What next for the reform agenda? 

When Emmerson Mnangagwa took over the leadership of Zanu PF and became the head of state there was a perfectly choreographed plan to carve out his image as a reformer.

Source: What next for the reform agenda? – The Standard January 27, 2019


He would be presented to us as a man with a tainted past but who had completely changed his ways and was willing to chart a different course from his predecessor and mentor for over half a century, Robert Mugabe.

Newspapers dedicated acres of space to tell us how pragmatic he was in his ways and that he had a sound understanding of how business works.

In his speeches he made all the right noises, just exactly what the world wanted to hear from a new leader taking over a nation which had been condemned to the pits of hell for the three decades that it was under the despotic rule of Mugabe.

Mnangagwa waxed lyrical about how he would seek to reengage with the international community to help get Zimbabwe back into the community of nations.

“We will open up the economy, we will fight corruption, we will work with those we considered our foes, we will compensate farmers whose land was appropriated by the state,” he said. There was so much hope of new beginnings.

Western envoys and those from the East tripped over each other to congratulate Mnangagwa and, as Americans would say, he had the whole world drinking his kool-aid.

But today, far less than a year since his election into office, the re-engagement drive has been thrown off rail and one can only wonder if Mnangagwa was ever sincere about his pledges.

Zimbabwe is once again in the news for the wrong reasons. At the hands of the Mnangagwa’s dreaded security forces, Zimbabwe has degenerated into a typical failed state as armed soldiers go on a rampage killing, raping and beating civilians.

The unfolding events followed similar horrors witnessed last August where six people were killed and hundreds assaulted and harassed by the security forces.

While government maintains that the world was opening to its “open for business” mantra, the opposite is obtaining. Mnangagwa’s administration has failed to inspire confidence among the international community and multilateral lenders who insist on tangible reforms before they can give economic support.

The Commonwealth, US government and the European Union (EU) this week all condemned government’s brutal crackdown on civilians, while British parliamentarians proposed to throw out Zimbabwe’s request to re-join the Commonwealth.

Zimbabwe desperately requires an urgent bailout to jump-start its industry which is starved of capital and to address a currency crisis which has paralysed the economy.

The southern African country owes the World Bank and the African Development Bank in the region of $2 billion and cannot access concessional lines of funding from any other international financial institution until it pays up these two.

By end of August 2018, the country’s debt position stood at US$17, 69 billion, of which domestic debt accounted for 54% while external debt is 46%.
In contrast up north on the African continent Ethiopia’s Abiy Ahmed has instituted far reaching reforms that include pardoning of political prisoners, including opposition leader Andargachew Tsege, barely a year after assuming power.

In just a few months, Abiy has lifted the state of emergency, ordered the release of thousands of prisoners, allowed dissidents to return home and unblocked hundreds of websites and TV channels.

Leader of the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front coalition also terminated the state of war with Eritrea by agreeing to give up disputed border territory, in the process normalising relations with the long-time enemy.

The 42-year-old, who took power following the surprise resignation of his predecessor, Haile Mmariam Dessalegn — has so far reshuffled his cabinet, fired a series of controversial and hitherto untouchable civil servants.

Ethiopia will next year host the World Economic Forum, a great opportunity for country branding, tourism and investment promotion for the country.

Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Africa relations, Todd Moss, who served in the George W Bush administration, said the Zimbabwe government needed to undertake major political reforms to extricate itself from the economic quagmire.

“There is no solution to Zimbabwe’s economic crisis without solving the currency. There is no solving the currency without a return of confidence. There is no return of confidence without major political reforms, Moss said on microblogging twitter last week.

Economist Eddie Cross told Standard business that prospects of attracting foreign funding were dented by the instability of the past fortnight.

“The short answer is, no. The first priority for foreign investors is political stability, the second is policy consistency and the third is monetary policy and open markets. At the present time Zimbabwe offers none of the previous requirements and the events of the past 10 days have done nothing to alleviate these problems. The instability in the past fortnight has made it much more difficult to raise foreign funding for any activity in Zimbabwe. Lines of credit were already highly restrictive and they will only be more so now,” Cross said.

Steve Hanke an American economist, said there was no justification for the merciless brutalising of citizens at a time the country was enduring harsh economic conditions.

“Welcome to Zimbabwe where there is no justification whatsoever of beating up citizens. This is Mnangagwa’s Zimbabwe? To make matters worse, I measure inflation for today at 219% per year. Zimbabwe’s economy and citizens are suffering as they have for decades,” Hanke said on Twitter.

Economist John Robertson said investor confidence had reached its lowest and as such there was need to expedite the implementation of policy reforms to restore investor confidence.

“Confidence is certainly missing now, but some good policy decisions that are carried through quickly could begin to restore confidence. It will take time to become effective, but that is why we should make an immediate start. Restore property rights, repeal the Indigenisation Act, stop the patronage handouts to senior political figures and stop the corruption. They can do it if they want to,” Robertson said.

Not only is Mnangagwa failing to tame the security forces’ interference in civilian matters, but also he has displayed reluctance to walk the talk on the ease of doing business, indigenisation law and repressive legislations such as the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act and the Public Order and Security Act.