Zimbabwe’s critical choice: State collapse or people-powered change

Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangangwa

HARARE – Emmerson Mnangagwa told us the voice of the people is the voice of God. He didn’t listen to either. Now he faces a people’s power movement.

There is no dispute about the depths of political, ethical and economic degradation of Zimbabwe after two and a half years of Emmerson Mnangagwa’s Presidency.

No dispute because his own ministers and advisors publicly admit the state is on the brink of collapse due mainly to the grand corruption of the country’s ruling class.

Worse still for Mnangagwa, many junior officers share the view that he and the predatory elite that he leads are steering the country into the abyss.

It is this message from the junior officers and the ranks of the military that is unsettling the generals, with whom Mnangagwa has shared the spoils of state capture. Although Mnangagwa and his deputy General Constantino Chiwenga were once seen as inseparable allies, the looming failure of the Zimbabwean state is sharpening the elite’s sectional and divergent interests.

By allowing corruption to rip through the system, from illegal gold and diamond exports to arbitrage between the US dollar and the latest version of Zimbabwe’s currency, Mnangagwa has undermined his own praetorian guard.

Hollowed out and looted, the state can no longer look after its own soldiers and police, and their families – let alone address the spectre of mass starvation and a public health emergency haunting over half of Zimbabwe’s 16 million people.

Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube wrote to the IMF last month lamenting that the “…economy could contract by 15-20% during 2020 with very serious social consequences. Already 8.5 million Zimbabweans (half the population) are food insecure.”

So bad is the situation, wrote Ncube, that Zimbabwe’s state could implode and threaten security in neighbouring states. He warns: “… the global pandemic will take a heavy toll on the health sector with many lives lost and raise poverty to levels not seen in recent times, including worsening food security.”

This ranks as a tragic admission of political defeat.

Mnangagwa and his military allies insisted they had organised the overthrow of Robert Mugabe in 2017 to stamp out corruption, to open the country for business and hold free and fair elections. On their own admission  they have failed.

Listen to Shingi Munyeza, a kingpin of Zimbabwe’s business class and an member of Mnangagwa’s advisory couincil, describe how the government is leading Zimbabwe into perdition:

“These are the last kicks of a dying horse, of a system that is evil and corrupt… our state is captured by cartels who are operating with those who are in power, strong men, to the detriment of the rest of us,” says Munyeza in a remarkable indictment of a government with which he had worked closely.

“They move from state capture to state abuse where citizens are being abused, physically, emotionally …. there is nothing that passes on to the ordinary man or ordinary woman and then it moves on to state failure which I believe is where we are heading now…”

A senior pastor in the Faith Ministries Church as well as a wealthy businessman, Munyeza is now prophesying the fall of Mnangagwa’s government, relayed over social media. It resonates strongly with the military, some of whose top officers are said to be backing him.

Why sound the alarm bells now after years of elite plunder of Zimbabwe? Some, at least, in the predatory elite are seriously rattled by the prospect of state collapse and their own survival in a new order.

Last year’s revolution in Sudan offers several parallels. A grassroots movement, outside the confines of traditional opposition parties, brought together trades unionists, professionals and community activists across the country, building from street level in the regions until it became an unstoppable national force.

Under the ousted Omar Al-Bashir regime, Sudan’s deep security state, with its myriad militias and spy networks, electronic surveillance and capacity to wage civil wars  in four regions simultaneously was a still more formidable apparatus than Zimbabwe’s Central Intelligence Organisation and its many proxies.

Yet it was the combination of Sudan’s economy going into free fall – mass demonstrations were triggered by a threefold increase in the price of bread – and deepening schisms between rival wings of the security state that opened the avenue for its revolutionaries to race on to the national stage and force out the political leadership.

If anything economic conditions in Zimbabwe are currently worse than those in Sudan under Al Bashir. At least Sudan’s regime had some regional sponsors such as Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates. Mnangagwa’s government evinces no regional solidarity.

South Africa, whose ministers worry about the worsening instability and grand corruption north of the Limpopo, makes ritualistic complaints about the unfairness of sanctions which bar Zimbabwe from borrowing from the IMF.

In truth, President Cyril Ramaphosa is exercised about Harare’s debt mountain with South Africa and a growing tide of Zimbabweans heading south to compete on the local labour market.

At home in Zimbabwe, the continuous profiteering and nepotism in the award of state contracts as half the country face what the UN euphemistically calls ‘food insecurity’ tells people that the Mnangagwa government ha plumbed new moral depths. Some of his oldest allies now fear popular retribution, and that they cannot rely on the fracturing security services to protect them.

Activists, journalists and opposition politicians who point out this demeaning of our country under Mnangagwa’s rule are  beaten, tortured and killed. As the European colonialists found out, Zimbabweans are slow to anger but when they decide to fight, they become an implacable force.

Mnangagwa and his allies are about to discover that again as they are held to account for the destruction of our country and the theft of our futures.

Mnangagwa did the exact opposite of fighting corruption. The government reinforced a system of primitive accumulation in which a narrow predatory elite of which he is patron, benefits from corrupt state contracts and tenders.

Economic policy is used to benefit his Mnangagwa’s business cronies such as  Kudakwashe Tagwirei and his Sakunda Fuels. Tagwirei made so much money from Sakunda’s monopolistic position as a supplier of fuel and farm inputs for the state-sponsored Command Agriculture programme that it was able to finance Mnangagwa’s and ZANU-PF’s election campaign in July 2018.

Now Mnangagwa’s regime is repaying Tagwirei, ensuring the central bank offers him opportunities for arbitrage and money laundering opportunities. Former Finance Minister Tendai Biti, an opposition who chairs the Public Accounts Committee in parliament, told parliament that the government

Mnangagwa, aided by finance minister Ncube and Beserve Bank governor John Mangudya, have tipped the country back into the economic abyss of 2008 – mass unemployment and hunger, hyper-inflation and a worthless national currency.

They facilitated the grand theft of citizens’ bank balances by reintroducing the Zimbabwean dollar currency while allowing their business allies to access to the state’s reserves of US dollars, and to benefit from the arbitrage between the two currencies. This corruption system built around the relaunch of the Zimbabwean dollar, which cost our people US$500 million in stolen state resources, guaranteed the new currency was strangled at birth.

By late May, Mangudya claimed an official exchange rate of Zim$25=US$1 – in reality it was taking pover Z$70 to buy a US dollar, and the rate has been falling daily.  Inflation has skyrocketed to at least 700%, second only to Venezuela.

So far Mnangagwa seems impervious to the consequences of this economic incontinence, seeing no need to rein in his extravagances. He has been renting luxury jets from as far as the United Arab Emirates to take him on 400 kilometre trip within Zimbabwe.

He has appointed several ministers known to be corrupt.  His top appointees have looted over $300m from the citizens pension fund with no official inquiries , let alone prosecutions.

As a smokescreen, he appointed a presidential anti-corruption team that delivered nothing whilst his reconstituted Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission acquired the ‘catch and release’ moniker.

Source: The Africa Report