A patron and his clients in cabinet

via A patron and his clients in cabinet – The Zimbabwe Independent by Kevin Msipha September 13, 2013

IN 2004 the then United States president George W Bush upon winning re-election, proceeded to proclaim that he had earned “political capital” which he intended to expend.

The announcement of the new cabinet by the President Robert Mugabe on Tuesday has echoes similar to Bush’s remarks albeit with a much deeper mandate and more serious challenges facing the nation.

While like other Zimbabweans, I was looking for hope, inspiration and new faces in key cabinet portfolios, I must confess this expectation, as it now transpires, was founded on some rather naive and profound lack of nuances about the political culture that we live in.

The new appointments have disabused me of this innocent trusting I had on politicians and their designs.

The conferment of monikers to describe ministerial appointments is a time-honoured tradition dating back as early as Abraham Lincoln’s first cabinet in 1860 which was christened “team of rivals” by the local press. More recently the local media in Kenya excited by both the size and composition of the cabinet called it the “team of professionals” or “great expectations”.

However, locally commentators have described the new Zimbabwean cabinet using all sorts of dramatic and colourful adjectives, ranging from a “team of recycled deadwood”, “team of cronies”, or “tired and detested” has-beens.

A glance at the members of cabinet leaves the impression that Mugabe has hand down on the country a team of “unwavering loyalists”. This cabinet will be old-school and prescriptive in nature as opposed to being consultative and reformist.

The broader message for stakeholders and the economy is that this government has every intention to utilise its recently acquired mandate to stay course and accept little progressive accommodation. All interactions will be done on their own terms as they remain entrenched in their frayed framework.

The cabinet viewed, together with the party’s two thirds majority, would imply that we may be about to witness the intensification of crude implementation of an unstructured indigenisation programme even though the appointment of Francis Nhema may suggest otherwise.

This government has every intention of persisting with its controversial policies, something which will fuel uncertainty and stymie recovery.

Those with expectations of the new government adopting a policy shift and pushing hard against inefficiencies, waste and corruption will continue to be disillusioned as nothing much will change.

This is evidenced by the fact that Mugabe has in the past said he was informed by former president of South Africa Thabo Mbeki that some of ministers were demanding bribes, yet all of them (except the unwell Herbert Murerwa) have been retained.

Well, they will say there is no evidence on corruption allegations, but that on its own is not enough and shows lack of political will. Zanu PF does not even have combating corruption as one of its major issues in the election manifesto.

In fact, Zanu PF made huge promises to free trillions of dollars in the liquidity-hit economy through its indigenisation and other programmes, something it will be hard pressed to fulfil.

The size of cabinet of 26 full ministers is proportionally big when compared with other African countries. Kenya with a population of 42 million has a cabinet comprising 18 full ministers, down from 44 from the coalition government. Zambia has a cabinet of about 20 full ministers against a population of about 14 million.

Looking at the actual composition of cabinet, the finance portfolio carries the most meaning for most observers. That it was handed to Patrick Chinamasa may have as much to do with the absence of a loyalist candidate with widely respected financial pedigree and profile.

The most puzzling appointment appears to be the one of the Energy and Power Development minister Dzikamai Mavahaire. One hopes there was more to his appointment than the need to reward the people of Masvingo as he alluded to in his remarks.

Another surprise inclusion is the elevation of Walter Chidhakwa to the post of Minister of Mines and Mining Development. In his favour, he is young and without some of the baggage his older comrades come with. Many will be watching as his public profile finds expression.

The exchange of portfolios between Francis Nhema and Savior Kasukuwere may have more to do with managing the tenor of the indigenisation programme as opposed to reducing its intensity as some people hope.

The accommodation of Professor Jonathan Moyo could mean an escalation of centralisation of government communication and adoption of an aggressive posture.

With the fact that the ruling party now has a two thirds majority in parliament, the appointment of the former Defence ministr Emmerson Mnagwagwa in the justice portfolio is quite telling as to the probability that along the way, the new constitution might undergo some amendments even though it also speaks to going round in circles as he has been there in the past.

The education portfolios comprise a new comer to full ministerial status Lazarus Dokora and seasoned female minister Olivia Muchena. The country is in dire need of revitalising the education sector, and giving greater emphasis to the scientific and research front.

While the she is respected by some, the portfolio, split to accommodate loyalists, might have benefitted from a performer with a bigger profile.

The movement of former Mines minister Obert Mpofu to the Transport and Infrastructural Development portfolio is not a demotion as some quarters say. If investment is forthcoming as we have been led to believe, the portfolio will prove to be as influential as the mines ministry.

In this largely loyalist-laden cabinet, there was room for performers like Walter Mzembi, who can consider himself in the ascendency after pulling off the recent UNWTO general assembly in Victoria Falls.

Given the size and importance of the informal sector in Zimbabwe, one hopes that the Minister of Small and Medium Enterprises will find her voice and seek greater visibility for her portfolio at the second time of asking.

Then finally, one must understand that in any party or grouping, there those for whom only their promoters — patrons — can understand and appreciate their usefulness. The minister of Agriculture Joseph Made, a key Mugabe client, may just be one such man.

Having lost a primary election and presided over food shortgaes in the past, he was brought back for reasons nobody understands beyond patron-client relations.

In summary one can only hope that the state-driven developmental model that Zanu PF aspires to is not one entirely premised on a militaristic ethos along the line of countries like South Korea or Singapore.

What would be the probability that Zimbabweans would heed the call to turn in their jewelry to build a foreign currency buffer as occasioned in South Korea during the Park Chung Hee era?

Or Mugabe finally being Zimbabwe’s Lee Kuan Yew? Meanwhile, for those still struggling to catch up, we are now firmly and without question, for better or worse, in the ship in which Mugabe is captain.

Msipha is a finalist of the chartered financial analysts programme. He writes in his personal capacity.