Zimbabwe’s Mnangagwa departure finalised

With Zimbabwe gripped by a hunger crisis and hyperinflation, Emmerson Mnangagwa has told the international community that political and economic change will cost money. Photograph: Valery Sharifulin/Tass

HARARE –  Zimbabwe’s security chiefs have finalised President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s departure from power, as Zimbabwe’s leader, according to an online publication.

Intelligence at hand shows that Vice President, Rtd General Constantino Chiwenga, is going to takeover the reins of government from Mnangagwa as a transitional president, at a date and ceremony to be announced and broadcast on national television.

VP Chiwenga is said to have already lined up his incoming cabinet, and is going to retain some of his key allies who include: Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF) Commander, General Philip Valerio Sibanda; Lands and Agriculture minister, Rtd Air chief marshal Perence Shiri; Foreign affairs minister, Sibusiso Busi Moyo; Zimbabwe’s Ambassador to Mozambique, Lt. Gen. (Rtd) Douglas Nyikayaramba; Zimbabwe’s Ambassador to Tanzania, Lt. Gen. (Rtd) Anselem Nhamo Sanyatwe, among others.

When President Emmerson Mnangagwa campaigned in 2018 elections for Zimbabwe’s presidency, he promised to be a business friendly leader, and to return his country’s economy to twentieth century times of plenty and prosperity.

But Mnangagwa has already shown himself incapable of jettisoning the state centrist, rent-seeking predilections of his predecessor. A “big-bang” sharp break with Zimbabwe’s recent past is essential to reassure consumers and capitalists. Yet Mnangagwa and his cronies have so far rejected anything forward-looking and sensible.

Mnangagwa’s administration is struggling to overcome the national economic destruction wreaked on Zimbabwe over two decades under Robert Mugabe. This included profligate spending, immense debt pileup, colossal corruption, and ravaging of the country’s once immensely productive agricultural sector.

As a result, Zimbabwe now lacks foreign exchange with which to buy petrol and ordinary goods to stock the shelves of its supermarkets.

China may yet help Mnangagwa – but in exchange for multi-years worth of precious minerals and Virginia tobacco at discounted prices. With Zimbabwe’s leadership so thoroughly tainted by decades of peculation and mendacity, and devoid of any real notion of “the public interest,” Mnangagwa’s regime is otherwise unlikely to clean up the prevailing fiscal mess because of its refusal to break sharply with the fiscal derring-do of the Mugabe era. Its principals continue to profit from Zimbabwe’s economic mayhem.

What went wrong

Zimbabwe’s economic weaknesses are unsustainable. Governments in such parlous straits would turn, even now, to the International Monetary Fund, for a bailout – as Pakistan has just done. But Zimbabwe is already in arrears to the international lending institutions and has very few helpful friends left.

Government is running a hefty overdraft. And it’s been unable to collect as much as it needs from the national tax base. Its now attempting to impose a 2% tax  on internal electronic financial transactions. This only shows desperation. If implemented, it could yield twice as much revenue as is derived annually from VAT. But that losing manoeuvre has already helped drive commerce underground. It has also undermined what little confidence consumers and financiers have in their current rulers.

The Mnangagwa government has also reimposed import and exchange controls, thus creating additional incentives to avoid regular channels of commerce. Those controls also permit officials to allocate “scarce” resources and licenses to import, export, and so on. These are well-known occasions for corruption and for giving rent-seeking opportunities to cronies.

It wasn’t always this bad. Despite the massive loss of formal employment that occurred under Mugabe, the informal sector flourished and Zimbabwe’s poor probably benefited. This was partly because under the unity government of 2009-2013, when Tendai Biti of the Movement for Democratic Change was finance minister, there were no such controls and there were plenty of US dollars and no questionable bond notes and Treasury bills. Hard currency (the US dollar) permitted Zimbabwe to start growing economically after the long Mugabe slide, and individuals and businesses to prosper. The country ran a budgetary surplus.

But this all came to an end when the government of national unity collapsed in 2012.