Mugabe’s former allies are thwarting President Mnangagwa’s reforms to maintain their privileges.
As the government prepares for the elections in July or August, President Mnangagwa’s is facing pressure to propel Zimbabwe into a new era — but his attempts have continually been thwarted as problems inherent in the country’s political and economic makeup arise.
– Mnangagwa will struggle to convince the international community of his intentions to revitalise Zimbabwean society if the upcoming elections are considered to be unfair or rigged.
– Expect a limited crackdown on corruption, but it is unlikely that the old guard that supported Mnangagwa’s rise to power will be targeted.
– Land reform will remain a pivotal issue to many Zimbabweans who blame Mugabe’s mismanagement of land distribution as a key factor in the ravaged economy.
– The government will need to utilise its educated high-skill workforce and create new jobs to bolster growth, but this will need liquidity available only through foreign direct investment (FDI).
President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s ascent to the highest office in the land has raised some questions about whether he can revitalise Zimbabwe’s hampered economy. In the wake of President Robert Mugabe’s long-time rule lies an opportunity for the newly anointed president to open Zimbabwe to the world and cast aside its status as a pariah state. But Mugabe’s former protégé faces some significant challenges to his political and economic ambitions as the slow thawing of relations with the West and the weak state apparatus continue to engender a slow economic recovery.
A WEAKENED CHARM OFFENSIVE
Since his inauguration, Mnangagwa has embarked on a fierce charm offensive — both in the surrounding region and abroad — with mixed results. While his promise to usher Zimbabwe into a new era of openness and transparency at the World Economic Forum in Davos was well received, it did little to stem the pervading cynicism apparent in Washington and European capitals, or convince the international community of his intentions to pursue economic liberalism.
The US decision to maintain sanctions will pose a great hindrance to Mnangagwa’s economic agenda. The biggest point of contention appeared to be the government’s maltreatment of the opposition, with the Trump administration citing that certain members of the government have continued to undermine Zimbabwe’s democratic process. Most likely, the US decision will undermine Mnangagwa’s attempts to draw greater FDI as the sanctions affect several of the country’s most important sectors. The economic restrictions also heavily curtail Zimbabwean companies from conducting business or receiving finance and investment from Western corporations.
To rectify the imposition of sanctions from both the US and the EU, the Mnangagwa regime will have to prove that significant changes have been made to strengthen the country’s democratic practices and its political pluralism.
The US will be monitoring Mnangagwa’s efforts to give the opposition a true platform — however, opportunism inherent in the opposition may undermine such efforts. The death of former opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai in February has caused great divisions within the primary opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). While the MDC’s intense infighting has only reinforced the government’s standing for the upcoming elections, it also presents an opportunity for members of the opposition to claim that the government is partially responsible for the dissension in their ranks due to the previous political machinations committed by the Mugabe regime.
RESUSCITATING THE ECONOMY
The expropriation of land is an emotional issue to black Zimbabweans. Many felt a deep-seated betrayal at Mugabe’s poor handling of land reform and economic mismanagement, and many hope that Mnangagwa will restore the country to its former namesake: “the breadbasket of Africa”.
A key test will be whether the government can boost agricultural productivity while improving the living and working conditions for black farmers, in particular, those whose land is of poor arable quality. Mnangagwa seems to have taken heed from the previous government’s mistakes and has implemented a 99-year lease to the remaining white farmers that still operate in Zimbabwe. At present, fewer than 400 white farmers still remain in the country, after more than 4,000 were evicted from their land in a series of violent land seizures presided over by Mugabe when he came to power in 1980. Mnangagwa will likely utilise the expertise of white farmers to formulate policies that will help revitalise the agriculture sector and draw investment from South Africa. Though some white farmers may be sceptical of Mnangagwa — he has a reputation for political shrewdness — the opportunity for greater capital and land security could outweigh old grievances with the administration. Much is on the line for Mnangagwa — rebooting the sector be critical in the creation of jobs for low skilled workers.
The Mnangagwa government will also take measures to entice its educated and highly skilled workforce to return to Zimbabwe’s deprived sectors after many fled to neighbouring South Africa. To achieve this, the government will have to address the staggering unemployment rate, pegged as high as 90%. Bringing down this improbable figure will require subsuming the large informal economy, the growth of which has been encouraged by the country’s lack of monetary liquidity — withdrawing cash is notoriously difficult and confidence in fiat currency is non-existent. Mnangagwa’s priorities will thus remain to establish more jobs in the formal economy and encourage the circulation of finance, even if the country lacks an official currency.
MUGABISM WITHOUT MUGABE
In November, the president gave certain individuals and companies 90 days to return funds stashed abroad. While the measure resulted in the repatriation of $591m, it was less than half of what is believed to have been held overseas. His ensuing threat to prosecute those who have failed to comply may fall on deaf ears as the power balance inherent in the Zimbabwean government will constrain Mnangagwa from pursuing those who have supported him. The political apparatus left in place after Mugabe’s ousting ensured that the legacy of Mugabeism remained in the highest echelons of government even if its main proponent was gone. In essence, the old elite that supported the former administration via corruption and cronyism are still active and highly influential in Zimbabwean politics. Mnangagwa — despite declarations that he would clamp down on corruption — will preserve the positions of his supporters and maintain the status quo in order to adhere to the demands of the political allies that helped ascend him to power.
Ultimately, Mnangagwa will have to tread a fine line to ensure that Zimbabwe enters a new period of modernisation, but his efforts may be hampered by the old Mugabe apparatus that perpetuates a system of patronage and rampant corruption. The move to collaborate with white farmers is indicative of Mnangagwa’s desire to transcend beyond the county’s fraught racial history and invoke greater change, but to what extent that this will truly transform the social fabric of Zimbabwean society remains to be seen.