AFTER days of political drama, anxiety and bated breath, President Emmerson Mnangagwa proclaimed the election date, setting the stage for a season of intrigue, joy and heartaches. Zimbabwe decides on 23 August and the country’s commitment to democratic principles will be put to the test.
Using his power of incumbency, Mnangagwa launched his election campaign ahead of schedule.
Running under the theme Nyika inovakwa nevene vayo/Ilizwe lakhiwa ngabanikazi balo (loosely translated to mean a nation is built by its people), the campaigns have been running on public radio and television, extolling the virtues of the “second republic”, a euphemism for Mnangagwa’s administration.
The framing of the message subtly amplified the brand of monolithic strongman politics associated with Mnangagwa.
Now it is gloves off.
The mudslinging season in which promises and lies are made all in the name of political expediency is upon us. He faces a rival — Nelson Chamisa — he knows too well and that adds to the drama.
While Mnangagwa’s administration has been hyping up public projects such as the upgrade of the Harare-Beitbridge highway as practical demonstrations of his leadership efficacy, there has been growing resentment as the economy implodes.
Other projects which have been amplified on national radio and television are the expansion of the Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport, Lake Gwayi-Shangani, and Hwange Thermal Power Station expansion, among others. But not many are sure that these will bring food to the table.
Here is what will confront Mnangagwa as he travels the length and breadth of this country during his campaign trail.
While the government and Zanu PF have been projecting Mnangagwa as a reformer, his popularity ratings have been heading south since he took over from his predecessor through a military coup.
According to the latest Afrobarometer survey, confidence in Mnangagwa’s administration has been going downhill despite the euphoria which engulfed the country after the ouster of long-time leader Mugabe.
Data from the Round 9 survey in Zimbabwe showed that 72% of citizens say Zimbabwe “is going in the wrong direction.” 83% of the citizens also indicated that they vote for candidates whose policies they agree with, rather than candidates who give them gifts and money.
Critics say while Mnangagwa may be aware of his dimming star, he may revert to Machiavellian politics to claw back support. How? Simple, it is better to be feared than loved.
The extended incarceration of Citizens’ Coalition for Change senior official Job Sikhala, who is now clocking one year behind bars over what critics have described as political persecution and the jailing of opposition leader Jacob Ngarivhume and most recently the passing of the “Patriotic Bill” in Parliament have all had a chilling effect on many government critics.
Ahead of the watershed election, critics say this may be advantageous to Mnangagwa as it will limit civil liberties.
The country has plunged into darkness and many will endure the frigid conditions without power this winter.
Experts say years of neglect of power plants and limited investment by the private sector due to unviable tariffs have stopped new energy projects from taking off in the country.
In a country where politics of the belly or rather bread and butter issues are at the centre of electoral messages, the current state of the economy presents enormous challenges to Mnangagwa’s administration.
The Zimbabwe dollar has collapsed and Mnangagwa knows that. He blames Western economic sanctions and the invisible hand for this. But the electorate wants answers not problems in this race.
This week, he made an ominous warning that government is considering banning the use of foreign currency.
On the official market the local unit suffered heavy losses after Finance minister Mthuli Ncube announced more fiscal and monetary measures to save the domestic currency. The Zimbabwe dollar is now trading at US$1: ZW$2 500 on the formal market while one now requires up to ZW$4 000 to buy the greenback on thr parallel market.
“There is no country that can develop without its own currency,” Mnangagwa said this week in an interview shared by his office on Wednesday.
“So we reached a stage now where we must have our own currency but it is under serious attack but we will never abandon it. What we might do is to legislate against foreign currency to make sure we use our own currency. So our people must know that our currency is there to stay.”
For many this evoked yesteryear memories when the state raided foreign currency accounts at the height of an economic implosion. The aftermath was catastrophic.
Zimbabwe is in debt distress and the southern African nation cannot access concessional funding.
Like his predecessor, Mnangagwa has crafted a new arrears and debt plan to break the cycle. But without political governance and economic reforms, critics say the plan may be an exercise in futility.
But the lack of political governance reforms remains the biggest shortcoming. African Development Bank president Akinwumi Adesina recently flagged this when he said: “The most difficult and more sensitive reforms are the governance reforms . . . As I mentioned during the second high-level dialogue and in my discussions with H.E.”
“President Mnangagwa, development partners and other creditors, it is important that we find a mechanism to try to fast-track and front-load the payment of these compensations. Hope delayed makes the heart go weary. Further delays in paying the compensations could erode trust and confidence,” he said.
High unemployment is triggering a wave of migration and drug abuse. According to a policy paper done by the Health ministry, six out of 10 patients admitted to Zimbabwe’s mental health institutions have drug-related problems as the wobbling economy fuels substance abuse.
With independent statistics showing that Zimbabwe’s unemployment level is hovering around 80%, unemployed youths are now turning to drug abuse as a form of escapism from the harsh realities.
According to the latest Zimbabwe National Drug Master Plan, the government has adopted an integrated and comprehensive approach that will address a range of drug-related issues.
Hot on the heels of the Al Jazeera Gold Mafia which implicated President Emmerson Mnangagwa and his close associates, Harare’s commitment to fighting corruption remains under scrutiny. While the authorities may attempt to sweep the findings under the carpet, the world is watching.
There is belief among Zimbabweans that high-level corruption is responsible for the bulk of the country’s problems. Very little action has been taken to address the cancer.
After Zimbabwe was removed from the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) grey list following an on-site evaluation exercise carried out last year, the southern African nation risks backsliding.
Zimbabwe was placed on the FATF grey list in 2019, following a mutual evaluation (assessment) process that identified a number of deficiencies in the country’s implementation of the Anti-Money Laundering and Counter Financing of Terrorism (AML/CTF) Standards.
Issues relating to illicit financial flows can no longer be treated as domestic policy and so Mnangagwa’s response to this may shape his interactions with international institutions.
Already, the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe’s Financial Intelligence Unit has undertaken to deal with the issue, but the proof of the pudding is in the eating. The jury is out.