THE most significant political fact about Zimbabwe today is that it is mired in a complex and turbulent multi-dimensional transition of which the just-ended elections were a part. The bitterly contested watershed elections of July 30 have come and gone but the heavy, thick dust (or is it “residue”?) it raised remains.
Eldred V Masunungure
A sad part of that residue is the deep and wide polarisation of the country’s demos. This was on plain display when the election management body (EMB), the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) nocturnally announced that Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa (popularly known as ED) of Zanu PF had captured the trophy having garnered 50,8% (later shrinking to 50,67%) and thus crossing the constitutionally enshrined threshold of 50%+1 to avoid a run-off with his closest challenger, Nelson Chamisa of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) Alliance who trailed at 44,3%.
The latter rejected the results in-toto, accusing Zec of industrial-scale rigging on behalf of and at the behest of its alleged “master”, Zanu PF. Chamisa appealed to the Constitutional Court (ConCourt, the apex court in the country) for redress. Specifically, he asked that the ConCourt nullify Zec’s announcement that Mnangagwa was the winner and that, instead, he be found the outright winner or at the very least, a run-off election be ordered. The fate of Zimbabwe and its people now shifted from the ballot box to the ConCurt whose decision is vested with finality.
Two days after an animated and televised hearing (a first in Zimbabwe) on August 22, the nine-member bewigged ConCourt judges delivered their unanimous verdict on August 24. The court dismissed the appeal (with costs) on the grounds that Chamisa’s legal team had failed to render adequate, credible and irrefutable evidence. It then confirmed Zec’s decision and declared Mnangagwa as the duly elected president of Zimbabwe.
Chamisa bitterly rejected the verdict, accusing the “captured” judges of being “an appendage of Zanu PF” alongside Zec. He conceded that the legal route was now blocked but that many other roads (to State House) are open and he would vigorously pursue them including political protests and appealing to organs of the African Union.
Mnangagwa was crowned by the Chief Justice Luke Malaba on Sunday and started his five-year journey. But it is likely to be a long journey on a road paved with thorns. He outlined a long shopping list but anchored on three themes: unity, economic reform, and re-engagement with the international community, especially the West with which Zimbabwe has had frigid relations in the last one-and-a-half decades.
Heavy burden on a thorny road
The cold-blooded reality is that the commanding heights of the state will be in the hands of Mnangagwa and his Zanu PF party for the next five years, for good or ill. So, what will Mnangagwa do with power and a fresh mandate — albeit a contested one — in the face of a toxic cocktail of problems that define Zimbabwe’s syndrome of crises with each of the problems qualifying as a “wicked problem” as policy scientists sometimes call those problems that are complex, resilient and seemingly intractable.
Zimbabwe is a broken country, with a broken nation, broken politics with a broken economy, broken infrastructure, broken social services as well as broken international relations.
Edward Murphy’s law could not be more applicable: “Whatever can go wrong will go wrong”. Will Mnangagwa and his “ED Pfee” team be able to repair all these broken pieces and the attendant cumulative damage wrought in the country since Black Friday on November 14 1997 when the Zimbabwe dollar lost 72% of its value against the US dollar triggering the country’s chronic crisis?
In his first bite of the cherry (November 2017 to July 2018), Mnangagwa suffered a deficit of political legitimacy, having inherited his predecessor’s legitimacy arising from the 2013 elections. This time, Mnangagwa, especially after the ConCourt ruling, enjoys a semblance of own-earned electoral and popular legitimacy which he can further cement and deepen through performance in the next five years.
The overarching problem that Mnangagwa confronts today and evidently confirmed by the July 30 elections is the badly fractured nature of the body politic. Though there are multiple fault lines along which the nation is divided, the deepest is along partisan political lines; this poses the gravest danger to political stability without which other challenges cannot effectively be addressed. The presidential election showed that just slightly above half the electorate voted for Mnangagwa with nearly the other half opting for Chamisa.
Few realise how deeply divided this country is, even by African standards. Recent empirical evidence from Afrobarometer starkly shows that Zimbabwe possesses the most politically polarised electorate in Africa, the next worst being Uganda, another dominant party electoral autocracy. Something needs to be done about this in the short, medium and long term.
In the short-term, a low-hanging antidote, political will allowing, includes appointing an inclusive Cabinet that transcends partisanship, gender, the generational gap as well as regional and ethnic divides. Surely Zanu PF has no monopoly of brains, competences and patriotism in this country. It is deceptive, divisive and self-serving to think otherwise.
Further, and crucially, rarely has a sharply divided nation developed economically and in other respects. The so-called Asian Tigers provide a salutary and living lesson on this. In Zimbabwe’s case, Mnangagwa’s Vision 2030 — of a sustainable middle-income economy by 2030 — is well-nigh impossible in a fractured nation nor can a divided country truly be “open for business” for long. A national consensus in a united country with a unified vision is one of the greatest political resources and drivers for national development.
Another low-hanging solution with long-standing benefits is capacitating the institutions of countervailing power, for example, the Chapter 12 Institutions for supporting democracy. At the top of the list and supportive of the nation-building project is the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission (NPRC). It needs to be capacitated to enable it to robustly do its work of reconciling the fractured nation. To this extent, the ill-considered decision by the engineers of the 2013 national Constitution that this Chapter 12 institution has a lifespan of 10 years defies logic and must be expunged from the constitution. Where in the world has nation-building been a decade-long affair?
Yet other low-hanging fruits include establishing and enabling provincial and metropolitan councils that are constitutionally mandated but were never created in the last five-year term. One of the cardinal problems in this country is the winner-take-all or zero-sum political system, especially in the absence of inclusive governance structures. The effect of robust second-tier governance structures like provincial and metropolitan councils is to dilute this zero-sum character of our politics such that those who lose at the national level compensate for that at the sub-national level. This, of course, requires political will and good faith on the part of the national level government to ensure that the lower-tier governance structures are given the autonomy and requisite resources (especially budgetary support, for which there is constitutional provision) they need to viably operate.
Which brings us to another low-hanging fruit, that is, the alignment of all laws — especially the repressive and notorious duo of Public Order and Security Act (Posa) and Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (Aippa) — to the 2013 supreme law. The previous government had taken a lackadaisical approach despite considerable support from the donor community. This is one area the Western international community regard as a priority area and as evidence of improvement in the governance of the country, alongside the other areas mentioned above, for example the establishment of provincial and metropolitan councils and capacitation of the NPRC.
I am not forgetful of the most wicked problem facing the new administration i.e. interconnected set of economic problems, some structural others behavioural. These problems have been part of Zimbabwe’s vicious cycle in the last two decades and breaking this cycle and converting it into a virtuous cycle will require a bold, concerted, unified action by a focussed leadership. The moribund economy faces critical shortages — of foreign earnings, supplies of cash, and wage employment.
It is no exaggeration to say that the economy is extremely stressed and some even say it is close to collapse what with an unsustainable fiscal deficit (approaching or already over 10% of gross domestic product), severe cash shortages, galloping price inflation (25%+), a comatose formal sector spawning a nation of vendors, unemployment hovering between 75-90% in the context of endemic and systemic corruption.
On unemployment, Mnangagwa has the right mantra, “jobs, jobs, jobs” and Afrobarometer consistently mentions joblessness as the most important problem facing the nation. But jobs require investment, both public and private. Suspension of indigenisation law will probably help clear the way for private investment but most prospective may rather see its complete repeal and thus are adopting a wait-and-see attitude.
Further, public investment first requires debt clearance with international financial institutions. The contradiction here is that new loans from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank will come with strict conditions: e.g. job cutbacks in a bloated public service (which now probably consumes more than 100% of the 2018 budget after the recent pre-election salary and wage increases) and other austerity measures. Are Zimbabweans ready to hear that economic conditions may get worse before they get better?
The near-bankrupt government has resorted to the shaky expedient of paying public salaries with electronic funds that have no firm material underpinning. As a result, black markets in hard currency are flourishing seemingly unabated. It must be remembered that the economic malaise has been so deep that the economy is half the size it was in 2000.
As such, recovery will be a long and hard road. Indeed, due to habits of mismanagement and the austerity requirements of any internationally funded recovery programme, living conditions could well get worse before getting better. And popular resistance to essential cutbacks in public employment could be vigorous and will probably be met with a vicious response from the state security services, further contaminating relations between the regime and the Western international community.
And, few of Zimbabwe’s ambitious goals, including its flagship Vision 2030, can be attained without Zimbabwe re-establishing itself as a decent member of the community of nations. Mnangagwa’s partially successful charm offensive was suddenly tarnished by the events of August 1, that is the disproportionate use of force to deal with opposition protesters, leaving seven people dead. The proposed inquiry may go a long way in assuaging domestic and international critics, including donors and investors.
Lastly, Zimbabwe is in this turbulent transition in large measure as a result of the regime’s elevation of power politics above everything else. Power politics, which former president Robert Mugabe was a skilled player of, hoists political rationality above economic rationality. Two rationalities often confront national decision-makers: Political rationality and economic rationality. At the best of times, national leaders take decisions that are both politically and economically rational.
Often, however, the two rationalities clash and decision-makers have to make a difficult choice in favour of economic or political rationality. The tragedy in Zimbabwe is that, almost at all times, political rationality loomed very large and whenever the two rationalities clashed, the political trumped the economic. Until this calculus changes, it is difficult to see Zimbabwe achieve its Vision 2030 agenda. This shift is difficult to make but it has to be made if Zimbabwe is not to continue being mired in a syndrome of crises in the next five years. Goals! It can be done, but will it be done. Over to you, ED!
Professor Masunungure is one of the country’s leading political analysts working at the University of Zimbabwe and is also a director at the Mass Public Opinion Institute.