Mnangagwa heads into key Zanu-PF conference full of confidence

President Emmerson Mnangagwa
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HARARE- Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa will this week go to the annual Zanu-PF people’s conference in Esigodini with his head held high, despite an acute economic meltdown in the country worsened by fuel and cash shortages and a dampened public mood over the slow pace of economic reform.

For several weeks on end, Mnangagwa has been receiving endorsement for his rule from inside Zanu-PF, amid an increased number of calls that he stand again for re-election in 2023.

It is a strong sign that the man nicknamed “Crocodile” has been consolidating his political power base amid pledges to usher in economic reforms and to court foreign investment under his “Zimbabwe is open for business” mantra.

However, so far there have been few takers of Mnangagwa’s pro-business stance among Western countries, a position unlikely to change soon after the US last week refused to lift sanctions imposed on the southern African country for almost two decades.

Matthew Harrington, the US deputy assistant secretary of state for Africa, said since the election there had been “some promising signs” from Mnangagwa’s government, symbolised by a more technocratic cabinet, an economic plan that acknowledged the need for significant monetary and fiscal reform and a budget which, if implemented, would make important strides.

“So far, however, the pace and scale of reforms has been too gradual and not nearly ambitious enough,” said Harrington.

Just four months after the July 31 elections, Mnangagwa’s critics are concerned about the endorsement frenzy in his party – which comes hardly a year into his current term – cautioning it could result in politics overshadowing the economic reform agenda.

The 76-year-old leader has so far received support to stand for a second term in 2023 from the Zanu-PF youth league, women’s league and the party’s Bulawayo province.

Last month, his deputy, Constantino Chiwenga, who is widely seen by political observers as harbouring his own ambitions for the presidency, recently also weighed in. He said Mnangagwa should stay on as president and warned the opposition that there was no vacancy at State House.

“In all the coming elections, no one is going to remove Mnangagwa. We are here until he feels it is the time to go and when we have fully restored our country to its former glory and when everything is in order. No one must dream of being the president …” said Chiwenga.

The annual conference kicks off on Tuesday in Esigodini, a small town 40km outside Bulawayo, the country’s second-largest city, and is expected to host more than 5,000 delegates from different parts of the country.

It will be the first conference to be held by the ruling party since the ouster of former ruler Robert Mugabe last November.

The party subsequently held an extraordinary congress last year which confirmed Mnangagwa as the new party leader and the replacement for Mugabe.

This week’s conference is being held under the theme “Zimbabwe Is Open for Business: Peace, unity towards an Upper Middle-Income Economy by 2030” and will end on Saturday.

Party spokesperson Simon Khaya Moyo said preparations were proceeding well and everything was in place for a successful event.

“We will have our politburo meeting on Tuesday that will be followed by the central committee on Wednesday. On Thursday, delegates will travel to the conference venue and the president and first secretary of our revolutionary party, Mnangagwa, will officially open the conference on Friday. Conference business will spill over into Saturday and delegates will depart on Sunday, said Moyo.

Piers Pigou, a senior analyst at the International Crisis Group, said he expected this week’s Zanu-PF conference to be an exercise in dishing out well-choreographed praise for Mnangagwa.

“But it will help give some further clarity on Mnangagwa’s ongoing consolidation of authority, as significant parts of the country did not support him, including areas won by Zanu-PF in the parliamentary polls. The conference will also provide some further insights on how the party is responding to the government’s reform agenda which is also having painful consequences for their own support base,” he said.