Quo Vadis Zimbabwe
As we meet this evening, Zimbabwe is again at an “interesting” place. The outcome will determine the immediate events in my country and maybe even the longer term. The past determines the future and we need to quickly summarise what has gone on in that country since 1997.
In 1997, the Mugabe regime made a number of strategic errors; as a consequence the country began a slide into destitution that would last a decade. During that time the South African government, which has always played a critical and pivotal role in Zimbabwean affairs, used its diplomatic and economic influence to ensure that Mr. Mugabe remained in power, going to extraordinary lengths the prevent a takeover by the Trade Union led Movement for Democratic Change.
When finally the South African administration decided it could no longer stand aside and watch its northern neighbor self destruct it stepped in and in a dramatic series of events it forced talks between the three main political parties in 2007 and persuaded the G8 leaders to help finance the stability and then the recovery of the country after elections in March 2008.
After initial success, Mr. Mbeki botched the operation and allowed Mugabe to once again hold onto power, but in a supervised Government of National Unity. This was supposed to last two years, ran for four and then collapsed in a flurry of legal and political measures which forced elections in July 2013 despite the failure to implement the reforms necessary to hold a credible election process. In the subsequent elections, a military led campaign, funded by considerable resources from illicit diamond and gold sales, the Zanu PF Party was returned to power with a two thirds majority. Once again the electoral process was adjudged not free and fair and the international community withheld recognition.
There were no celebrations, the country went into mourning and markets savaged what was left of the economy. The stock market fell by a third, a quarter of the cash reserves of the Banks fled to safety and capital flight reached new heights. The fragile recovery instituted by the GNU in 2009, halted and was then reversed. Today a third of all our Banks have failed in the past 18 months, deflation has taken hold and our GDP is again in steep decline.
To compound his difficulties, the Party of Mr. Mugabe has begun to disintegrate under his feet and may not survive the next few weeks in its present form.
The key to this situation is the declining health of Mr. Mugabe, who is over 90, suffering from Prostate problems and other ailments and who now shows all the signs of reduced power and authority. As control of the centers of power slips from his hands, competition for control and succession has taken center stage and two principal contenders have emerged – Mnangagwa, currently Minister of Justice and Mujuru, currently Vice President.
While within the ruling Party, Mujuru has held sway and clearly controlled the majority, Mnangagwa has control of the levers of hard power in the State and has shown that he is a very clever and devious opponent. In a series of swift and devastating attacks he has disabled the Mujuru political machine in advance of the Zanu PF elective Congress on the 2nd of December and looks increasingly as if he will emerge as nominated successor to Mr. Mugabe.
Looking into the crystal ball and trying to determine just who will emerge from the melee on the playing field in front of us is never easy and made all the more difficult by the complexity of the situation in Zimbabwe at present. It contains elements of democratic power and influence, ethnic balances and age old conflicts as well as a clash of cultures and tradition. This is on top of a straight forward fight for power and control.
But one thing we can do is to assess what would happen if either of the two front contenders was to emerge supreme at the December Congress.
We can assume that since the majority of the present Cabinet are in the Mujuru camp and are long term loyalists who have been in power for over 30 years and that by and large she would stand for the status quo. There would be few fundamental changes in policy or international relations. Certainly she would head an administration that was less draconian and disciplinarian but at the same more corrupt. The present decline in our economic fortunes would be perpetuated and this would create opportunities for the opposition.
On the other hand much less is known about Mnangagwa’s intentions. He is called the crocodile and like all such creatures, when he is preparing to attack he submerges. However we do know that he can be ruthless and tough. He is a trained and skillful lawyer and has been in Cabinet for over 30 years on a continuous basis. He is a business man who understands business and has not taken advantage of the “land reform programme” to take land – he has bought his farms. His fortune is not founded on corruption but on gold buying and trading.
The talk in bars and clubs is that he would conduct a cabinet reshuffle to remove Mujuru loyalists and corrupt elements, install technocrats and then try to get the economy growing rapidly with broad based economic reforms. The Minister of Finance is in his corner and if you listen to him speak on what is needed you get the impression that they know exactly what is needed to turn the economy around.
They also know what it will take to reengage the global community and the multilaterals and the talk is that they are ready to take this route. This is the equivalent of the reforms implemented in the Soviet Union and which led to the collapse of the Russian empire. Mnangagwa is gambling that if he can turn the economy around and get the West reengaged that he will be able to win a contest with Morgan Tsvangirai in 2018 without having to resort to an unacceptable level of rigging – a not unreasonable assumption.
What if that wily old devil, Mugabe opts for a third way – Sekeremyi (currently Minister of Defence)? My own feeling is that such a move would attract the attention of both the other camps and his life would be miserable and position unsustainable in an unstable Zimbabwe. There is no evidence that he can “ride the Tiger” as the Chinese say and such a move would simply exacerbate Mugabe’s problems and deepen the Zimbabwe crisis.
It seems to me that Africa is at last on the move. Africans are more confident and capable and the evidence of this is everywhere north of the Limpopo and the Orange River. With our seemingly never ending political crisis and economic collapse, Zimbabwe represents an exception on the Continent these days. In this context, if Africa is now growing rapidly, Zimbabwe’s prospects are extremely bright, but potential, no matter how exciting, remains just that if leadership and policy constrains implementation and growth.
Political analysts say we are already well into the post Mugabe era. If that is the case what we are witnessing is the passing of the baton. If Mr. Mugabe does not complete this process smoothly or drops the baton altogether, there is the potential of real problems and conflict; something that so far we have been able to avoid. To this extent we should all welcome the events of the past ten days while at the same time expressing sympathy with those who are being brushed aside and demeaned in the process. But there can be only one winner and while the “Old Man” of Zimbabwean politics has the capacity, he must make sure that the transition is swift and sure and that the baton ends up in the hands of someone who can win the race for his team.
Eddie Cross, Cape Town 19th November 2014