PRESIDENT Emmerson Mnangagwa’s cosy relations with King Mswati III of Eswatini, Africa’s last absolute and despotic monarch, shows his fondness for tainted dictators, as well as dodgy companies and business moguls.
This week, King Mswati jetted into Zimbabwe on a state visit, after which he would attend the Transform Africa Summit (TAS) held in Victoria Falls and also accompany Mnangagwa to officially open the 64th Zimbabwe International Trade Fair (ZITF) in Bulawayo.
Foreign Affairs secretary James Manzou said the visit is set to strengthen bilateral cooperation, tourism, agriculture and investment.
While the Foreign Affairs ministry said Zimbabwe is “happy” to welcome Mswati, his negative regional human rights footprint has sparked an outcry, especially as the country heads towards general elections which have been underlined by violence against opposition.
Mswati has been intolerant of dissenting voices in Eswatini.
For instance, in February this year, Amnesty International, a human rights organisation, wrote to Mswati demanding justice over the killing of prominent human rights defender Thulani Maseko who was gunned down by unknown assailants from the window of his living room.
In the letter, Amnesty International said while the motive behind the unlawful killing of Maseko remains unclear, they have reason to believe that he was attacked in relation to his work as a human rights lawyer and defender as he regularly stood up against the state’s abuse of power.
Prior to his death, he chaired the MultiStakeholders Forum, a group of political parties and civil society groups calling for democratic reform in the country. He has previously been targeted by the state for demanding justice and criticising the country’s judiciary.
Notably, Maseko was killed a day after King Mswati III reportedly said in a public address that those who are calling for democratic reform in the country would be “dealt with”.
Political analyst Rashweat Mukundu says Mnangagwa’s close association with questionable elements speaks volumes of his character.
“’Show me you friends and I will know your character’, and ‘Birds of a feather flock together’. King Mswati is a murderer and the remaining absolute monarch in Africa who murdered a human rights activist Maseko just a few months ago, which was condemned by the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) and even by the African Union (AU).
“For that person to be in Zimbabwe purporting to be promoting business, the question becomes: what level of discernment exists within our government?
“So, it is unfortunate that we had the likes of Lukashenko (Belarusian dictator) and the likes of Mswati in Zimbabwe. These are people who bring nothing but misery in Zimbabwe, because they are busy repressing and oppressing their people, and the question becomes: what else teach they teach our own government other than just perpetuating the suffering and the daily struggles that we are facing as a people?” Mukundu told The NewsHawks.
Mswati has also been under fire from the international community for his country’s security forces’ crackdown on protesters in June 2021. Eswatini citizens were protesting over the incarceration of two members of Parliament.
A report published on 29 October 2021 by the Eswatini Commission on Human Rights and Public Administration says at least 46 people died during the June protests; 245 people had gunshot injuries; 22 people multiple gunshot injuries; and 118 people had unspecified injuries.
Many people are feared to have died during the protests.
A human rights watchdog, Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition (CiCZ), says Mnangagwa’s penchant for dictators is likely to weigh down on principles of good governance, which will worsen the suffering of citizens.
Zimbabwe has a constitution, and because of that, governance should be regulated by our constitutional order. Zimbabwe frowns upon dictatorship and the violation of human rights,” said Obert Masaraure, CiCZ spokesperson.
“So when we see the head of state wining and dining with those who kill people in their own jurisdictions, those who violate human rights in their jurisdictions, then those people become friends with the President, he will be at the end of the day disrespecting the constitution which he should be upholding.
“The association with mafias, which has been exposed by the Al Jazeera documentary among other publications is also a serious issue given that the President is supposed to be protecting the interests of Zimbabweans and not particular individuals.”
Masaraure said Zimbabwe should not be associated with upholding the rule of law and not to be found in the league of people who kill their people to preserve power.
“We are worried that our leaders may be exchanging notes on how to engage in violent conduct with other despots like what Mswati is doing. What else could they be meeting for? Maybe they want to exchange notes on the Swazi template on how to repress people, which is very worrisome to us that our own President may want to get the Swazi template, which is contrary to our constitutional values.
“As we approach the election season, we would be expecting our republic to be inviting observers from credible jurisdictions and not to be inviting despots like Mswati,” Masaraure said.
In January this year, Mnangagwa hosted the Belarusian dictator, Lukasheko, who is Russian President Vladimir Putin’s confidante. Putin is under fire over his invasion of Ukraine.
Lukashenko fell out with the West on 17 August 2020 when members of the European Parliament issued a joint statement saying they did not recognise him as the president of Belarus, considering him to be persona non grata in the European Union.
On 19 August 2020, the member states of the European Union agreed to not recognise the results and issued a statement noting that the presidential elections were neither free nor fair.
The governments of the United States, United Kingdom and Canada have also refused to recognise the results.
In an interview on 22 August, Josep Borrell explicitly stated that the EU does not recognise Lukashenko as the legitimate president of Belarus in the same manner that it does not recognise Nicolás Maduro as the legitimate president of Venezuela.
On the afternoon of 11 May 2021, Mnangagwa flew to Uganda to witness the swearing-in of that country’s President, Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, again associating himself with yet another dictator.
Museveni was declared winner in an election also contested by Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, known as Bobi Wine.
Museveni’s presidency has been marred by involvement in the First Congo War, the Rwandan Civil War, and other African Great Lakes conflicts; the Lord’s Resistance Army insurgency in Northern Uganda, which caused a humanitarian emergency; and constitutional amendments, scrapping presidential term limits in 2005, and the presidential age limit in 2017.
Museveni’s rule has been described by scholars as competitive authoritarianism, or illiberal democracy.
The Press in Uganda has been under the jackboot of the government. None of the Ugandan elections for the last 30 years (since 1986) have been found to be free and transparent.
On 16 January 2021, Museveni was re-elected for a sixth term with 58.6% of the vote, despite many videos and reports that show ballot box stuffing, over 400 polling stations with 100% voter turnout, and human rights violations.
Some of the deals Mnangagwa clinched in the “New Dispensation” involve controversial business characters, including Zunaid Moti, Lucas Pouroulis and Jacco Immink.
In 2018, Moti reportedly invested US$300 million to set up a chrome extraction and processing plant in Zimbabwe along the mineral-rich Great Dyke.
During that time, Moti was arrested in Germany on charges that he defrauded his former business partner Alibek Issaev an estimated US$35 million in a sham mining deal in Lebanon in 2013.
In June that year, Mnangagwa’s crony Pourolis signed a controversial US$4.2 billion deal with the government, paving way for his investment vehicle Karo Resources to grab mineral claims stretching over 23 903 hectares previously held by Zimplats along the Great Dyke.
The US$4.2 billion cost had been plucked out of thin air, raising questions over the value of the investment.
The Pourolis family holds a 42% stake in Tharisa Plc, which has managed to mobilise only US$8 million for the implementation of the platinum project. On shady business dealings, an investigation by news agency Al Jazeera exposed Mnangagwa as ring leader of gold smuggling and money laundering in Zimbabwe.
The investigation showed how different gold smuggling syndicates looting gold and salting away proceeds to offshore accounts have been linked to Mnangagwa; including his Envoy and Ambassador-at-Large Uebert Angel, a self-styled prophet who is a key interlocutor throughout the documentary, Rikki Doolan, Ewan MacMillan, Kamlesh Pattni and Alistair Mathias, all smuggling kingpins.
Pattni, who almost bankrupted Kenya in the 1990s through a gold scandal which cost that country’s treasury US$600 million, reveals he makes payments to Mnangagwa as “appreciation” every two weeks through his younger brother to enable him to smoothly carry out his gold smuggling and money laundering operations in Zimbabwe.
Mnangagwa’s wife Auxillia, the First Lady, and his gold baron Pedzisai “Scott” Sakupwanya were also implicated, with Auxillia discussing gold smuggling in the video.
Auxillia tells Angel to talk to the President, something he said he was going to do urgently to find out if the US$1.2 billion would be transported in the President’s private jet or the mafia’s.
In every episode, featuring different gold networks and actors, one name kept cropping up — Emmerson Mnangagwa’s.