Zimbabwe in Transition: President Mnangagwa

Mwana Werozvi Analysis Leave a Comment

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: The contributor, Mwana Werozvi, travels to Zimbabwe regularly and was present shortly after Robert Mugabe resigned from power. He has had the privilege of travelling to every province in Zimbabwe and has a deep appreciation of the strength and resilience of the people. Mwana is currently living, working and studying in Alberta.

The forced resignation of Robert Mugabe in November 2017, after 37 years in power, shocked people around the world, including Zimbabweans themselves. To many Zimbabweans, he is the only leader they have known so it was not surprising to observe the lingering shock as we travelled around the country during the Christmas holidays, over a month after the event. As the people try to grapple with his departure, there is some cautious optimism for change along with a healthy amount of skepticism. The transition government of President Emmerson D. Mnangagwa has an uphill battle in combatting the many problems that face Zimbabwe. He has asked for the people’s patience until the economy stabilizes and promised to schedule elections in 2018.

To many Zimbabweans, he is the only leader they have known…

Meanwhile, the transition government has been trying to distance itself from Mugabe’s regime and rebrand the ruling party as the party of change. This will be a difficult task as the new government resembles the old government. This starts from the top with Mnangagwa himself who served as vice president under Mugabe from 2014 to 2017 and has been in the cabinet since Zimbabwe’s independence. The new president faces a number of challenges in his bid to convince the people he is different from his predecessor and he has already stumbled out of the gates.

The first glaring mistake made by the president has been the partisan approach he has taken in appointing his cabinet. In recent years, there had been two major factions within the ruling ZANU PF party, one that supported Mnangagwa as the successor to Mugabe, known as the Lacoste group (a reference to Mnangagwa’s nickname ‘the crocodile’). The other faction supported first lady Grace Mugabe as heir apparent, known as the G40. Things came to a head when Mugabe ousted Mnangagwa at the behest of the First Lady and her allies. After Mugabe himself was removed and replaced by Mnangagwa, he purged G40 members from the government and appointed his Lacoste allies to the cabinet.

The people he has appointed include well-known corrupt officials such as Obert Mpofu and Kembo Mohadi. The latter is currently serving as Vice President. Amongst other criminal activities, these are people who are known to have embezzled large sums of money and their appointments have convinced many that nothing will change in Zimbabwe. In addition to the appointment of his allies, people were disappointed that he did not appoint any members of the opposition to the transition government. This was an opportunity for him to signal a move away from the politics of old that have kept a new generation of educated Zimbabweans from contributing to the country’s management. This further solidifies the view that ZANU PF will continue using personalized politics to govern as it did under Mugabe.

ZANU PF will continue using personalized politics to govern as it did under Mugabe.

Aside from his politics, there are questions that hang over the president himself. Having served in cabinet since 1980 it is hard to believe he never engaged in any of the corruption that is closely associated with ZANU PF and is responsible for the country’s economic woes. Mnangagwa has promised Zimbabweans that his government will be transparent. To that end, he has arrested several high-ranking officials from the previous government, including the former finance minister, for corruption. These are people he served with for decades. At best, he knew what was happening and turned a blind eye and at worst he was an active participant in the looting of state coffers. To be truly transparent, he must disclose all of his assets including possessions outside the country. Without this, it is difficult to see how people can believe in his promises to combat corruption.

In addition to concerns over corruption, the new president is largely disliked in the western provinces of Matebeleland and the Midlands. This stems from an operation called Gukurahundi, which was allegedly initiated to round up domestic dissidents accused of attempting to overthrow the new government from 1983 to 1987. Instead the operation led to the massacre of civilians, many of who were members of the Ndebele ethnic group and some of the other smaller minorities in the region. As Minister of State Security and head of the Central Intelligence Organisation at the time, Mnangagwa would have overseen the operation. Anywhere between 20,000 and 50,000 civilians are estimated to have been tortured and killed by security forces, in what the Ndebele demand be recognised as genocide. At the time, Mnangagwa made speeches comparing the dissidents to cockroaches and saying their entire villages should be burned.

This period in the country’s history continues to be a source of deep tribal resentment and is one of the key obstacles to the unity the country desperately needs if it is to rebuild its economy. Mnangagwa has since distanced himself from the genocide and those speeches, but many still regard him and Mugabe as those most responsible, making it difficult for the people in the western parts of the country to trust him.

This period in the country’s history continues to be a source of deep tribal resentment…

It is likely that Mnangagwa will be elected in the upcoming elections, the opposition is presently disorganized and divided and many want to see what he can do, but with everything already pointed out above, he might only have a small window of opportunity to win the people over. He needs to move away from the partisan politics that have characterized his party and excluded young professionals. An open and transparent mechanism for fighting corruption needs to be put in place to vet government officials, including the president.

Finally, the country needs to come to terms with what happened during the Gukurahundi. This might take the form of a truth and reconciliation process or some other method of recognizing and apologizing for the suffering of a segment of the populace. A failure to address any or all of these could lead to his downfall and that of his party.

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