21 January 2018

Zimbabwe: Engagement Might Pay Off for Mnangagwa

Photo: New Zimbabwe
Cabinet ministers take their oath of office before President Emmerson Mnangagwa (file photo).
analysis

MOST opposition parties in Zimbabwe appear to be torn by divisions raising fears that they may not perform well in the forthcoming general elections.

With less than five months left before the elections, as alluded to by presidential spokesperson George Charamba last week, no strong opposition candidate has emerged from the opposition as MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai continues to battle ill health.

On the other hand, Zanu PF presidential candidate, President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who has for long been viewed by many as unelectable, now appears to be the most serious contender.

With state machinery at his disposal, Mnangagwa has embarked on a charm offensive, which may prove critical in the forthcoming elections.

Since grabbing power in November last year, Mnangagwa appears to be moving away from the ways of his predecessor -- who seemed to cherish being treated like a demigod. He has done away with long titles which his former boss used to love, although there are some within the system who seem unable to stop hero worshipping leaders and insist on referring to him as "His Excellency, president of Zimbabwe, head of state and government and commander in chief of the defence forces."

The president has also embraced social media and has opened a Twitter account and Facebook page, making a good public relations statement, especially with the youth.

"When we grew up the fastest means of communication was getting on a donkey then riding it to the next village to relay the message by word of mouth, or alternatively you would walk all the way," Mnangagwa said while addressing people at an open hall in Harare last week.

"But now you can communicate with the entire world in seconds. I am learning to be in those platforms. My children are teaching me."

In a meeting at his offices recently, Mnangagwa told this publication that he wanted a country with free speech, where everyone's views were worth listening to, an economy that worked for everyone, with peace and unity being the hallmark.

"It would be a sad day for democracy if everyone was to sing the same song," he said.

Since his inauguration as president, Mnangagwa has been attending church, has met chiefs, hosted the business community, dated the youth and engaged the diaspora.

Sceptics, however, say Mnangagwa is all talk and no action. They argue that since he came into office, prices have continued to spiral out of control while the liquidity crisis appears to have no end in sight despite his assurances to deal with these problems within a short time.

There is no sign of movement in the comatose industry and instead, businesses continue to shut down owing to a myriad of challenges. Many companies are still struggling to pay salaries while others are sitting on the edge of liquidation as they fail to service debts.

MDC-T spokesperson Obert Gutu said Mnangagwa was promising free and fair elections but the situation on the ground pointed elsewhere.

"For instance, villagers are being forced to surrender their BVR slip serial numbers to their headmen and Zanu PF officials. This is a blatantly fascist and intimidatory tactic," Gutu said.

"In addition, opposition political players are still virtually closed out of the public media such as the ZBC TV and ZBC radio stations. Mnangagwa is yet to walk the talk. There could be an element of deceit in what he is saying because his words are not matched by his actions."

UK-based law lecturer and political analyst, Alex Magaisa said Mnangagwa has been a mixed bag.

"It's mixed. He has made the right sounds but there aren't any great changes yet. In parts, he has continued with the Mugabe line such as rewarding chiefs at the expense of more pressing issues but in others he has made visible changes such as the overhaul of the police force leadership," Magaisa said.

"The response to the Gukurahundi protests has been harsh but he has also shown a compassionate side by visiting ailing opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai. At a personal level, he has done very well to improve his image from that of a hardliner to that of a soft, approachable and even charming leader. However, the economic wheels are missing so things on that side remain dismal."

But another lawyer, Brian Kagoro said Mnangagwa was trying to sanitise his "coup" by seeking the endorsement of the regional leaders and the international community before the holding of elections later this year that will legitimise his rule.

"A coup is a coup and what happened in Zimbabwe is a coup, although it is being sanitised before the elections later this year that are aimed at legitimising his rule," Kagoro told a debate series on elections organised by the Zimbabwe Election Support Network in Harare on Thursday.

Mnangagwa's administration says the country is on the mend, and that things can only get better. But Reserve Bank governor, John Mangudya said it was still early days because before money was spent, it had to be earned.

"We still have a deficit in foreign currency because in our case, we use it both internally and externally," Mangudya said.

"We need to up production first so that we export more, produce more gold and other goods and services for export so that we earn foreign currency before we can spend it and we are getting there."

Mnangagwa claims to have brought in investments worth more than $1 billion in just 49 days of taking office. And as he heads for Davos for the World Economic Forum, his mission is to open up the country for foreign direct investment to enable a change of fortunes for Zimbabwe.

Alpha Media Holdings chairman Trevor Ncube said Mnangagwa had the right message for Zimbabweans and investors.

"In Namibia he was preaching love, love, love, unity, unity, unity, work, work, work. We have never heard such a message in years and we need that. It is inspiring," Ncube said.

Political analyst Blessing Vava said so far, Mnangagwa had projected himself well and could be in for the prize.

"It is a do or die situation for him, and he really has to try hard to spruce up his image. This is a guy who has been given tags such as 'hard sell' 'unelectable' and so on, and he is very much aware of his shortcomings. That is why he is trying to rebrand himself. He has been doing well in that front; projecting himself as a reformist," Vava said.

Top human rights lawyer Valentine Mutatu gave Mnangagwa the thumbs up, but said he had to do more.

"I believe he is on the right track for the country to return to constitutionalism after having ascended to power in the manner he did. The opposition is clearly being weakened by his approach, especially his take on the issue of non-violence, free, fair and credible elections.

"He should, however, be clear that whoever violates our constitution and electoral laws, despite their political affiliation, would be dealt with heavily in terms of the law," he said.

Mutatu, however, said Mnangagwa's image as a reformer would not be complete if he did not introduce media reforms.

"The road to full democracy also encompasses access to public media by opposition parties," he said.

Mnangagwa has promised that under his watch, Zimbabwe will not slip back to the days of hate speech, intolerance and corruption.

So, the die is cast. Mnangagwa is moving as he campaigns for polls; Tsvangirai is battling ill health while his fellow leaders tear each other apart and Mujuru is in sixes and sevens.

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