13 October 2017

Zimbabwe: Cabinet Reshuffle Driven By Fear

Photo: The Herald
President Robert Mugabe's new cabinet.
opinion

CABINET reshuffles in democracies are normally done to replace minsters who have either resigned, retired or died.

In such countries they function to revitalise the economy and government by rooting out poor performers. A reshuffle provides an opportunity to re-evaluate ministries and government departments, for them to reflect new priorities or for reasons of efficiency. However, in autocracies like Zimbabwe, reshuffles are often done to reward loyal supporters and punish "antagonists" perceived to be working against a sitting head of state.

President Robert Mugabe's announcement at the weekend that he would reshuffle his under-performing cabinet generated a lot of excitement, anxiety and speculation among Zimbabweans -- more so on social media, as it was coming amid a bruising Zanu PF succession war that has turned nasty.

While Mugabe claimed at a Zanu PF youth meeting in Harare that the reshuffle will be based on performance, what has emerged after his announcement is that it was done to deal mainly with succession. Looking at the calibre of new cabinet ministers, there is no doubt that the reshuffle had nothing to do with performance or the need to create efficient and effective governance. The reshuffle on Monday did not address real issues the country is facing.

Mugabe's new-look cabinet, as expected, has failed to inject the confidence expected of a fresh set of brains desperately needed to resuscitate the ailing economy. Instead, it heightened the gloom brought about by the return of the same recycled failures, albeit in different roles.

As widely anticipated, Mugabe reshuffled the same old tired cast that has superintended over the devastating economic malaise characterised by a debilitating liquidity crunch, acute cash shortages, dwindling revenue and investment inflows, company closures and massive job losses. The names Ignatius Chombo and Obert Mpofu, who were reshuffled in whatever ministerial portfolios, do not inspire confidence of a cabinet ready to spearhead the country's economic turnaround since they have been part of the catastrophic decline and rot experienced since 2000.

Every Zimbabwean can see that Mugabe's tired cabinet is neither able nor competent to propel the economy to recovery. The ministers were appointed in line with factional dynamics within Mugabe's troubled party, as the fight to succeed the nonagenarian leader escalates. That the latest shuffling of ministers by Mugabe has been dubbed a "factional reshuffle" speaks volumes of his lack of will power to redeem the battered economy.

Zimbabwe has had countless reshuffles since Independence, but where is the economy today? Is there an economy to speak of?

The only change in Mugabe's cabinet since 2000 that inspired hope and resulted in economic rejuvenation was during the inclusive government. The infusion of various ministers from the opposition Movement for Democratic Change injected the much-needed impetus, which saw capacity utilisation shooting up to 57,2%, the revival of hospitals and schools, some of which were operating with skeletal staff. Supermarkets, which could only previously stock up on toilet paper and toothpicks, were filled with goodies overnight.

Barely a few years after the disbanding of the Government of National Unity, the country saw a resurgence of the black market, cash shortages, long winding queues, foreign direct investment plummeting from US$545 million to US$319 million last year, critical shortages of medicines and the introduction of a surrogate currency, among other ills brought about by perennial incompetence.

What Zimbabwe needs are new ideas, proactive brains in key positions like finance, energy, industry and commerce, agriculture, mining and local government to breathe life and confidence into the economy.

If I were a foreign investor or even a local one, Mugabe's cabinet would not inspire me at all. The reshuffle was more tailored towards rewarding factional loyalties than rescuing a vandalised economy.

Shuffling personalities without stimulating confidence will not change anything. This brings us to the issue of Mugabe who has recycled the team of failures since 1980. If it was about performance, then the first person who would need to be booted out is Mugabe himself, who has turned Zimbabweans from exuberant swimmers in the sea of optimism, into huddled figures in the backwater of despair.

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