By Enocent Nemuramba
Under “normal” circumstances, one would have expected the programme line up for ZANU-PF’s manifesto launch to feature a cameo appearance by its long serving former First Secretary, Mr Robert Mugabe. That the party saw it fit to exclude him and give passing mention of his “legacy”, if the speeches delivered at the event are anything to go by, brings into question the claim that the November 2017 coup that saw him removed unceremoniously from office was ‘targeting criminals around him’. The stockholders of the country’s liberation struggle, a designation the coup-plotters used to describe themselves, were clearly dead set on getting rid of Mugabe too.
It is not clear if an invite to attend the manifesto launch was extended to Mugabe. If it was, and Mugabe had by some remote chance attended, the party’s former strongman could have exposed himself to disappointment. Proceedings showed how little the new sheriffs in town cared little about him or what he stood for. The flavor of the event was his former lieutenant, Emmerson Mnangagwa, who had assumed the seat of power as both the party and state President soon after the coup. Party mandarins, including erstwhile army personnel who had traded army fatigues for suits and ties to be officials in the party and government, had gathered from around the country to coronate their candidate for the 2018 general elections, due in two months time. Most importantly, as one pundit said, they had come to give expression to the ‘voice of the people’ through a party manifesto.
To be fair to ZANU-PF, a Mugabe appearance was not only going to be awkward but politically inappropriate as well. The old man is thought to be the primary political sponsor of the New Patriotic Front (NPF), a new party that is essentially an outfit for the politically ‘wounded’. NPF’s brains trust are individuals who belonged to the G40 ‘cabal’, a faction in ZANU-PF which fell together with Mugabe in November but still thinks it still has what it takes to ‘cure the coup’ and reclaim state power. In essence, at least in the eyes of ZANU-PF’s rank and file, Mugabe had become a political rival the moment he threw his weight behind the NPF.
For Mnangagwa and his comrades, Mugabe represented the old and the manifesto launch was an opportunity to renew ZANU-PF as a party of the future. It was a parade meant to show that ZANU-PF had freed itself from Mugabe’s decades long iron grip, toxic politics and the ill-thought isolationist policy. Nothing captured the spirit of this new focus than the theme of the manifesto and campaign launch which promised to “Unite, Fight Corruption, Develop, Re-engage and Create Jobs”. ZANU-PF was asking Zimbabweans to believe once more in the ‘grand old party’ to deliver on the promise of a better life for all.
However, in politics, good intentions rarely make the cut. The trick is always in how one follows through on the promises made. ZANU-PF’s election campaign and manifesto launch was not different from your regular run of the mill party event, with all its attendant pomp, fanfare, promises and more promises. In short, it was a damp squib that did nothing to offer hope to the millions of Zimbabweans who have endured years of a shrinking economy, unemployment and falling standards of living. Had Mugabe delivered the keynote speech at Friday’s event, instead of Mnangagwa, it would not have made any difference to people who were watching or listening to proceedings, which were carried live by the state broadcaster.
The manifesto launch was an opportunity for Mnangagwa to assume the posture of a statesman by being honest with his countrymen. Instead, he chose to become a Mugabe-lite, reading words off a piece of paper without any sense of conviction on the message he was delivering. Zimbabweans were expecting Mnangagwa, if he indeed believed in the voice of the people, to offer a genuine apology on the manner in which his party had misgoverned the country. A genuine acknowledgement of his complicity, and that of his comrades in the audience, in keeping quiet while the country burned would have given credence to his oft-repeated claim that he represents the ‘new’ and personifies the new dispensation. For a man who has stood his ground and refused to take responsibility for his role in the Gukuhurandi atrocities of the early 1980s, expecting him to apologize for the country’s economic malaise was perhaps expecting too much of him.
This false start muddled the ‘vision’, genuine or not, he tried to espouse in his speech. If Mnangagwa had hoped to articulate a new vision for his party and the country, one which reflected clear blue water between himself and Mugabe’s brand of politics, he failed spectacularly.
On closer inspection, however, no one cannot blame Mnangagwa. The election campaign and manifesto launch was a side show. The real battle at Friday’s event was for the battle for the soul of the party. Referring to the party’s just ended chaotic primary elections, Mr Mnagagwa said “the days of imposition, chicanery and favoritism in our internal electoral processes are dead and buried. Never, never and never again to be resurrected no matter the person’s status or standing”. In a primary election where most of his allies lost, Mnangwagwa’s comments betray his unhappiness with the outcome.
The prevailing wisdom is that the primary elections outcome was the result of a power struggle between Mnangangwa and one of his vice Presidents, General Constantine Chiwenga. Mnangagwa allies who lost are crying foul saying that the elections were rigged, party members in good standing disenfranchised and the police used to ‘manage’ the electoral process and skew the results in favor of their opponents. It has since emerged that Mnangagwa, judging from the statement that was issued by the office of the state President, might have been unaware of the circumstances that led to the deployment of the police. This won’t be the first time that he has been left out of the loop on major decisions. On 16 April 2018, Chiwenga took a unilateral decision to fire nurses who had been striking for better remuneration and improved working conditions. The events all but confirm that Chiwenga sees himself as an equal to Mnangagwa in the exercise of state authority. It is a conflict that has spilled into party politics, where the tussle for power between Mnangagwa’s allies and the ‘new arrivals’, former military officers, has just started.
When Mnangagwa eventually wandered away from trying to put out factional fires raging in his party, to talk about the economy, even then, he was less convincing. His clarion call to get the economy moving again was informed by his view that ‘politics and economics’ must work together in a symbiotic relationship. If this sounds ambiguous and vague, you are not alone. Mnangagwa, and by extension ZANU-PF, seem convinced that Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) without domestic reform, is the panacea that will help cure Zimbabwe’s economic ills. Their model is informed by ‘openness and transparency’ and ‘guided by the mantra that Zimbabwe is open for business’ through ‘win-win partnerships and foreign investments’. No one can dispute the potency of FDI on economic growth but ZANU-PF’s unwillingness to implement genuine economic reforms, especially at the parasitic parastatals, will only serve to dilute the impact of foreign capital in reviving the economy. Parastatals have become an albatross on the fiscus and the failure by Mnangagwa’s ZANU-PF to come up with a cogent plan at either divestment or privatization, brings into question their sincerity to revive the economy. Mugabe used the ‘dead’ parastatals to disperse patronage, and it doesn’t appear that Mnangagwa would be any different.
After promises of jobs that went unfulfilled by his predecessor, Mnangagwa was careful not to give a specific number of jobs that would be created through his economic programmes. According to the manifesto, job creation will flow from the transformation of Zimbabwe into a middle-income country by 2030, targeting $5bn in FDI and $10bn in domestic investment, rebuilding industries, attaining an economic growth rate of at least 6% per annum over the period 2018-2023 and increasing industrial capacity to at least 90% by 2023. While these are measurable targets by which ZANU-PF can be held accountable to, should they win the elections, it does little to offer comfort to the unemployed, especially the youth, some of whom have never been in formal employment and want jobs NOW. It does not help that the only tangible achievement that Mnangagwa can brag about on the economic front, is the $11bn in investment commitments that he has managed to secure. Zimbabweans are all too familiar with this song and no one can blame them for being sceptical. Mugabe once went to town about ‘mega deals’ that he had secured with foreign investors and were poised to grow the economy, but it turned out nothing of the sort existed.
When Mnangagwa came into power in November 2017, he sought to cast himself as a corruption czar, intent on holding those who had dabbled in sleaze accountable. True to his word, he published a list of individuals who had externalized foreign currency in violation of the country’s laws. However, none of the individuals or entities mentioned have faced any criminal charges. For some, the published list came to resemble a PR stunt rather than a genuine fight against corruption. So, when the manifesto speaks of ‘zero tolerance to corruption’, the trust deficit that exists between most Zimbabweans and ZANU-PF on the fight against corruption, renders this campaign promise empty and devoid of any real intent. It is telling that, Mnangagwa made no mention of the diamond looting that took place at an industrial scale and robbed the fiscus of much needed revenue. At the very least, announcing an independent commission of inquiry to investigate the whole value chain process would have been a critical first step in regaining the trust of his compatriots. Untested allegations of diamond looting by some individuals who now serve with him in government, will continue to be a stain on his administration.
A party manifesto should, at the bare minimum, highlight the most pressing issues of the day and attempt to offer solutions to make the lives of voters better. The ZANU-PF manifesto failed on this key indicator, especially on the cash crisis. The document only speaks of ‘improved access to cash’ but fails to offer any tangible solutions to help ameliorate the problem. This could easily be interpreted as passive admission that ZANU-PF is bereft of any ideas to solve the problem or they do not see anything wrong with the status quo. It is an omission that underlies a common feature of the ZANU-PF manifesto where it tried to skirt around important issues of the day, in the hope that platitudes will carry the day.
If ever there is anything that is on Mnangagwa’s priority list at this time in his political career, it’s to legitimize his Presidency. He knows fully well that he came to power through a coup and only a credible electoral outcome will enable him to implement his agenda, if ever he has one. As such, the expectation was that he would use the manifesto and election campaign launch to commit his party to free and fair elections through relevant reforms. The state media remains unapologetically biased towards ZANU-PF while pushing propagandist messages against the opposition. The biggest faction of the MDC, together with its MDC alliance partners, have been holding well-attended rallies across the country but their coverage on state media has been very sketchy. Add to this, the refusal to instate urgent reform on the electoral body, ZEC, the credibility of the election faces a potential risk. Committing to free and fair elections, as spelt out in the manifesto, is not the same as actively intervening to ensure that there is transparency in the printing and handling of ballot papers, that critical stakeholders from political parties and CSOs are involved in every step of the way in the electoral process, the voters roll is released on time to allow for thorough inspection and opposition is given equal access to state media.
Had Mugabe attended the manifesto launch on Friday, the only notable changes he may have seen were Mnangagwa’s face on party regalia and the new craze in town – scarfs. He would probably have watched in amusement at the amateurish way at which his successor was dealing with factions in the party. Playing factions against each other to maintain his grip on power was Mugabe’s forte and Mnangagwa obviously is struggling to master the art. While there clear appetite to do away with Mugabe’s disastrous isolationist policy, the manifesto was a ‘promises fest’, that he, Mugabe, could have delivered with charismatic aplomb. At the end of the day, the ZANU-PF manifesto and election campaign launch did not deliver on the ‘new dispensation’ message of change and hope. It was a clumsy attempt by Mnangagwa and his comrades to set themselves apart from Mugabe’s failed policies and promises of a better life for long suffering Zimbabweans.