President Emmerson Mnangagwa is trying to emulate his Rwandan counterpart Paul Kagame's economic development model, which blends authoritarian practices and homegrown solutions with international best practices, as he hired yet another public relations (PR) firm in a desperate bid to spruce up the country's battered international image.
The Zimbabwe Independent revealed last week that Mnangagwa's administration has engaged London-based BTP Advisers to bolster the diplomatic re-engagement without first addressing human rights concerns in the country.
The company has previously done work for Kagame. It becomes the fourth PR Company engaged by Mnangagwa, who has previously engaged United States-based Mercury International Limited, Ballard Partners and Avenue Strategies.
However, western countries have so far been unflinching in their demands, vowing to continue alienating Harare until realistic steps towards addressing human rights abuses are taken. Despite being a dictator, Kagame has transformed Rwanda into Africa's fastest growing economy.
Rwanda's economic model blends authoritarian practices and home-grown solutions with international best practice from developmental states and the West, particularly the US, without emulating their democratic governance systems.
"The model emphasises opening the economy to market forces without necessarily paying attention to political and civil liberties preached by the West. You will realise that the Asian Tigers have followed that path and registered some tremendous success. This model seems to appeal to him very much because of his authoritarian progressive approach," a source said.
But Mnangagwa has come under a barrage of international criticism over the deteriorating human rights situation, with close to 50 activists, having being allegedly abducted by suspected state agents this year.
Mnangagwa's administration has come under heavy criticism for deploying the army that shot six civilians on August 1, 2018, while 17 others were killed in January during a national shutdown.
Although Kagame's human rights record is chequered as he is known to clamp down on the opposition, he has managed to preside over a progressive economy.
It is common for political opposition leaders to be kidnapped, intimidated, arrested or to be forced into exile in Rwanda. Mnangagwa on the other hand has presided over worsening human rights abuses and a battered economy.
In the days after the 2017 coup, Mnangagwa's emphasis on economic development more than politics dovetailed with Kagame's leadership model since the 1994 genocide.
Like Kagame, Mnangagwa in January appointed a 26 member Presidential Advisory Council (PAC).In Rwanda the PAC, a group of eminent experts who offer strategic advice to Kagame on strategic development, was established in 2007 and has stirred the East-African country to economic prosperity, an attribute that Mnangagwa seeks to emulate.
The group is mainly composed of a variety of individuals with notable expertise in different spheres and also involves experts from other nations like the US, but Mnangagwa has relied on local brains to advise him on economic matters.The Rwandan PAC has been central to the country's success story. Mnangagwa is also set to establish an investment council to replicate the highly recommended Rwanda Development Board whose chair Clare Akamanzi was in Zimbabwe in April last year to give advice to government on how to attract foreign direct investment.
The PR company hired by Mnangagwa successfully led a campaign to exonerate Kagame from the 1994 genocide.A 2009 report from the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative acknowledged that the BTP's "excellent public relations machinery" had succeeded in hiding "the exclusionary and repressive nature of the regime" in Kigali.
Government officials say the British government, through former ambassador Catriona Laing, persuaded Mnangagwa to adopt Rwanda's model of economic development in its bid to help the country out of its unrelenting economic problems.
The East African nation has posted soaring economic growth rates in recent years fuelled by business-friendly policies and strong inflows of foreign direct investment.
By 1994, following the tribal and ethnic wars, the Rwandan economy registered a negative growth rate of about -11,4%, with government services almost non-existent. Fast forward to two decades, Rwanda recorded a growth rate of 6,9%, becoming one of the most successful and competitive countries in Africa.
Following the genocide Kagame provided visionary leadership where he acknowledged the socio-economic and political challenges that bedevilled the country over the years and pledged a vision (vision 2020).
Mnangagwa has in the same vein set vision 2030 where he has set sight on Zimbabwe becoming a middle income nation with improved per capita income.
The Rwandan strongman undertook a series of pro-investment reforms to facilitate the ease-of-doing-business. Mnangagwa has, however, come under a barrage of criticism over the snail pace of instituting reforms.
The alignment of the 2013 Constitution with laws has also been lethargic, slowing down the reform process.