Mnangagwa selling hope and not much else

Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa

Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa is a pragmatist, or he should be. Which makes the 100-day plan of action so out of line because it is a mammoth task to bring back any semblance of normalcy to the country’s economy.

It may be that ED, as his followers love to call him, loves the command model so much he was blind to the reality that it will be impossible to make significant strides in addressing the shortcomings hobbling Zimbabwe’s economy until after the election, if they are free and fair as the international community has made clear.

As a political gimmick, he opened himself up to ridicule by opponents and civil society alike. So, was he selling hope? Perhaps.

Mnangagwa inherited a receding economy with foreign investors fleeing in numbers. A banknote shortage, widening fiscal deficit, the not so splendid isolation from the global economy and policies seen as unfriendly to investors are some of the problems that have faced the new man at Munhumutapa Building.

But 100 days later and counting, bank queues remain, the black market is in full swing, prices remain high and companies are still struggling to make offshore payments.

So what did he achieve in the first 100 days? Not much actually, but here is a few items of note.

The reform agenda and reengagement with the international community was dead with former president Robert Mugabe in charge. When he was appointed vice president after the ouster of Joice Mujuru in 2014, Mnangagwa and key ally, Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa began a raft of reforms.

Zimbabwe resumed dialogue with international financiers, among them the IMF, World Bank and the AfDB. The IMF was so pleased it announced it might resume aid for the first time in nearly two decades. Even the European Union resumed budgetary aid, which had been suspended for years.

The Lima Plan to repay outstanding debt was in the toilet.

But the return of Chinamasa to the finance portfolio after seven weeks as a cyber security minister saw the resumption of reengagement with foreign funders. His budget was back on point: reducing the government wage bill, tightening the government purse strings and finally that monkey on his back, fixing the indigenisation law.

The key policy change, which is expected to be signed into law in the next few weeks, would signal that Mnangagwa has taken a long term and pragmatic view to business but the 49/51 policy will only be confined to diamond and platinum mining only.

From his inauguration, Mnangagwa has pronounced an eagerness to fight endemic corruption and impunity that characterised former president Robert Mugabe’s rule of 37 years to restore confidence in the public sector. In his first State Of the Nation address, Mnangagwa vowed to punish corruption that stifled political freedom and economic growth under his predecessor.

“Corruption remains the major source of some of the problems we face as a country and its retarding impact on national development cannot be overemphasized,” Mnangagwa said then.

“On individual cases of corruption, every case must be investigated and punished in accordance with the dictates of our laws. There should be no sacred cows. My government will have zero tolerance towards corruption and this has already begun.”

But the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (ZACC) has made a mockery of that stated desire.

Some of its arrests: former finance minister Ignatius Chombo who is on bail after being charged in November over accusations he tried to defraud the central bank over a decade ago. He denies any wrongdoing. Mugabe’s last foreign minister Walter Mzembi and ex-energy minister Samuel Undenge are also on bail after being charged with “criminal abuse of office.”

After reviewing evidence, ZACC has cleared Home Affairs Minister Obert Mpofu, Transport and Infrastructural Development Minister Joram Gumbo as well as Information Communication Technology and Cyber Security Minister, Supa Mandiwanzira of wrongdoing.

“We do not have evidence of them having committed a crime, said ZACC’s Goodson Nguni told the State-owned Business Weekly.

So, no one has read the Auditor-General Mildred Chiri’s reports then. And where is the $250 million which looters returned under the three-month amnesty? Given the ongoing liquidity challenges in the economy, it would be handy.

Mnangagwa has claimed to have secured more than $3bn in foreign direct investment in just seven weeks but cannot name a single project attached to that claim.

He cannot claim credit for the $400 million recapitalisation deal for the National Railways of Zimbabwe with South African logistics group Transnet and the Diaspora Infrastructure Development Group, a consortium of Zimbabwean investors living abroad as this was awarded under Robert Mugabe.

The deal, however, probably survived because of Mnangagwa’s elevation to the presidency after it looked dead and buried under Mugabe.

Similarly, the deal by Chinese firm R&F Properties subsidiary Tian Li to invest $1 billion in Zimbabwe Iron and Steel (Ziscosteel) was agreed when Mugabe was still in power. Ziscosteel is still waiting for the investor to show up according to chief executive Alois Gowo.

With his legitimacy questioned by opponents at every turn, and even subject to a Constitutional Court challenge, Mnangagwa desperately needs an electoral victory. That victory, if deemed free and fair, could open the floodgates of FDI and foreign financial support.

Britain, which declared that it was Zimbabwe’s oldest friend before the ink dried on Mugabe’s resignation letter and among the new regime’s earliest backers, has said it could extend financial support to Zimbabwe to help stabilize its economy and clear its debts with international lenders.

“Those are indeed the things that we would try to do to help Zimbabwe forward, but we’ve got to see how the democratic process unfolds,” said Johnson in November, adding that such support will be linked to ‘democratic progress.’

If Mnangagwa can pull it off and get that money, he will finally bury the ghost of Mugabe and set Zimbabwe to full economic recovery. Or it may be that Zimbabwe needs hope, any kind of hope after the dark days of Mugabe. –The Source