil protests, and who have built up a strong following in the middle class and the diaspora, will cease to be politically relevant in 2018. Those activists who were originally in ZANU-PF will be absorbed without trace back into the party, following the example of Acie Lumumba, who posted a photograph of himself with Mnangagwa days after the military takeover, and Temba Mliswa, who attended the ZANU-PF congress dressed in the party's regalia in spite of his position as an independent MP.
Other activists will be either discredited through exposure in social media scandals or quietly repressed by the militarised state. The window of political opportunity that appeared to have opened in November 2017 will be firmly shut, and ZANU-PF will be able to justify the closing down of political space by reminding investors and donors that their chief concern is the economy – which, the party will argue, is more important than human rights or democratic ideals.
Mnangagwa purges the party
While the world concentrates on Zimbabwe's 'new' government, staffed by President Emmerson Mnangagwa's allies and senior military figures, scant attention will be paid to the losers in the fight for the leadership of the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front. In the last weeks of 2017, senior ZANU-PF figures, including Walter Chidhakwa, former Minister of Mines, and Ignatius Chombo, former Finance Minister, were arrested and charged with corruption. Once the New Year began, the arrests gathered pace. Into the bag went: Makhosini Hlongwane, former Minister of Sports and Recreation; Supa Mandiwanzira, former Minister of Information; Jason Machaya, former Minister of Midlands Province. Members of parliament Psychology Maziwisa and Masango Matambanadzo were detained, as were others.
Acting against corruption may be positive publicity for Mnangagwa's new government, but the trivial sums involved in the cases mentioned so far reveal the political motivations behind the arrests. The Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission is being used as a weapon against Mnangagwa's political enemies, rather than as an independent body fighting corruption and fraud. Once the 90-day grace period for the repatriation of externalised funds ends on 28 February, the net will be further widened and many more Mnangagwa rivals – both within and outside ZANU-PF – can expect to be arrested on similar charges.
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